As governed by state law, the Animal Control Commission is the local hearing authority for evaluating complaints of nuisance and dangerous animals, most often dogs, but serves a variety of other functions as an advisory body to the city on a range of animal-related issues as specified by city ordinance
At its monthly meeting on Wednesday, the commission had already planned to discuss the possible merits of requesting Pittsfield Community Television televise some of the commission's public hearings, but this conversation was expanded in light of a complaint heard from a resident during the meeting's public comment period.
Tyler Street resident Nan Razzano asked the commission why no further action had been taken in response to a report she had made six weeks earlier, after a group of four dogs allegedly attacked and injured her son as well as another dog.
"I'm still nervous about walking around in the neighborhood without knowing what justice there is for that," said Razzano, uncertain about why a hearing had not yet been called.
Alan Righi, an attorney representing Razzano, also took issue with the way the incident report was handled by local animal control officers.
"The police report is absolutely stunning," said Righi, who objected that no witnesses present had been interviewed, and that the dogs in question, which Righi says are unlicensed and unvaccinated, had been left "in quarantine" with the owners. "I think there's something very much amiss."
"We're presenting this situation to the board for a determination on the dangerousness of the dogs," added Righi. "But I'd like the board to take a look at how law enforcement performed its job in this situation."
Animal Control Officer Joseph Chague said the incident was handled correctly under state law
governing animal control, which says the dogs are to be "quarantined" on the owner's property until a determination can be made by the local governing authority.
"We don't make the decisions to remove the dogs," said Chague. "We did everything we can under the law — which is write four citations for failure to restrain, and four citations for failure to license."
Chairman John C. Reynolds said that while most cases were brought before the commission by the local animal control officers, any member of the public can request a hearing on a complaint at any time.
"Then our job is to determine if the dogs are dangerous, and what are the ramifications if they are," Reynolds told Razzano.
The commission promptly set a date for a hearing on this incident for next Thursday, but further mused on how to better get information to the public about animal control procedures.
Commissioner Allen Harris said the idea of having coverage by PCTV, a local nonprofit partly funded by the city which televises a majority of Pittsfield's public boards, initially was to have some redundancy in keeping a record of the meetings as a backup to minutes, but could also serve the purpose of educating residents about the commission's function and process.
"I think it's a great way to get information out there, about what to do if they have a dog issue or complaint," said Kevin Morandi, the City Council representative to the commission.
In addition to potentially televising meetings, the commission discussed additional outreach to local media, and the possibility of having a feature added to the city's website to file a complaint to be heard by the commission.
Commission members will follow up with inquiries to PCTV and the city clerk's office and the city's information technology department about options for more public outreach for further discussion at their April meeting.