Wallingford shelter needs air conditioning, says new animal control officer

WALLINGFORD — The town animal shelter needs an air conditioning system at a cost of about $20,000 to safeguard animal health, the town’s new animal control office director said in reports obtained by the Record-Journal.

Mitch Gibbs recommended the AC installation to his supervisor, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., because kennel temperatures monitored on 25 days in July and August broke 80 degrees Fahrenheit 11 times and hit 79 degrees four times. Tellingly, the monitoring occurred when outdoor temperatures failed to top 90 degrees, according to the documents, which are dated Aug. 27 and Aug. 10, and were received Friday through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Keeping the ambient [kennel] air temperature below 80 degrees allows for the dogs to exhibit more natural behaviors and reduces the risk of dogs exhibiting signs of ‘kennel stress,’ which can pose potential risks to the staff as well,” Gibbs wrote in the Aug. 10 letter to Dickinson.

“Anxious dogs are more prone to kennel stress, and some dogs [who have it] decline rapidly to the point where they harm themselves. These factors can contribute to the difficult choice of behavioral euthanasia if no safe alternatives are present,” he added.

Dickinson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The lack of shelter AC became a political issue in Wallingford when temperatures reached close to 100 degrees in late June. Several Democratic town councilors said during a June 23 meeting amid a summer heat wave that the un-cooled air, and chronic staff shortages, were examples of Republican Dickinson’s indifferent managerial style.

After Dickinson responded that he had never been approached about the lack of cool air in the shelter kennels — and that plenty of people in town lack air conditioning — Democratic mayoral challenger Riley O’Connell released a 2018 memo to Dickinson from Gibbs’ predecessor, Katie Ehlers, requesting AC for the kennels.

In response, Dickinson said that he vaguely recalled Ehlers communicating in 2018 or 2019 that she “felt it was too warm” in the office.

No animal deaths occurred from the heat, although the shelter building, at 5 Pent Road, was cited by state inspectors for floor cracks and other issues. Shelter animals were given cooling pads and plenty of water, Ehlers and other animal control officers have said.

State law requires shelters to maintain temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees. Dickinson said that he would await recommendations from Ehlers’ replacement, who turned out to be Gibbs when he was hired on July 12, to see what the office needed. Gibbs’ answer came with the Aug. 27 report.

‘Significant risk’

Kennel stress can threaten canine health and “lead to more significant negative behaviors” among dogs, making them more aggressive with other dogs and with people. “This poses significant risk to employees and the general public,” Gibbs wrote.

The shelter will also likely need a drop ceiling and new roof insulation. Gibbs recommended paying for the work with an allocation from an animal shelter trust fund. The council has control over the fund thanks to a recent council resolution, but according to the Town Charter, the mayor controls the administration of town funds.

If Dickinson approves, the town Department of Public Works can install the insulation and lower ceiling this fall or over the winter, Gibbs said.

The upgrade to the shelter is still being discussed. No decision has been made, Gibbs said.

Republican Town Councilor Christina Tatta said she was glad that Gibbs is working with public works to get the building upgrade done. Gibbs seems like he “truly cares about shelter animals,” she said.

“That’s what this is all about: the well-being of the animals in our care,” Tatta said.

nsambides@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @JrSambides

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