For the past three and a half years, one out of every two dogs taken to the Derby pound was killed.
The death rate is far and away the highest in the lower Naugatuck Valley, according to records reviewed by the Valley Independent Sentinel.
In some cases, the dogs were perfectly healthy. Several were young. Others were desirable, easy-to-adopt breeds such as Labradors and terriers.
The practice was a cost-saving measure, according to Derby Police Department administrators.
They said former police Chief Eugene Mascolo instituted a policy requiring that dogs kept more than 16 days at the pound would be taken to a vet and euthanized.
Mascolo, through a spokesman for the Connecticut National Guard, where he is now employed, declined comment.
Current police brass and City Hall officials said they did not know Derby was killing so many animals. Derby police officials said the policy ended in January.
Phil Robertson, Derby’s chief administrative officer, said City Hall officials learned of the practice in January, after receiving an e-mail complaint from Jessica Corsaletti, a woman affiliated with animal rights group Coalition for Change.
“I didn’t realize we were euthanizing at that rate,” Robertson said. “I, as a former owner of dogs, and Barbara, (Mayor Anthony Staffieri’s secretary), owner and lover of dogs, and the mayor having dogs, all three of us were very upset about the numbers we heard.”
The Kill Stats
The Valley Independent Sentinel reviewed animal control data submitted to the state for five lower Valley towns from July 2007 through December 2010.
The vast majority of animals taken in are dogs.
Animal control officers may take in a small number of cats per year, but it’s usually an emergency situation, such as when a cat is hit by a car and needs to be euthanized.
State law says animals can be put down after being held for seven days.
However, local practice shows animal control officers in Ansonia, Oxford, Seymour and Shelton did not put down dogs anywhere near the rate that Derby had been.
Derby killed 43 of the 94 dogs it took in during the last three years. That is 48 percent of all dogs the city took in.
Meanwhile, Ansonia took in 522 animals — five times more than Derby.
Yet Ansonia put down just 20 animals — or 3.8 percent.
In the 2008-2009 reporting year, Derby’s kill rate was 68 percent, when 21 of the 31 dogs taken in were killed.
That was the highest kill rate in the state that year, according to Corsaletti.
The other lower Valley towns had kill rates between 3 and 8 percent. The statewide average is about 12 percent.
Gerald Narowski was promoted from deputy chief to chief of the Derby Police Department in October.
Narowski said sometime in 2007 former Chief Mascolo instituted a 16-day limit on animals in the city’s shelter on Coon Hollow Road. The limit was twice as long as required by state law.
Mascolo instituted the 16-day policy to keep down food and veterinary costs at the shelter, Narowski said.
Once the policy went into effect, the department’s food bills went down by 90 percent.
In 2007, the department spent about $2,785 on food for the pound, according to numbers provided by the Derby Police Department.
By 2010, the spending was down to $270.
Vet bills during that time period also decreased — from $4,831 to about $2,600 last year.
However, money’s tight at other police departments, yet animal control officers elsewhere managed to raise money without killing dogs.
How’d They Do It?
In Ansonia, Animal Control Officer Jean Roslonowski said she hosts her own fundraisers — themed cocktail parties and events — to raise money to house and care for the dogs as long as it takes to find them homes.
Ansonia also has an active volunteer group, Hearts and Tails, which raises money for medical care, food and shelter costs.
Not only are the other Valley animal control officers adopting their own dogs — in some cases they are helping out larger cities, such as Waterbury and New Haven, where dogs may have to be killed because of overcrowding.
“We do that so they don’t have to euthanize that many animals,” said Sandy Merry, Oxford’s animal control officer. “We try to give them another chance.”
Other towns use the Internet and websites such as PetFinder.com to advertise their dogs to get them adopted. Derby has not been doing that.
“I never put anything down,” said Seymour Animal Control Officer Deborah Ice. “Only if it’s a vicious, biting dog. Or if it’s sick. The good (shelters) don’t really put them down. They put more effort into advertising them (to be adopted).”
Putting dogs to sleep to control numbers in the shelter is an old-school mindset, Ice said.
“That’s 1960. This is 2011,” Ice said. “You don’t put down adoptable dogs.”
Derby’s Animal Control Officer
Others interviewed for this story put part of the blame for Derby’s high death rate on Animal Control Officer Joe Klapcik.
Klapcik has been the city’s animal control officer for 17 years. It is a part-time position. He is paid $26,000 per year. His supervisors at the police department said he sets his own hours.
Klapcik said he could not comment on the city’s euthanasia rate because he is not allowed to speak to the media.
The leader of an animal rights group said Klapcik was inefficient at adopting out animals — even though he was offered assistance.
“Derby’s is a very lame guy,” said Charlotte Meade, who runs Meade Canine Rescue in Washington, Conn. “He’s terrible. He claims he’s good. But he doesn’t try hard at all.”
Meade said she has stopped by the Derby pound and has called Klapcik to offer to adopt out dogs for him.
“I’ve called Joe. When he actually answers the phone, he’ll give a run-around that he already has help,” Meade said.
Meade also blamed the animal euthanasia laws in Connecticut.
“All that has to happen is you get a bad animal control officer that gets into that position, then the animals are dead. They’re dead,” Meade said.
Cathy DeMarco, founder of Coalition for Change, said the numbers in Derby were disturbing, especially because Derby didn’t take in too many dogs and didn’t have a high rate of pit bulls, a hard breed to adopt out.
The city developed a poor reputation for animal care among groups like DeMarco’s.
DeMarco said euthanasia isn’t meant to be population control — it’s meant for dogs who are sick, injured or vicious.
“It’s not supposed to be used because seven or 10 days are up at the pound,” DeMarco said. “How do you know nobody wants (the dog)? The pound has been closed and you haven’t posted it on PetFinder.com. That’s not euthanasia. That’s killing.”
“That’s murder,” DeMarco said.
Others said Klapcik is a dog lover who had to to kill dogs every month because he was following orders.
“I know it tore him and his family apart that he had to do it,” said Dan Krezel, who befriended Klapcik after adopting Shiloh, a St. Bernard-Boxer mix, from the pound seven years ago.
“He didn’t want to do this. But he was given a time line on how long he could keep dogs,” Krezel said. “I know that was bothering him because he knew, given more time, he could have found families for them.”
Shoddy Record Keeping?
In addition to unusually high kill rates, Klapcik’s record keeping is not nearly as thorough as his fellow animal control officers in neighboring towns.
Monthly reports provided to the state detail the total number of dogs euthanized, redeemed, sold, adopted or found dead.
The reports list the day the dog comes under city control and the day it leaves.
If a dog has to be brought to a vet to be put down, a written explanation is usually provided by the animal control officer.
In Shelton, for example, 12 dogs and cats were euthanized between July 2009 and December 2010. Of those, five were sick or injured, according to the hand-written reports.
In Ansonia, two of the five euthanized animals during that same time period were brought to the shelter after being injured. In one case, a cat had been struck by a car.
In Oxford, nine animals have been put down since July 2009. Seven of those were the result of a litter of elderly cats dropped off at the shelter and a gruesome animal cruelty case.
In Derby — 18 dogs were put down between July 2009 and December 2010.
No reasons are given.
Derby’s paperwork listing where the 18 dogs were found before being killed is also incomplete:
Five dogs were found “tied to a fence.” Locations are not provided.
Klapcik doesn’t say where five of the dogs were found.
Eight of the remaining 18 dogs were found roaming on several roads relatively close to the Coon Hollow pound — Hawthorne Avenue, Chatfield Street, Coppola Terrace, Derby Neck Road and Silver Hill Road, according to Klapcik’s reports.
However, when Klapcik had a lost dog and reunited the animal with an owner, Klapcik’s reports were much more detailed.
His reports indicate he waited the 16 days, as per Derby’s policy, to bring the dogs to a vet to be put down.
Kill Policy Changed
Chief Narowski said Derby put a stop to the 16-day policy in January.
A report provided to the Valley Independent Sentinel by the police department show no animals were put down between January and March.
Narowksi said the department is now revamping the animal control officer’s position.
He hopes to have workers at the police department set up a PetFinder.com site to advertise dogs they’re housing.
And he said they will start accepting food and once the proper system is set up — cash donations at the police department.
“We’re starting from scratch and rebuilding the whole program,” Narowski said. “We’re revamping all the duties and responsibilities, rebuilding the whole (animal control officer) job description from scratch,” Narowski said. “We can’t, obviously, hold dogs indefinitely. But our goal is to place them with potential owners.”