Mansfield officials are standing firmly behind a local animal control officer who is in the midst of his third controversy within a year after he euthanized what he deemed was a dangerous dog, this time another pit bull.
Local animal rights activist Erin Buote is gathering signatures on a petition that calls for the officer, Jeff Collins, to be fired after he put down the pit bull Oscar in October. Buote has sent a four-page letter complaining about Collins to selectmen, and says she hopes to present the petition to them soon.
Buote, a former Mansfield Animal Shelter volunteer, founded Rocco’s Voice Facebook page and advocacy group after Collins enthanized a pit bull named Rocco last December. The officer also recommended putting down a third dog earlier this year.
“I find it really terrible for [Collins] to be the judge, jury, and executioner when he doesn’t even have any training” in animal behavior, said Buote. She charges that Collins is biased against pit bulls and that when she was a volunteer she heard him say several times that he hates the breed.
“Our purpose is to be a voice for the voiceless, demand justice and demand change,” states the Rocco’s Voice Facebook page. “Euthanizing animals is not necessary. One life lost is too many.”
But Police Chief Ronald A. Sellon, Town Manager William R. Ross, and several members of the Board of Selectmen have come to the defense of Collins, who has been on the job for 20 years. They say Collins carefully considered all the options in the case of Oscar.
Sellon and Ross, speaking during a recent conference call, said the town’s shelter has a very low kill rate, and its procedures and policies and training are on par with other communities. The attacks on Collins are unfair, they said.
“These decisions pain Jeff. . . . To have him get beat up in the manner he has is simply not right,” said Sellon, who has directly supervised Collins since he took over as chief in March.
Sellon said he has advised Collins not to speak to the media so that he can continue to focus on the job he has “devoted his whole life” to doing well. “We’re the community that made the decision, and as far as we’re concerned the issue is over,” Sellon said.
Selectmen chairman Jess Aptowitz, also on the conference call, said he has known Collins for years as “one of the most diligent municipal employees” in the town. “He really takes his job very seriously,” he said, adding it’s easy for people with “a little information to spout off and besmirch someone’s reputation.”
Ross said that Collins sought the opinion of a second animal control officer when deliberating Oscar’s fate.
“Once in a while you find an animal that cannot be saved. It is an unfortunate fact of life. At that point you have to take an action that is in the best interest of the community,” Ross said.
Selectman Olivier Kozlowski also defended Collins, saying the officer gained credibility in another controversial call this year. Collins recommended that Milo, a pointer-hound mixed-breed dog, be put down after he bit a 6-year-old boy so badly he required 400 stitches.
After a hearing in March, selectmen voted 3-2 to have Milo euthanized and allowed him to stay with his owners during a 10-day appeal period. During the appeal period, Milo bit a female member of the family he lived with, resulting in the young woman requiring multiple stitches.
Buote said the Milo case doesn’t take away from the cases of Rocco and Oscar. Neither of them was vicious and each could have been adopted if more effort was put in, she said, adding that her concern about the fate of Kaylee, another pit bull at the shelter, provided her additional motivation to draft the petition.
“I understand that animal control officers need to have public safety as a concern. I wouldn’t be so concerned if there was a due process followed,” Buote said.
She said Rocco was only showing typical canine behavior when he growled at a group of Cub Scouts who she said crowded his cage while they were touring the shelter.
She said a group of shelter volunteers had requested a hearing on Rocco before selectmen, but the dog was put down before the hearing could be held.
Buote said that Oscar’s being euthanized “was a total shock to anybody who had read his file. I’ve talked with several people who had interacted with Oscar directly and they said he wasn’t at all aggressive.”
Buote said she is “still working on gathering local signatures” for the petition, hosted at www.moveon.org. It now shows the petition has gathered about 1,200 signatures, many of them from other states. She said she is also seeking to examine all the town files on dogs from the past two years. She said that the shelter is staffed largely by Mansfield Shelter Friends, who care for the animals, and that the official assertion of a low kill rate is exaggerated.
In a prepared statement, Sellon said that since 2006 there have been six pit bull or pit bull mix dogs euthanized at the shelter.
“One of these dogs had inoperable cancer and one of the dogs was Rocco, the details of which have been fully disclosed. The other four pit bulls had significant aggression and/or bite history and would have not been safe candidates for adoption,” he said.
Sellon said the town is also very proud of its adoption statistics and of the work of the animal shelter volunteers.Elaine Cushman Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.