STAMFORD, Connecticut––Stamford, Connecticut mayor David Martin on June 17, 2014 announced the firing of Stamford Animal Shelter manager Laurie Hollywood for repeatedly rehoming dogs with bite history, without disclosing that history to the adopters.
Investigation of the situation by the Stamford Police Department continues, Martin’s statement said, “thus certain details will continue to be withheld.”
Hollywood, hired in March 2005, was suspended on May 2, 2014 and volunteers were excluded from the premises. Along with the police, investigating agencies included the Stamford Office of Public Safety, Health & Welfare, and the City of Stamford Human Resources Division. The investigation had actually begun two weeks earlier, on April 18, after the city received details of three recent attacks by dogs who had been rehomed from the Stamford shelter.
The breeds of the dogs were not mentioned in the city statement, but advertisements for dogs at the Stamford shelter posted by the local volunteer group Outreach to Pets in Need have depicted mostly pit bulls––although often not identified by breed.
In one instance, the city statement said, an 84-pound dog identified as Alpha was surrendered to the Stamford Animal Shelter because of bite history, according to the surrender form. But the dog was advertised for adoption as “harmless in his play.” Added the promotional flyer, “The good news is we know Alpha did SO well in a home environment and should transition very easily back to a home life style.”
Alpha went on to bite several people, one of whom required hospital treatment.
In a second case, a dog identified as Beta was surrendered after having bitten a child. The adopter was not advised of the bite history. Beta bit the adopter’s child. Instead of taking a bite report, Hollywood allegedly gave the adopter contact information for a volunteer trainer. Before a training session could be arranged, Beta bit the child a second time.
“In violation of state requirements and city policy, a bite report was not made,” the Stamford city investigators found. “Instead of sending an animal control officer, the animal control manager sent a volunteer to visit the home.”
Beta tried to bite the child yet again. Returned to the shelter, Beta was rehomed to another adopter who likewise was not informed of Beta’s bite history. That adopter and several other people were also bitten.
In a third case, Hollywood allegedly rehomed a dog who was impounded after biting three police officers. The dog went on to bite the adopter’s wife.
In yet another instance, Hollywood did not impound a dog who allegedly attacked humans and other animals on multiple occasions over several months, and eventually became subject of a restraining order.
Key findings of the city investigation, the city statement summarized, were that “ Several people were bitten and injured, including one who was seriously injured and treated at the hospital, from dogs adopted out from the Animal Control Center. In violation of city policy, dog owners were not given information about the dogs’ prior history of biting and aggressive behavior. Despite two prior written warnings from the state, the animal control manager [Hollywood] adopted out dogs with a history of biting. The animal control manager on multiple occasions failed to report dog bites and injuries, and take action. The animal control manager caused a false official city record to be created to cover up the adopting out of a dog that had a documented history of biting.”
In addition, the Stamford city statement continued, “In violation of city policy, the animal control manager sent volunteers to residents’ homes, without informing residents of their volunteer status or seeking permission from her supervisor. The animal control manager practiced veterinary medicine without having a valid license, was investigated by the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health, and as a result entered into a cease and desist order with the state. The history of dogs at the center was misrepresented to the public, including in published communications. In violation of city policy, the animal control manager did not appropriately manage volunteers at the animal control center, allowing them to assume responsibilities that should only be discharged by an animal control officer.”
The Stamford Animal Shelter rehomed 12 dogs, 14 cats, two rabbits, and a bird during the investigation, without the help of volunteers, a city spokesperson told media. Volunteers continue to be excluded from the shelter “until new policies and procedures are reviewed and put into place,” the city statement said.
The Connecticut State Bureau of Regulation & Inspection warned Hollywood against rehoming dangerous dogs as far back as February 2008. Hollywood had appealed against a restraining order that prevented her from adopting out a dog with bite history.
Responded the assistant bureau director, “The Department of Agriculture does not support animal control officers knowingly placing dogs with a documented history of aggression back into contact with the public. This action could result in the municipality assuming liability should the dog become aggressive and bite again. While everyone in the field of animal control should do what can be done to better the lives of animals, the first responsibility of all animal control officers is to the safety of the public.”
Hollywood received a second warning letter from the Connecticut State Bureau of Regulation & Inspection in June 2011, after she adopted out a dog with a documented history of biting and then retrieved the dog from the Naugatuck animal control shelter when the dog was impounded following further incidents.
“As you are aware,” the second warning letter said, “we have discussed the placement of biting dogs in the past. It is the responsibility of State Animal Control to bring attention to the municipality where public safety and liability may be of concern.”
Again Hollywood was reminded that “The Department of Agriculture does not support animal control officers knowingly placing dogs with a documented history of aggression background into contact with the public.”
Hollywood was defended in a statement posted to Facebook by Outreach to Pets in Need founder Ali Girardi. “We will do our best to work with the city and get the group of beloved dogs released, the group that has been undergoing two months of evaluations, the group known as Tigger and Friends,” Girardi said. Tigger is a pit bull whom the Stamford Animal Shelter has held since April. He was slated for adoption when Hollywood was suspended. City officials subsequently deemed him too aggressive to be adopted safely.
(See also “Connecticut shelter investigated for allegedly adopting out dangerous dogs,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-v1; “Fitchburg becomes third public shelter to suspend operations due to liability concerns about pit bulls,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-y1; and “Roswell resumes releases of dogs to rescue groups following 3-day suspension after pit bull attack,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-xd.)