Boston's Animal Shelter

August 2, 2002

Recently one morning city residents woke up to see the gruesome disposal of animal carcasses from the city of Boston's Animal Shelter pictured on the front page of the Boston Herald. As a result, Mayor Menino promised a "top to bottom" review of Boston's animal shelter operation. This is long overdue and we need to insure that the process amounts to more than just a bureaucratic shuffle. Pledges of reform are a good start but all the sound and fury will amount to little without the right direction, knowledge and dedication. After a year's involvement in this issue as a City Councillor, and a great deal of study, I have become aware that several actions will be required. Most importantly, the city must avail itself of the expertise and energy of the many professionals, animal advocates, caregivers and pet owners by including them as part of an advisory group. This volunteer group could assist city officials for a defined term making practical recommendations to improve shelter operations.

The shelter facility itself is poorly designed and fails to meet professional standards. It needlessly took over a year and a half in its present location for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to function properly. Animals and employees suffered through extended periods of frigid conditions in winter and stifling heat in summer. Animals are inappropriately housed within the shelter and the noise is deafening to employees, visitors, and neighbors alike. Hard working shelter employees deserve a safe and healthy work environment. A formal workplace safety inspection is needed.

The city has a mandate from the state to properly control the animals within its boundaries. As the state's capital, Boston should set an example. Despite the services of a capable veterinarian at the site, the city's spay/neutering policy for strays has been a failure. A spay/neutering program at the shelter was non-existing during the first year of operation. The City failed to provide its veterinarian with appropriate set up and equipment to perform spay/neutering services. As a result of this animals were released from the facility without ever being spayed or neutered. Any reform of this department requires a comprehensive program for the animals that move through the shelter. A capability to undertake special projects should be added. For instance, in an urban environment, feral cat populations are becoming a concern, especially with the dangers of rabies and feline leukemia. With colonies of feral cats multiplying, an effort to gather, spay/neuter, vaccinate and release them could begin to address the overpopulation that is also a public health issue. This commonsense and humane approach makes fiscal sense by working to eliminate the problem by striking at its root.

The City of Boston should reach out to form partnerships with for profit/not for profit animal humane organizations to educate the public in animal care issues including pet/owner behavior training. In addition the city should consider the formation of a non-profit entity to provide animal care services for the city shelter. This model, supported by the Boston Finance Commission, would have Boston fund the non-profit as a vendor. Such an institution would possess the credibility in the public mind to establish an effective outreach for fundraising and volunteer involvement.

Not all the animals euthanized at the city facility are stray or problem animals. Many of them were the affectionate companions of people who are forced to surrender their pets to the city when the animals become too ill to continue living or when a person's housing or life situation changes. It was absolutely necessary to stop the horrific practice of dumping euthanized animals in a garbage heap but this will not lead to the restoration of public confidence and genuine reform if the policy maker who ordered and defended the practice is still in place managing the department. A new interim director with the appropriate professional credentials is needed now to take prompt corrective action and move forward with the review process.

All of these considerations can contribute to a solution for a troublesome issue that has nagged the City of Boston for some time. We must decide now to treat stray animals in a humane manner, to manage this aspect of city operation more efficiently, to enhance public health and safety, all while acting in a fiscally responsible way.

Maura A. Hennigan
City Councillor At-Large

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