Editor's Note: This article is a collaboration between Oxford Patch and the Valley Independent Sentinel.
A letter detailing the condition of a dog found at the Derby dog pound is raising new questions about the level of care provided at the embattled facility.
The letter states one pit bull taken from the pound April 13 “appeared to be neglected.”
The undated letter, obtained by Oxford Patch and the Valley Independent Sentinel, was written by Dr. T.C. Nanavati of the Ansonia Animal Hospital in Seymour.
The dog was brought to the vet by an assistant animal control officer from Oxford, who found the dog in the Derby pound and was concerned for its health.
Oxford animal control officers were at the Derby pound April 13 because they were asked to cover the city after Joe Klapcik, the city's animal control officer, abruptly quit his job earlier in the day.
The male pit bull taken from the Derby pound received antibiotics to treat an infection and remained under Nanavati's care for three days.
"There were open sores on his legs and on his tail,” Nanavati wrote in his letter. “His paws were discolored because of intense licking. He appeared to be malnourished and had very dry skin." (See photo of the dog, attached.)
The vet’s letter also states the animal “reeked of urine.”
The letter raises new questions about the level of care dogs received under Klapcik's supervision, because state regulations say sick or injured impounded animals must receive immediate medical attention.
That did not happen in Derby, as intake paperwork shows the injured pit bull had been in the pound since February, according to Oxford animal control officers.
Nanavati's letter also lends credence to statements that conditions inside the Coon Hollow Road dog pound in Derby were substandard.
Derby officials insist dogs were well cared for and the pound was adequate for its intended use as an animal holding facility.
The Derby Police Department closed the pound Tuesday, four days after Klapcik walked off the job and Oxford animal control was brought in to help.
The dogs are now being housed in Woodbridge.
(Note the PDF attachments at right. We've attached the last state inspection report for the Derby dog pound, the last reports for the Seymour, Oxford and Shelton dog pounds and a third PDF is a letter from a veterinarian describing what kind of condition the dog was in.)
Klapcik, Derby's part-time animal control officer for 18 years, quit just 17 days shy of his anticipated retirement date.
His supervisors at the Derby Police Department said he left Friday because he was angry that officials didn't drop off his city vehicle at the location he specified.
Volunteers who came to Derby to clean the Coon Hollow Road dog pound in the wake of Klapcik's departure said the place was filthy. Derby officials said that was not true.
Derby Police Chief Gerald Narowski said Tuesday he walked though the shelter shortly after Klapcik's departure.
There were no signs of neglect to the animals, the chief said.
"Four of us walked through Friday. The dogs were there. They had food and water. They were barking and wagging their tails. There was some feces on the ground, but it didn't look like anything that had accumulated for more than a few hours," Narowski said Tuesday.
The chief said he had not received a copy of Nanavati's letter as of Thursday afternoon.
"Upon its receipt, we will conduct a thorough investigation and follow up with the veterinarian/Department of Agriculture Animal Control Division and take any follow up action that is warranted," Narowski said Thursday.
Oxford Officials Break Their Silence
Narowski's initial statements about the conditions in the pound hit a nerve with two Oxford animal control officers who were asked to help Derby after Klapcik quit.
At first, the Oxford animal control officers had remained silent on the issue, referring media inquires to Derby police. Now, one of them is offering to take a lie detector test to prove her claims.
"The truth will eventually get out, and the truth is the truth is the truth -- the animals were being abused and neglected," Assistant Oxford Animal Control Officer Cori Wlasuk said in an e-mail. "I am telling the truth and would be more than happy to confirm this with a lie detector test. At no time did Oxford give information that was untrue or inaccurate. Our only intention was to help those poor animals."
After Klapcik walked off the job, Derby police asked Oxford Animal Control Officer Sandy Merry to temporarily cover Derby.
Specifically, Merry said Derby police Lt. Sal Frosceno asked her to cover animal emergencies in Derby over the weekend and to clean the Coon Hollow Road facility.
Merry, Wlasuk and a Derby officer went to the pound late Friday afternoon.
Wlasuk said she "came face-to-face with a rabbit that was in a cage saturated with urine and fecal matter."
Why a rabbit was in a municipal dog pound is anyone's guess. The six dogs, according to Wlasuk, "were in their own excrement and did not have food in their bowls."
Merry said she immediately noticed a black and white pit bull.
"When we went in the kennel, the second dog on the right was standing there on the dog bed and it had urine all over it," Merry said.
"Cori (Wlasuk) and I both noticed he had open sores that were open and oozing on his foot, on his leg. I turned around and told the police officer that this dog needs a vet right away," Merry said.
Wlasuk immediately brought the dog to Nanavati's office in Seymour. It was the only dog that required medical attention.
Merry said she checked paperwork in the pound, which she said stated the pit bull had been in the Derby pound since Feb. 13.
When asked if the dog could have arrived off the street wounded, Merry said:
"If it came in with any of those symptoms, it should have been taken to the vet. By law, any animal control officer that picks up a dog -- if we pick up a dog hit by a car, an animal that is sick or injured -- we have to take it to a vet."
"If we impound a dog and then notice something like an injury or illness, we have to take it to the vet; it is state law," Merry said.
The other six dogs in the pound did not require medical attention, but they needed to be cleaned, Merry said.
Merry said the dogs had been urinating for some time in their sleeping areas. This was evidenced by the fact plastic in the dog beds was disintegrating, she said.
"You could tell the urine had been sitting on the dog beds for awhile," she said. "You could see some of the urine burns on the beds. When we were cleaning, you could see plastic peeling off."
In addition, Merry said the Derby pound had two clogged drains, making it difficult to clean the mess inside. Merry said they were able to unclog one outside ground drain, but the other was stuffed with feces and leaves.
Merry called in volunteers to help scrub the floors in the pound. One dog area was caked with diarrhea, she said.
The outside rear of the facility had several piles of dog feces, too.
The volunteer crew cleaned for four hours on Friday alone, Merry said.
"We soaked and scrubbed, we soaked and scrubbed. We got it all out," she said.
Merry then brought in a pit bull rescue group Saturday to begin observing the dogs and determined they could all be adopted.
The rescue group set up a Facebook page with photos and videos of the dogs, advertising them to the public.
Narowski said Derby police authorized none of this.
No one other than Oxford animal control had permission to be at the pound, the Derby police chief said.
Wlasuk said Derby police had no issues with the volunteers or the rescue group while they were there.
"During the course of the weekend several Derby police officers stopped by the facility, and at no time did they say that the rescue group was not authorized to be there," she said. "In fact, they thanked all of us."
On Thursday, Narowski said he would not debate Oxford Animal Control Officers on a point-by-point basis. He said the Derby pound was operated in accordance to state law and that supervising officers paid visits to the pound "two to three times a week."
He said the Coon Hollow Road building, constructed sometime in the 1970s, was not a long-term animal shelter, nor a facility run by an animal rescue group.
"It was a holding facility," Narowski said.
Most of the Derby dogs are now being held at a facility in Woodbridge.
State Inspects Derby
On Tuesday, after volunteers who assisted Merry began speaking to the media about conditions at the Derby pound, the state animal control
division sent an inspector to Coon Hollow Road.
It was the first time Derby's pound was inspected since 2008.
The inspector found two minor issues at Derby's pound, including the clogged drain observed by Merry and Wlasuk.
A copy of the inspection report is not yet available from the state's animal control division.
The Oxford animal control officers noted the inspection went well because the volunteers who cleaned the place.
Narowski said the pound Tuesday was in generally the same shape it was in on Friday, when he was last there.
In its three most recent state inspections, the Derby pound fell right in line with animal control facilities in Ansonia and Shelton.
Most local dog pounds have done poorly in terms of building maintenance -- broken or chipped concrete is a common violation, so are broken fences and damaged doors.
The most recent inspection of the Shelton facility was Feb. 24.
Shelton's pound is overcrowded, according to the inspection report.
However, the most recent Oxford inspection shows it fared worse than previous Derby inspections, according to documents released from the state Thursday through a Freedom of Information request.
The Oxford Animal Control Facility on Route 67 next to Oxford Town Hall was last inspected in October 2011.
Among the violations in Oxford:
- A space meant for dogs was "unusable -- filled with junk."
- Rat feces were found under a feeding station. "Removing debris would help cut down on continuing rodent infestation," the inspector advised.
- There was "too much clutter and debris" in the building, with cat-scratch posts that could not be cleaned or disinfected, "causing an environment that is not germ-free."
Merry said the violations in Oxford have all been addressed.
They reflect the fact the Oxford pound is woefully undersized for the amount of activity happening there, she said.
Unlike Derby, Oxford's facility has a massive network of volunteers who socialize the dogs, walk the dogs -- even train them.
They also collect donations of dog toys, leashes collars and other dog accessories.
The pound doesn't have enough room to store its stuff, which is why there is an effort afoot in town to build a new animal shelter.
Oxford Animal Control doesn't view its pound as a jail for dogs.
"That has all since been cleaned up," Merry said, adding that the inspector who cited the facility, Barbara Godejohn, came down to the shelter about a week after the inspection and spent a day helping staff clean.
"It was taken care of, and she was involved in taking care of it," Merry said.