Panel told about care for animals at Sonsini shelter beginning May 1

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PITTSFIELD — At an Animal Control Commission hearing Thursday, Pittsfield Animal Control Officer Joseph Chague shed light on what's next for the city's shelter after the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini nonprofit leaves at the end of April.

Chague, who is the only active animal control officer in the city at present, said starting May 1, he will take over the day-to-day care of any animals that are detained by the city.

"I will be feeding, watering and caring for the dogs, as we did years ago," Chague said at the hearing.

In 2005, a group of individuals who volunteered at the Pittsfield shelter, taking care of animals that had been detained by the city, formed the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter and have been contracted through the city to continue with that duty, and also take ownership of homeless and surrendered animals after the mandatory holding period.

The nonprofit, which continues to operate in the city-owned Downing Industrial Park, then finds homes for the animals in its possession.

The city originally had given the staff of the shelter notice that the contract would be terminated March 30, but they refused to leave and continued to operate for several days, without a contract, until the city's attorney, Richard M. Dohoney came to an agreement with the nonprofit's attorney, Stacey Rossi, to extend the contract until April 30.

By April 30, nonprofit staff must remove all animals in their possession from the building, but leave behind animals detained by the city of Pittsfield.

Animal Control Commission board member Kevin Morandi expressed his concern that Chague might not be able to handle running the municipal shelter along with his other duties, especially in the summer months, when call volume increases.

Chague said that animal control officers collect 160 to 180 dogs each year, but 90 to 95 percent of them end up back with their owners.

Currently, the dogs that are not claimed are held for the mandatory seven days, then turned over to the nonprofit to be cared for.

Before the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini contract, the animals were turned over to the city's other shelter, the Berkshire Humane Society, according to veterinarian John Reynolds, chairman of the Animal Control Commission.

It is unclear who will take possession of the animals after the holding period once the contract with Sonsini is terminated.

"I just want to make sure that the city is providing the best possible care," Morandi said. "Also, we're really thinning our animal control officer."

Aside from Chague, Pittsfield has a part-time animal control officer, Terry Moran, who has been on leave since last year.

On Thursday, Pittsfield Officer Jeffrey Bradford said that police administration is in discussions about how to temporarily fill the vacant position in Moran's absence.

"In the meantime, [by] May 1, I'm always looking for volunteers," Chaugue said.

Earl Persip III, another member of the Animal Control Commission, asked Chague how he will get out the news about dogs in the city's possession, noting that the nonprofit has successfully used social media to spread the word.

Chague said that those details will be worked out, but he is not going to use his personal phone and is not familiar with social media.

Those who find a stray dog or whose dog is missing should call police to inquire about it, he said.

As for all the dogs currently in the possession of the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter, they will be moved to a temporary location on Crane Avenue, "hopefully by the beginning of May," Rossi said at the hearing.

Rossi, who previously served on the board of the nonprofit and whose husband was recently elected to it, spoke in support of its mission and the work of chairman Krista Wroldson-Miller.

Rossi said that the nonprofit will continue to carry out its mission of finding homes for homeless animals in Pittsfield going forward.

Wroldson-Miller, who previously served on the Animal Control Commission, was replaced at a city council meeting this week.

Andrea Wilson, who recently was elected to the nonprofit's board, introduced herself at the hearing, read the organization's mission statement and assured the commission that the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini will continue to operate as a "no-kill" shelter.

Pittsfield, through Mayor Linda Tyer and attorney Dohoney, has declined to comment on why the contract with the nonprofit was terminated.

"I do feel really strongly that its a legal matter," Tyer said Thursday, adding that stray animals will continue to be cared for.

John Perreault, Executive Director of the Berkshire Humane Society, said Wednesday that he had not been contacted by the city to assist with homeless animals going forward, but that the shelter has space for about 32 adult dogs and would be able to help the city, if needed.

Before the formation of the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini nonprofit, the city would sign over animals to the Berkshire Humane Society after the mandatory holding period, Perreault said.

"That's an open invitation to any city and town in Berkshire County," Perreault said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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