'Stray holds' rile Westport animal activists

Photo of Jordan Fenster

Let’s allay any concerns: Yes, the doggies are getting their walkies.

But that’s not what Westport Animal Control told Julie Loparo.

“We were told by the chief animal control officer that dogs on stray hold were not walked by animal control officers,” Loparo said.

Loparo is president of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, a group of animal-loving activists who foster dogs and and help them get adopted.

In October, the group was told that volunteers could not walk stray dogs on what is called “stray hold,” an observation period after a dog is picked up from the street. They were told, however, that staff members would be walking the dog.

That story changed last week. In October they were told, yes, the dogs were being walked by staff. Then last week they were being told differently, that they weren’t because of a “town ordinance.”

“I found out that that’s not actually the case. Staff haven’t been walking stray hold dogs since October,” she said. “WASA volunteers were initially told by animal control officers that there was a town ordinance. That’s a quote … town ordinance.”

WASA turned to Facebook to find out more and ask followers their feelings on the subject, particularly regarding Moose, a pit-breed who was then on stray hold.

Moose was found in late April, wandering on the Merritt Parkway in Westport. He was brought into animal control and was put on stray hold, “which means he will be confined to his kennel in regard to a new ‘town ordinance’ that does not permit staff members to take newly-impounded dogs outside to relieve themselves,” Loparo wrote on Facebook.

Followers were, by and large, appalled. “That is just terrible,” one user wrote. Another said, “Poor dog, this is so wrong.”

“We took a risk by posting what we did,” Loparo said.

Westport Police Lt. Jillian Cabana confirmed that there is no state or town ordinance prohibiting staff from walking dogs on stray hold.

“There’s no set policy on it,” she said. “When we do have a stray we do watch them.”

State statute specifies that stray dogs must be held for a period of seven days, to give a shelter the chance to find an owner, but there is nothing that restricts shelter staff from walking the dogs.

“We’re looking where this information came from,” Cabana said.

Loparo said she and other WASA volunteers went to police department command staff and were assured that, in fact, Moose and other dogs are walked at least three times a day during their stray hold.

At least they will going forward.

“I think it came as a surprise to them,” she said.