Smell of bleach, air of hope at Boston’s animal shelter

The antiseptic odor of bleach permeated the air. Workers removed unused cages and other clutter. A volunteer tossed a rubber chew toy to a coffee-colored dog in an outdoor run.

The overhaul continued Friday at Boston’s city-run animal shelter after the Animal Rescue League discovered such extensive mismanagement and neglect that some pound employees were moved to tears.

The newly appointed interim director of animal control, John Meaney, said the city is taking steps to support the staff at the overburdened pound and to provide better care.


“We’re naming the pets,” Meaney said Friday during a tour for television cameras and reporters. “Each one is going to be given an identity. To me, it’s important. You give it a name while it’s under our care. It gives a personal touch.”

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Late last month, the Animal Rescue League warned the city that the Roslindale shelter was in crisis. 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.

Walsh said Friday that the city would increase staffing at the shelter if needed.

“We’re going to make some long-term changes there,” Walsh said. “But first John [Meaney] needs to get the office stabilized and make sure there is no more neglect of animals.”

A thorough scrubbing began last week and on Friday, the shelter appeared well-kept during the tour. In a large room that held 14 individual kennels for stray dogs, the barking was deafening. The cages were clean, but fencing needed repair.


There were roughly a dozen stray dogs, including an auburn and white Boston terrier, two dachshunds, a French bulldog, and a Chihuahua. In one cage, a dog that looked like a pit bull stood on its back legs and barked furiously. Next door, a cat-sized Lhasa apso cowered on a blanket.

Daily staff meetings have been held to boost morale. About eight staff members met Friday morning, Meaney recounted, after the Globe reported the emergency measures taken at the shelter. Meaney said he listened to employees and let one worker cry.

“The shelter workers care,” Meaney said. “They give their heart and soul despite time restraints and mismanagement. You could feel it when I first walked in here. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh here we go, it’s change.’ It was a joy. That tells you about what was going on here. They felt like they got help. Their hands were tied for whatever reason, and now they have hope.”

The Animal Rescue League discovered the crisis at the Roslindale pound when the agency retrieved a dog named Camilla that had been at the shelter while an animal cruelty case worked through the court system. Camilla had been rescued from a dog-fighting ring, but the Animal Rescue League found that her condition had deteriorated at the city pound.

Big Bbay is one of many pets at Boston’s embattled animal shelter.
David L Ryan/ Globe Staff
Big Baby is one of many pets at Boston’s embattled animal shelter.

The Walsh administration asked the Rescue League to perform a comprehensive assessment of the shelter. The review, which is expected to be completed next week, could prompt further action. The 78 animals remaining at the pound were examined by a team of veterinarians, animal care managers, and shelter technicians.


Rachel Weber has been a weekly volunteer at the pound for several years and said she had never witnessed mistreatment or neglect.

“The staff is very caring and committed,” said Weber, 50, who travels an hour by bus and subway from Somerville to spend time at the shelter. “It’s a pleasure to come here.”

Volunteers spend time with animals offered for adoption. Outside, the facility has three spacious dog runs with ample chew toys, beds, and baby pools.

But stray dogs are kept out of sight of volunteers. Strays have an outside run that is a rocky, fenced-off area. On Friday, there were a few tennis balls and no other toys.

Mark Giannangelo, the former director of animal control, faced an hourlong hearing Friday at City Hall. Giannangelo was questioned by city officials as part of the ongoing shelter investigation. He has been suspended with pay while the city prepares to fire him, said a city official. Giannangelo could not be reached Friday for comment.

The city had not recently received complaints about the condition of the shelter from volunteers or patrons, said city spokeswoman Melina Schuler. The city’s constituent hotline had one complaint regarding misplaced trash, Schuler said.

The Animal Rescue League noted that the shelter had “its ups and downs over the years.” The Rescue League recently had concerns about staffing and training and had advocated for a change in leadership, said League spokeswoman Ami Bowen. But advocates had never seen a dog in the condition in which they found Camilla.

Meaney said he is determined to have staff members spend more time with animals. Dog officers, for example, are going to become more involved in care.

“We’re going to play more with the animals,” Meaney said. “We’re going to change the way things operate here.”


Photos: Boston’s animal shelter

Boston animal shelter found in crisis

E-mail details advocates’ concern over shelter conditions

Andrew Ryan can be reached at