Animal control out of control; Officer too busy at shelter; city seeking outside help.

Position:LOCAL NEWS
 
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Byline: Danielle M. Williamson

GARDNER - Prompted by financial limitations and the desire to refocus the animal control officer's efforts to ordinance enforcement, city officials are exploring the possibility of an outside agency taking over day-to-day operations of the animal control facility.

Animal Control Officer Lisa A. Gaudet is the main employee at the 3-year-old facility, informally known as a shelter because it houses and adopts out animals. She spends more than half her shift cleaning the West Broadway building and caring for the four dogs and 14 cats it shelters. Meanwhile, police officials say, dog ordinance enforcement is falling by the wayside.

Though shelter management isn't in the animal control officer's job description, the city simply doesn't have anyone else to consistently run the facility, and budget restrictions prevent officials from staffing long-term help.

"It doesn't appear we've ever been in a situation where Lisa's been able to do what she's supposed to do, which is primarily enforcement," said Police Chief Neil C. Erickson, who oversees animal control. "Unfortunately, it's put her in a tough position, where she's kind of left doing it all."

Chief Erickson, Deputy Police Chief Rock A. Barrieau, Mayor Mark P. Hawke, Health Director Bernard F. Sullivan and Officer Gaudet met Tuesday with representatives from the Worcester Animal Rescue League to see if the nonprofit agency could staff the shelter if the city absorbed utility costs.

Rescue League Director Doreen Currier said finances, and the facility's location, prevent her group from assuming that responsibility. "We'd like to be able to take it over but it's something we're not ready or able to take on at this time," she said. "Maybe if it were 20 minutes closer."

Ms. Currier said 17 Central Massachusetts towns contract with the rescue league, sending strays to the agency's Holden shelter and paying a daily fee per animal. Gardner would be better served, she said, if officials registered the facility as a nonprofit entity.

Mr. Sullivan said he agreed with Ms. Currier that the shelter should become a nonprofit.

"Municipalities don't make good fundraisers," he said. "Public entities shouldn't be involved in fundraising."

Though the Tuesday meeting, initiated by police, didn't pan out, officials have scheduled another meeting with a different nonprofit group.

"We're fishing a little bit, to see if there's an agency out there that could take it over," the mayor...

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