, Newburyport, MA

February 26, 2013

Animal control changes in works

New procedures seek to squelch questions

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY — Changes in the town’s handling of animal control issues are in the works after Salisbury’s current practices surrounding the treatment and boarding of confiscated animals were recently called into question.

As a result of the allegations, Town Manager Neil Harrington is altering procedures on how animals are confiscated and where they are boarded. He said all the improvement are aimed at eliminating any semblance of impropriety and not because he thinks the town’s animal control officers have done anything wrong.

The first change is that the town’s part-time animal control officer Harold Congdon will document in writing every time he or his daughter, Tina Boucher, who handles the responsibilities after hours on an on-call basis, are forced to confiscate an animal, Harrington said. That information will be filed in the town manager’s office.

Harrington is also researching the potential for contracting with the same private kennel that Amesbury uses to board animals that are picked up in Salisbury.

Currently, Salisbury boards animals either confiscated or picked up in town at Congdon’s kennel at his property on Elm Street.

Harrington said having the town’s animal control officers board confiscated animals in their own kennels, earning the $45-per-day boarding fees, has raised eyebrows with some people, who believe it creates a conflict of interest.

The town manager said while Congdon and Boucher only respond when complaints are lodged against an animal or its owners and aren’t driving around town hunting for stray dogs to pick up to board in their kennel, contracting with a private kennel would eliminate any appearance of a conflict.

Harrington is also looking into the fee-for-service costs involved for animal control issues and how those payments are handled.

Congdon has been Salisbury’s part-time animal control officer for many years. Three years ago, he also assumed the role in Amesbury through a joint agreement between the two communities.

Congdon responds to complaints about loose, nuisance or unattended animals in Salisbury only when he is on duty from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. After hours, Boucher handles complaints on an on-call basis. She is paid on a fee-for-service basis, receiving $40 a call. If she has to take a dog in, she is paid a $50 animal pick-up fee, Harrington said.

After a Boston TV news report earlier this month alleged improprieties in Salisbury regarding animal control procedures, kennel conditions and boarding payments, Harrington as well as Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer came to Congdon’s defense. The report alluded to mistreatment of dogs and unneeded confiscations and brought into question the $45-per-day boarding charges at Congdon’s kennel.

In addition to serving as animal control officer, Congdon owns his own businesses, including a taxi service and auto salvage operation. He runs the businesses out of the same Elm Street location where he also houses his dog kennel.

Harrington believes the Boston station blew out of proportion the fact that the kennel and salvage business are at the same address, and misled viewers into thinking the confiscated animals were being kept in the midst of a “junk yard,” even implying they were housed in the junk cars.

The town manager said the dogs have never been kept in junk cars, adding that the cars are on one side of Congdon’s property, away from the kennel, which is on the other side.

“By far, the most common complaint I’ve heard since the story was on television was from people concerned about how the animals were treated,” Harrington said. “The fact is the animals are very well treated.”

Kezer said because Amesbury contracts with a private kennel for the dogs picked up in its city, boarding fees are paid directly to the kennel — not the city or the dog officer — before the animals are released. Conflict of interest isn’t a consideration in those cases, because Congdon’s kennel is removed from the equation, Kezer said.