The outdoor kennels had been maintained and improved during the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter's time at the municipally-owned building. Since the organization was kicked off the property and it took what it considered its property, the shelter's outdoor area no longer can have dogs in it.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Animal Control Officer Joseph Chague is confident that the conditions at the municipal animal shelter have been improved.
The city has recently been accused of neglecting the shelter and endangering the animals being housed there. The city had just recently taken over the shelter's management from the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter.
The city took the shelter over in May to temporarily house stray dogs and cats picked up by the animal control officer. But recently Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Morandi visited the shelter and was appalled by the condition.
"What we witnessed was deplorable," Morandi, a member of the Animal Control Commission said during the group's Wednesday meeting.
Chague said the Downing Industrial Parkway property was in poor condition when the city took over and have since been improved.
"The shelter was left to the city is severe disrepair," Chague said.
Chague said all of the kennel doors were removed by the prior occupants, the ventilation system was removed, there was damaged ceiling tiles and writing, and there was a screen needing replacement. He said the previous occupants removed the fencing for the dog runs so the city can no longer put dogs outside.
The city's Maintenance Department has now fixed many of the issues at the shelter, he said, and the mowing of the lawn has now been added into the regular schedule.
"All the issues, as far as I'm concerned, have been addressed," he said.
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the state Department of Agricultural Resources have inspected the building -- the latter being done on Tuesday. That report isn't available yet but Chague is hoping for a clean bill of health.
But Chague does expect to find some other minor maintenance issues here and there.
Morandi questioned whether or not the animals can go outside at all because the kennels on the rear of the property are in disrepair. Chague said the dogs are being walked but cannot be put into the outside kennels.
"We would have had outside kennels if they hadn't illegally removed the fencing," Chague said, adding that he remembers the fencing being installed by the city some 30 years ago.
The accusation of illegality would likely be contested by the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter, which invested a significant amount of money on repairing, replacing, and renovating the building during its tenure there.
The city has also bolstered the animal control staff and gathered volunteers to help take care of the animals.
"We now have a volunteer pool that we are using, helping us out on weekends, holidays, and days off," Chague said, adding that there is still room for more volunteers to apply.
The city has been faced with criticism over the management of the shelter since the fallout with the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini. Chague said so far the city has taken in 42 dogs and two cats and of those 34 had been returned, seven passed to the Berkshire Humane Society after the required seven-day hold expired, and another one will be turned over to the Humane Society on Wednesday.
"The average length of time is one day or less than a day," he said.
There was also concern from some who hadn't seen the animal control officer on site all day last month and that the dogs weren't getting proper care.
Chague said he was there in the morning of the day in question and that dogs are checked on multiple times throughout the day. It was up to other members of the Police Department to fill in on off-days. The city has hired a part-time animal control officer who will be on duty during the evening hours to further manage the sheltering operation.
The city had been taken to task on social media following a day in August during which the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter were on site to remove some property that had been left behind. It was then Morandi, as well as City Councilor Christopher Connell, saw the conditions firsthand and have been vocal about the administration's handling of the issue.
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