Boston’s city-run animal shelter is meant to be a sanctuary for abandoned and abused animals, a refuge for forsaken creatures. But late last month, the Animal Rescue League discovered such troubling conditions in the Roslindale pound that it warned the city the shelter was in crisis.
One brown dog named Camilla, rescued in 2011 from a dog-fighting ring, was gaunt, dehydrated, and had open sores on her body. Other animals howled incessantly. Cats lay on single sheets of wet newspaper.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration launched an investigation, moved 35 animals to other shelters, and suspended the city’s director of animal control and prepared to fire him.
“The conditions in this facility were very disturbing to [our] staff. We very much felt the need to act,” said Mary Nee, president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston. “We’re grateful that the administration responded as they did. We investigate more than 1,500 cases of cruelty each year. Every case of cruelty is hard, but it’s particularly hard to find a city shelter in such poor condition.”
Mark Giannangelo, Boston’s acting director of animal control, has been suspended with pay while the city investigates. He could not be reached for comment Thursday. He has worked for the city since 1997. Giannangelo has been acting director of animal control for some time, though it could not be determined when he took the position.
The Walsh administration appointed John Meaney interim director of animal control. Meaney, who had been director of environmental services at the city’s Inspectional Services Department, has spent significant time at the shelter in the last week, officials said.
The shelter manager, Cedric Harrington, and other employees remain in their posts. The city is waiting for an assessment by the Animal Rescue League before taking additional action, according to Walsh’s spokeswoman.
The city pound is on Mahler Road, a dead end near Arnold Arboretum in Roslindale. The cinder-block building is decorated with a vibrant mural of a golden retriever, a parrot, and other healthy-looking animals.
But inside, the Animal Rescue League found a startlingly different portrait. Dogs howled incessantly, an indication of stress from possible mistreatment, according to the Rescue League. Animals lived without bedding or toys. Dogs were drenched because it appeared they were not being removed when runs were hosed down, a violation of standards for veterinarians and animal shelters. Dogs labeled as “strays” were confined to kennels and were not allowed to be walked on leashes.
Shelves held out-of-date medication and old food. Record-keeping for animals was sporadic. The Animal Rescue League cataloged the problems and sent a lengthy e-mail June 30 to the city’s policy director, Joyce Linehan.
The next morning, Linehan arrived unannounced at the shelter.
“It was dirty,” Linehan said. “I’m not a vet, but the animals seemed very anxious. They wouldn’t calm down. There were a couple that were cowering in their kennels. It was understaffed. I witnessed dogs that I thought were not in great shape, but not being an expert, I wanted to get the opinion of experts before I passed any judgment.”
The Animal Rescue League agreed to perform a comprehensive assessment of the shelter, which it expects to complete next week. The 35 animals removed by the league include 17 cats, 2 turtles, a snake, and 15 dogs, which included a mother and six puppies. All 78 remaining animals were examined by a team that included veterinarians, animal care managers, and shelter technicians.
“The shelter really was in crisis from an operational point of view,” Nee said. “It was overcrowded for the amount of staff the city has. It’s an underresourced program and there is a significant lack of policy, procedures, training, and quality control to ensure the well-being of animals in their care.”
The budget for the city’s animal control department has increased 16 percent in the last four years. This year’s appropriation is $1.16 million, according to financial data on the city’s website. The financial documents do not show how much money goes to the animal shelter.
“We as an administration have a really great animal care and control policy that we are working to implement,” said Linehan. “I am committed, as are some of my colleagues, to have a very progressive animal care and control department because I think it’s a really important part of our lives.”
Camilla was one of 12 dogs found by police in deplorable conditions in a Mather Street basement in December 2011. Cruelty to animal charges were filed, and Camilla and other dogs were held in the city shelter while the case worked its way through the court system.
When Camilla arrived at the shelter, she weighed almost 32 pounds and scored 4 out a possible 9 on a rating system used to assess the robustness of animals, according to the Animal Rescue League.
But by late last month, when the Rescue League retrieved her from the city’s shelter, Camilla weighed 24 pounds, and her body condition score was 2 out of 9. Her ribs were visible. She had a sore on her head.
After a little more than a week at the Animal Rescue League shelter, Camilla had gained nine pounds, which suggests she had been dehydrated and hungry.
“She is the sweetest dog,” Nee said. “We really hope she will be on the road to adoption.”
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