WALLINGFORD, Conn. (WTNH) –It’s the dog days of summer, and tensions are boiling over in Wallingford where the municipal animal shelter has no air conditioning.
Animal advocates say the town has more than $700,000 in its Dog Pound Trust Fund for improvements and repairs, yet hasn’t installed AC units.
Tuesday, a group of protesters gathered outside the Town Hall, calling on the mayor to take action.
The mayor told News 8 Monday this is the first time the issue has been raised with him and insists it will take time to do the proper reviews and recommendations to get the new system installed.
“We’re bringing them ice, putting some ice in their water,” said shelter volunteer Alex as he arrived to care for the seven dogs and 12 cats inside the building on Monday.
“How bad does it get in there?” asked Democratic Councilman Vincent Testa. “It gets hot,” said Alex and another volunteer, Judy, “[The animals] are stressed out because they’re in this environment, to begin with– they miss their families, whatever the reason to be dropped off–and then to be so hot.”
Those concerns now at the center of a dog fight between animal advocates, the Republican mayor and town Democrats.
It comes down to this: the shelter only has AC in the front office, for staff. When that broke, the plight of the animals came to light, too. Townspeople realized the kennels were not air-conditioned and could get stifling on a hot day.
Midday Monday, it was about 90 degrees in Wallingford. News 8 Meteorologist Ashley Baylor used a laser thermometer to estimate the heat index inside one of the rooms where the shelter’s cats were being kept–she calculated a feels-like temperature of 98 degrees.
Advocates say the kennels, towards the back of the building, have even less ventilation. While the state doesn’t require air conditioning in animal shelters, Councilman Testa says there’s no reason the money set aside for the shelter shouldn’t be used to install it.
“We have laws about keeping dogs in cars. We know how hot it can get,” said Testa, “There’s no excuse for allowing those conditions to exist.”
Democratic mayoral candidate Riley O’Connell weighed in as well.
“It’s an easy fix. The money is there,” said O’Connell.
“Is this a political issue or is this about the animals?” asked News 8’s Sabina Kuriakose.
“This is definitely about the animals.,” said O’Connell, “The reason it becomes political is because there is only one person right now that’s deciding, that has the authority to make this change happen. And that’s the mayor.”
News 8 went to Mayor William Dickinson for answers. Dickinson says the issue was only raised with him at last week’s town council meeting. He says he obviously doesn’t want the dogs and cats to suffer, and that he never dismissed the idea of installing AC.
Dickinson says he has to hire a new head animal control officer (ACO) who can take a look at what improvements need to be made.
“This has been decades without a problem. Suddenly, we’re saying it’s a terrible situation. I do think we need to follow the appropriate procedures for review and recommendations.”
Mayor Dickinson says the town is close to hiring a new head ACO.
His opponents say the town can’t afford to wait.
“They spend 23 and a half hours in a kennel,” volunteer Alex said of the animals in the shelter. “You have to think how you would feel if you were in that situation.”
The mayor says the town is monitoring the temperature inside the shelter to make sure it does not exceed state regulations. He says officials continue to care for the dogs and cats inside.