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Complete 180

In just a few short months, the Commission on Animal Welfare has made positive strides in working towards addressing the city’s various animal issues, city officials say.

The changes are a turn around from the commission that was started under the Tim O’Brien administration as the Humane Commission and was frequently marked by bickering among volunteers.

“The commission itself has done a complete 180,” Mayor Erin. E. Stewart said in an interview.

“It’s a very cohesive group,” commission Chairwoman Paula Poplawski said. “Everyone brings something wonderful to the table and I’m so grateful for that. We want to get out into the city so people know who we are and what we do.”

The first few meetings earlier this spring were largely organizational and featured much discussion about what the commission’s purpose is aside from making improvements to the dog pound—which is under the jurisdiction of the police department—or dealing with geese on the city’s parks. But in recent months, the commission has delved deeply into addressing what Poplawski describes as their number one issue: feral cats, which by some estimates total around 1,000.

“I’m very pleased,” Poplawski said of the group. “I’m pleased with the people that make up the commission and their dedication. We’ve set goals and objectives. We’ve created a mission statement. It’s the little things that are moving us forward.”

The commission has also discussed how to educate the public more on proper care for animals, which will be part of an after school program that is under development. The commission is also looking at more obscure issues, like residents who are illegally keeping animals such as goats, chickens, and pigs.

“The commission, to their credit, realized that there are so many other issues surrounding animals than just dogs,” Stewart said. “They’re looking at it as a bigger piece, which is why I changed the name to the Animal Welfare Commission.”

As to the past controversy, Stewart said, “I think people had a skewed understanding of what it was that the police department does at the pound and how it handles things at the pound.”

To address some of the concerns that residents had about the dog pound, Sgt. Paula Keller has been put in charge of overseeing the facility’s operations, Stewart said. “Jimmy Russo has a boss now,” Stewart said of the officer who is the city’s animal control officer, a position he’s had for more than two decades. He now has to produce monthly reports detailing when an animal is picked up or put down and the justification for it.

In the coming months, the group will become much more visible in the community to educate residents on issues like animal cruelty. While the commission has had tables at events like Oktoberfest and the Downtown District car show, Stewart said the volunteers want to work towards larger events like an “Pets-a-Palooza” that would be held at Walnut Hill Park sometime next year. The pet friendly event, likely to be held in June, will feature a radio station playing music and area pet stores offering grooming and screenings. It will also give officials an opportunity to get pets registered. Shots will also be given for the parvovirus, which if it spreads to the pound, it forces it to shut down and not take in any more animals.

The group has also partnered with other like-minded organizations, such as Bikers Against Animal Cruelty, which has agreed to pay veterinary bills up to $1,000 to spay and neuter animals that are trapped in the city. “We’re looking at collaborating more,” Poplawski said.

There is also work underway to allow the group to fundraise so items like leashes and food can be purchased and given to people who adopt an animal from the shelter.

There has also been a stepped up effort to find animals a home who are taken to the pound. Listings are placed on petfinder.com, while there are several Facebook pages that also have been created, such as “New Britain Police for Pups” and “New Britain Shelter Friends.”

“When you pick good people who have a good understanding like Dr. Miller and people who are educated like Paula who are on the statewide task force for animal welfare—and Paula Keller just got appointed to that as well—you’ve got people who have a really good understanding and knowledge of the ins and outs and are able to get things done,” Stewart said.

Stewart said that when there was negative publicity several months ago about the dog pound, it was untrue. Dogs there are euthanized in very rare cases and under strict guidelines, such as when they pose a threat to humans or another animal.

Poplawski said that the feral cats tend to congregate around high rental areas and are there because people leave them behind when they move. Cats can often have two or three litters a year, which can turn the feral cat population into greater problem if not addressed. Poplawski says there are several volunteers in the city who feed several hundred cats.

Stewart said one remedy that might be explored for addressing the feral cat issue is adding a birth control medication to centralized feeding areas.