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Nov 14, 2008 10:12 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shelter critic takes issue with euthanasia policy

Nov 14, 2008 10:12 AM

The number of dogs put down at the Southampton Town Animal Shelter has sharply declined over the past five years, though some are now saying that those figures could be even lower if an outside party was allowed to offer input on a regular basis prior to the euthanizing of animals.

The Hampton Bays shelter put down 57 dogs in 2002, though that figure has been nearly cut in half in each of the following years, according to statistics provided by Southampton Town. In 2003, the shelter put down 18 dogs, and that was before it was operating with an official euthanasia policy. In 2004, after the current policy was adopted, the shelter put down 18 dogs. That figure spiked to 46 dogs in 2005 before falling to 21 dogs in 2006 and 25 dogs in 2007. As of November 12, the town has euthanized 18 dogs this year.

The decline in the number of euthanized dogs is due, in part, to the town’s current euthanasia policy, which states that all dogs and cats brought to the shelter must undergo testing by a behavior evaluation committee to determine their adoptability. The town maintains a “no-kill” policy, meaning that the animal shelter cannot euthanize adoptable dogs and cats. However, if an animal exhibits behavioral problems or if it is very sick, it could be deemed unadoptable and would likely be put down.

At question is the composition of the board that determines whether or not a dog can be adopted by another family. That decision is now made by members of the shelter’s behavior evaluation committee, which includes Southampton Town Animal Shelter Supervisor Donald Bambrick, Assistant Supervisor Christine Russell, a veterinary technician, a kennel attendant, an animal shelter education specialist and a licensed veterinarian who is employed by the town. No animal can be euthanized without a majority vote of the 6-member committee.

But Pat Lynch, a former volunteer and outspoken critic of the animal shelter’s euthanasia policies, believes that in order to be more objective—and save the lives of more animals—the board should also include independent experts to analyze each dog. Ms. Lynch said it is difficult for the current board to offer objective opinions as they are all employees of the shelter and work for Mr. Bambrick.

“If everyone at the shelter is beholden to Donald Bambrick for their position, what kind of a board is it for a dog that really needs help?” Ms. Lynch asked. “A euthanasia board is only as good as its knowledge and independence.

“They are all appointees of Bambrick,” continued Ms. Lynch, questioning the objectivity of current board members and noting that the shelter supervisor, in her opinion, does not always make correct decisions regarding the adoptability of some animals.

Ms. Lynch even went as far as to suggest that the composition of the board is set up to prevent the airing of dissenting opinions. “They don’t want people like me around,” she said.

When reached this week, Ms. Russell deferred all comments on the issue to the Southampton Town Attorney’s office. She also noted that Mr. Bambrick would not discuss the complaints made by Ms. Lynch.

Assistant Southampton Town Attorney Joe Burke explained this week that members of the behavior committee are free to consult with Dr. Tracy Kroll, an independent behavior expert, when they require her advice when examining an animal. He also noted that the committee has not solicited the advice of Dr. Kroll in more than a year.

“It’s not for every dog,” Mr. Burke said, referring to the need to get a seventh opinion. “It’s there for their use when they [deem it] necessary.”

Additionally, Mr. Burke stated that the shelter’s current euthanasia policy was under review, though he declined to offer specific details.

The current euthanasia policy was adopted shortly after Ms. Lynch filed a civil lawsuit against the town, alleging that her 1st Amendment rights were violated when she was fired as a volunteer after publicly criticizing the shelter’s operations and policies. In 2007, the court sided in favor of Ms. Lynch, who was awarded $250,000 in damages. That settlement was later reduced to $50,000 and the town is still appealing the original decision.

Ms. Lynch noted that the town wrongly euthanized a 10-month-old pit bull, named Jigger, that was examined last month by the behavioral committee. Ms. Lynch contends that the puppy, which was put down 10 days after his arrival at the shelter, could have be adopted by another family if employees properly cared for him and put the puppy in a rehabilitation program. Jigger was taken from a home in Flanders after he bit a police officer that was arresting his master.

“Jigger was a dog that was on his way to having a better life,” said Kelly Keenan, a volunteer with the non-profit Riverhead Shelter Volunteer Program. She assisted in the rescue operation of Jigger’s siblings.

Though she described Jigger as a rambunctious puppy, Ms. Keenan said she did not think euthanasia was the appropriate solution. “He was a baby and he wasn’t an aggressive biter,” she said. “I can’t say [that] I would have named him a dangerous dog.”

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