Submitted by Jenny Colucci
I remember volunteer orientation day at Stamford Animal Control, April 19, 2003. The group; about six of us, were told, “If you don’t like the idea of euthanasia, you probably don’t belong here. This is a kill shelter. It is unavoidable.”
I never saw any of the other people again. I’m not sure why I returned, but I did. I was fortunate to meet Jim, a fellow volunteer and my mentor. Jim showed me the ropes; where things were and how to take the dogs from their kennels. He gave me tips like, “be sure you always remove your sunglasses when you are with the dogs, they need to see your eyes.”
Jim was the one and only active volunteer that would come to the shelter, faithfully, every Saturday and Sunday. It was the only time all week the dogs got out for air. I joined Jim every weekend and we were sure every dog got time out because we wouldn’t see them again until the following weekend, or more.
In May and June 2003, a total of 11 animals were killed. Sadly, it was true; Stamford really was a kill shelter. The written Stamford Animal Control policy then was: “Provided Animal Control is less than 100 percent capacity, all animals shall be given a maximum of six months to be adopted.”
Empty kennel space was maintained — when the kennels reached 50 percent occupancy, this was considered 100 percent capacity. “Whenever Animal Control reached above 100 percent (or, a greater than 50 percent occupancy rate), all animals shall be given a maximum of 60 days in which to be adopted” and, “above 125 percent, all animals shall be given 30 days in which to be adopted.”
“Removal of animals shall be on a first in, first out basis.” No dogs or cats were accepted from desperate owners.
A couple more volunteers were allowed to help and the three to four of us continued to volunteer. There would be 65 more animals killed that first full fiscal year (July 2003 to June 2004). I remember some of those beautiful faces: Angus, Kia, Slick, Lexus, Milo, Jackie, Bernice, Tiger, Tasha, Seven, Clyde and Lance. They lost their lives because of time and space. Alizay, a small little shepherd pup, was killed because of puppy mouthiness.
Bishop’s time ran out and he was killed before it was discovered that his adoption application had been overlooked. Pandora, a beautiful young purebred shepherd, who bonded instantly, was killed. She had been adopted and returned for being too needy.
Forty-nine more homeless pets were killed the first eight months of the following year (including 28 Maine Coon cats taken in from a hoarding situation).
But, I also remember, Jasper, Ruby and Ginger, three wonderful dogs we networked endlessly for, who did find homes. There was hope, a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
That light began to shine brightly in March 2005. Laurie Hollywood stepped into the Animal Control arena with new, fresh ideas. She was hired to help build a new reputation for the City of Stamford Animal Control facility that had suffered years of failed inspections and public outcry. And that she did. Complaint calls were addressed in a timely fashion resulting in a reduction of calls. Bite complaints dropped, a volunteer program was started and adoption events and advertising helped showcase the animals. Adoptions increased, euthanasia decreased. She began a dialogue with the public, educating them of the importance of spaying and neutering, promoting low-cost services and helping people find ways to retain their pets rather than abandon them.
Laurie took in approximately the same average number of animals per year, but less of those were dogs coming off the streets. She was awarded the City of Stamford Employee of the Month award and the American Red Cross Hero’s award.
Over her nine years Laurie transformed our “Animal Control Center” into an “Animal Shelter” by bringing modern sheltering to the Stamford Community.
In 2007 OPIN Inc. (Outreach to Pets In Need), a nonprofit was formed by three volunteers to help the shelter with medical care, microchips, dog training, foster care and evaluations for the shelter animals and; free dog training, low-cost sterilization and adoption benefits for the public.
I remember the darkness as I’m sure the veterinarian who killed the many good animals does. “This is a kill shelter. It is unavoidable.”
Laurie demonstrated over the course of these last nine years, it is, very much . . . avoidable. It’s time that the community demands that the light not go out for Stamford’s pets in need.