A small protest outside Town Hall was followed by a confrontational public session at Tuesday’s township council meeting, when a group of citizens demanded an explanation as to why the Board of Health rejected a home for a dog named Memphis.
According to the speakers’ accounts, Memphis, residing at the Bloomfield Animal Shelter since February 2012, was recently offered a loving home, but the offer was turned down by Board of Health officials, who described the dog as “unadoptable.”
Advocates at the meeting argued that Memphis was well-behaved and displayed a good-natured disposition; moreover, local dog-trainer Jeff Coltenbeck, who seeks to adopt the dog, was known for his expertise with “difficult” or aggressive behavior in dogs.
“Dog trainers, veterinarians, refer people to me,” Coltenbeck declared, addressing the council. “Mr. Mayor, a few years ago, your own dog – you couldn’t get near him. You didn’t call the health department, you didn’t call animal control, you called me."
In a series of emotional speeches, area residents protested what they said was inhumane treatment of Memphis by vet technicians at the shelter, with one former volunteer bringing some audience members to tears.
Meanwhile, Mayor Raymond McCarthy tried to keep everyone’s emotions in check.
“Look, every council member up here has gotten hundreds of emails, phone calls [about this issue]; we’ve been stopped getting our hair cut and shopping at Murdoch Shoes – so we understand,” he told the protestors. “It goes back to the Board of Health. They’re doing everything they can to help the situation.”
Some attendees didn’t buy it; while seeking answers as to why Memphis’ adoption was denied, they raised the larger question of who was responsible for the decisions made by the animal shelter and ultimately, the Board of Health.
“It’s the Bloomfield Town Council that appoints the Board of Health, hires the health department officer and gives the department the money to operate,” said resident Pat Gilleran, a former volunteer at the shelter. “The council better come to grips with the fact that YOU are accountable!”
Though McCarthy had assured the protestors at the start of the meeting that the dog would be re-evaluated by another animal specialist soon – with the goal of allowing the adoption to proceed – the debate underscored a It was only a few months ago that Health officers Mike Fitzpatrick and Karen Lore , a move that created a hailstorm of protest from the volunteers, and accusations of misconduct on both sides.
“This is the boiling point. It’s a power struggle now, what’s going on,” said Kathy Miller, one of the protestors who stood outside Town Hall.
“It’s always politics,” agreed another protestor, Darleen Troutman. “That’s what the fight’s all about. Bloomfield wants to win. They’ve forgotten the animals.”
After the meeting, McCarthy said the town was following protocol by delaying the adoption because Coltenbeck had allowed the dog to be near children in the process of evaluating him. This was a violation of the conditions agreed upon prior to the evaluation, said McCarthy.
Calls to the Board of Health Department on Wednesday were not returned.
PLEASE NOTE: The dog will be re-evaluated by another animal behavior expert today. A public meeting will follow tonight from 6-8 pm for members of the public who wish to hear the results of his evaluation.
See WPIX coverage of Memphis' story tonight on the 5:00 news!