Newtown officials are mulling changes to what they once referred to as an animal euthanasia policy that they are now terming a no-kill policy in light of concerns raised that the proposal would promote the needless killing of shelter animals.
"We are certainly not trying to create a kill-facility," First Selectman Pat Llodra said of the policy during last week's Board of Selectman meeting. "We need to do a better job of rewriting it, if it is being misunderstood."
The policy, which was first but only recently caught the attention of supporters, is being crafted in anticipation of a new animal shelter under construction in Newtown. Shelter supporters played a pivotal role in raising funds for the new building.
Some of those same supporters expressed dismay at the proposal, saying as written, it ran counter to Newtown's no-kill policies of the past.
"Our pound has always euthanized as a last resort," Jackie Zvon, who volunteers to walk dogs at the pound on Saturdays, told the selectmen. "If it is necessary, it has been employed to relieve the suffering of an animal."
The policy, in fact, prohibits any one person from deciding to euthanize an animal at the town shelter, requiring the decision to be made by a group that includes three or more people, such as a licensed veterinarian, first selectman, chief of police, municipal animal control officer, animal control officer or other government official. The group would be authorize to approve the killing of an animal deemed to be medically or "behaviorally non-sustainable."
While dogs who were medically compromised in the past have been euthanized in the past, the category of "behaviorally non-sustainable" appeared to be the most troublesome to shelter supporters.
"That's the panel deciding to kill what they deem to be a bad dog," Zvon said.
Critics said they believe the decision should be made by people who are familiar with the dog rather than town administrators. Many of the dogs now housed at the pound have behavioral problems that might make them a target, those critics said.
Virginia Jess, president of Canine Advocates, also said her group disagreed with having the animal shelter fall under the purview of the police chief rather than the first selectman, as it has in the past.
"We ask that the first selectman retain those supervisory controls," she said.
Llodra said she and other officials were open to hearing residents' concerns and modifying the policy so that the language was more clear, however, the town needs a written policy that clearly details when euthanasia can be considered and the steps that must be taken in reaching that decision.
"Right now, with no written policy, we are leaving all of these decisions to chance," she said. "We are at greater risk without a policy than with one."
Selectman Will Rodgers said officials were concerned about the potential for liability without a policy in place.
"There have been liability problems for other municipalities when action was taken without a written policy to support that action," he said. "It's not intended to be a change in the policy, it's intended to be a written codification of the existing policy."
The selectmen said they will postpone any action on the policy in order to receive feedback from residents.
"Take a step back...provide us some suggestions," Llodra told shelter supporters. "Help us to come up with what is the right thing to do."