FITCHBURG, Massachusetts––The Fitchburg Animal Shelter in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, on June 13, 2014 became at least the third public shelter in six weeks to suspend operations at least temporarily because of liability concerns associated with pit bulls.
“The shelter is officially closed for any intake. We are not to receive any animals from owners, surrenders, or animal control,” Fitchburg shelter manager Amy Egeland told Katina Caraganis of the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. “No animal can be admitted per directive of Mayor Lisa Wong.”
The closure came the same day that the Roswell Animal Shelter in New Mexico suspended releasing dogs to rescue groups following an attack on a nine-year-old by three pit bulls who had been transferred to a local rescue called Doggie Saviors. The Stamford Animal Shelter, in Stamford, Connecticut, suspended manager Laurie Hollywood, suspended adoptions and transfers of dogs, and suspended all use of volunteers on May 2, 2014.
The Roswell Animal Shelter on June 16, 2014 resumed transferring dogs to nonprofit rescue groups that meet specified care conditions, but the Stamford Animal Shelter remains closed while an investigation of alleged adoptions of dangerous dogs continues.
The Fitchburg situation apparently began on April 20, 2014 when assistant animal control officer Michael East impounded a dog named Capone, believed to be a pit bull, who was running at large. On April 21 Capone got loose inside the shelter building, charged Egeland and another dog, and the other dog bit Egeland in the ensuing turmoil. Egeland and senior animal control officer Susan Kowaleski dispute whether Kowaleski then authorized East to have Capone euthanized.
Shelter volunteers complained to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources that Capone was euthanized before a required holding time had expired.
Fitchburg public works director Lenny Laakso “said there have been some recent incidents that caused him to question whether it is in the best interest of the city to take on the liability that comes with sheltering and adopting dogs that have had difficult lives,” reported Worcester Telegram & Gazette staff writer George Barnes. “He said the issues raised with the euthanization of the dog were of concern, as was liability exposure faced by the city from volunteers being bitten, adopters being bitten, dogs getting hurt in fights, and other issues.”
Mayor Wong indicated to Barnes that Fitchburg is investigating the possibility of contracting out the pound job, rather than continuing to operate a shelter.
The Fitchburg Animal Shelter closure “means I have no job and it means the city has no city shelter. We’ve been standing up for the ‘bully’ breeds and we just had our doors here bullied shut because of what we stand for,” Egeland told Barnes.
“We’re sending all of our animals to approved rescue groups in the state,” Egeland added to Caraganis of the Sentinel & Enterprise. “I fear that the Department of Agriculture will mass load up these animals and euthanize them.” The shelter reportedly held about 13 dogs when closed.