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Regional dog shelter now open

TURNERS FALLS — The Franklin County sheriff’s Regional Dog Control and Adoption Center officially opened Wednesday with state officials touting the benefits of such shared municipal services.

Jay Gonzalez, secretary of the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance, attended the grand opening of the shelter, established in part with state money through his office.

Gonzalez, Sheriff Christopher Donelan, state Reps. Stephen Kulik and Paul Mark and shelter Director Leslee Colucci addressed an audience of about 50 squeezed into the former Department of Public Works storage bay, freshly renovated into an office or reception area with attached dog shower by a prison work crew and volunteers.

Gonzalez told the crowd there is a new fiscal reality and even the cheeriest budget projections show local aid frozen at the current post-recession levels.

“The one thing we have within our control and that we have no choice anymore to do is to change the way government does business,” Gonzalez said.

Towns need to find ways to offer services more cheaply and efficiently, Gonzalez said, and the Community Innovation Challenge grants given out this year to the tune of $4 million are targeted at encouraging such efforts.

The Sheriff’s Office, with the help of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, secured $19,900 of that money to set up the 12-town regional shelter.

“I would say, Mr. Secretary, that we did at least $75,000 worth of work to this building with the money you gave us,” Donelan said.

Donelan said the kennel rose out of a persistent need he had seen, with police responding to dog calls and collecting the animals to then take up space in the back seat of the cruiser.

“The Sheriff’s Office being one of the few regional entities left it seemed like a logical place to look for a solution,” Donelan said earlier.

Citing the failure of a Franklin County school regionalization effort while he was serving as a state representative, Donelan said there is stubborn resistance from towns to the idea of giving up a modicum of control to regionalization in a host of areas, but regionalization will move forward if projects like the kennel demonstrate that it works.

Donelan said he eventually plans to incorporate the kennel into the jail’s vocational program, saying research has shown working with animals can have a calming effect on a person’s personality.

The shelter has been in the midst of renovation but open since May, according to Colucci, a former Greenfield animal control officer hired by the sheriff to oversee the program.

Colucci said what was meant to be a quiet opening brought in 13 dogs in the first two weeks, and the kennel has since seen more than 80, with 25 adopted out.

The operation of the shelter is funded by relatively small assessments to the towns — with the cost of the sole paid position, Colucci’s, borne by the Sheriff’s Office — and fees charged owners collecting their wayward pets.

Most of the dogs — the shelter is currently not equipped to handle other pets — are strays or runaways collected by police or animal control officers in the 12 towns and deposited at the shelter, according to Colucci.

Montague, Greenfield, Heath, Colrain, Bernardston, Warwick, Erving, Gill, Buckland, Conway, Deerfield and Whately signed on to the plan.

Colucci thanked the many volunteers and donors and presented a plaque thanking the “Orange Team” to the five orange-clad members of the jail inmate work crew present.

The shelter is located at the end of Sandy Lane off Turnpike Road and can be reached at 413-676-9182.

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