Resident’s complaint prompts pending discussion on animal control responses in Leyden

  • The Leyden Selectboard heard from resident Ann Zaveruha, second from left, who filed a complaint against Police Chief Dan Galvis, seated in front row, on Monday pertaining to a call for a potentially rabid porcupine in April. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2021 3:35:27 PM

LEYDEN — The Selectboard is planning to hold future discussions examining town practices for responding to animal control calls after receiving a resident’s complaint following an incident with a potentially rabid porcupine back in April.

While some discussion occurred on Monday, the Selectboard ultimately decided to table the subject to a later date when all members — including Selectboard member Erica Jensen, who was recently appointed as the board’s police liaison and who was absent Monday — can be present. However, Chair Jeff Neipp said he may be unavailable in August, so it is unclear how soon the board will revisit the discussion.

After some conversation was entertained, Neipp said “it didn’t seem anything was going to be productive or in the best interest of Leyden” and he moved to table the topic. Neipp said the Selectboard is open to encouraging police officers to receive additional training for animal calls, but any action will come following continued conversations in a future meeting.

“Everything last night, I think, was heard in anger and that’s not productive for the town,” Neipp said, speaking by phone Tuesday morning.

Selectboard members said during Monday’s meeting that the current proper response to a potential rabid animal is to call 911, which will connect to the Leyden Police Department who will respond.

The complaint was filed by Ann Zaveruha against Police Chief Dan Galvis after he responded to a call for a potentially rabid porcupine in April. According to Zaveruha, she observed the porcupine exhibiting signs of a “dumb form” of rabies and it wandered around her property for roughly 48 hours before she called the police. She said she instructed a renter of one of her properties to shoot the animal, avoiding the head so it could be preserved for rabies testing. Upon arrival, she said Galvis instructed the renter to place the shot porcupine in a box to be transported to a veterinarian for testing. Galvis said he took the animal to the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield and said he was told they would not test it.

“The missing link here was communication, we think,” Selectboard member Bill Glabach said Monday.

Zaveruha said she was never notified of this refusal to test the animal, and added if she had been told this by Galvis she would have called the clinic directly to question the test refusal. Without knowing the animal hadn’t been tested, and without proof of a negative rabies result, she spent nearly $1,000 to vaccinate her herd of cattle as a precaution. This was the second time in a year she needed to vaccinate her livestock after a raccoon found on her property in October 2020 tested positive for rabies. In the case of the raccoon, she said the animal was tested and she was notified of the positive rabies result by the next day.

Zaveruha accused Galvis of “withholding or not offering correction information” when he arrived to the veterinary clinic, but Neipp interjected, saying he was “going on the presumption” that the clinic should have asked questions that would have addressed relevant information such as possible contact with livestock or domestic animals.

Board of Health Chair Beth Kuzdeba said she had contacted the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital and received an emailed statement from Hospital Operations Administrator Keri Gardent. Gardent wrote that upon being presented the porcupine from Galvis, “the doctor said that they are not usually carriers of rabies and she doesn’t want to test it, and it came into no contact with anyone, according to the cop.”

Galvis read from the state Department of Fish and Game’s division of Massachusetts General Laws, which states police officers or animal control officers are permitted to kill raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes or woodchucks that are displaying behavior that causes reasonable conclusion that the animal is rabid. The intent of this, he said, is to allow the officers to kill wild animals “under certain circumstances, not to place the responsibility with them.”

“Police officers and other officials mentioned above do not have any legal ability to destroy any wild animal other than described above. Porcupines are not described above,” Galvis said Monday. “The animal control officer comes into play when there is a possibly rabid animal threatening public safety or livestock. If the homeowner decides to shoot it, it’s their problem. I don’t have to go get it. It’s up to them to dispose of it. I did it as a courtesy in this town. I guarantee you I will not do it again.”

Neipp said he wanted to handle this complaint correctly, but he also expressed concern with how long it took for the complaint to be brought forward. He said he spoke with Zaveruha by phone the day after the April incident and requested she submit comment in writing, but the Selectboard did not receive her letter until June.

According to Neipp, Leyden is not a member of the regional agreement with the Franklin County Sheriff Office for the services of Animal Control Officer Kyle Dragon.

“The last few years, if there has been an incident with an animal, the police have been handling it,” Neipp said. “Clearly, I’ll admit, we need to revise or update our rabies policy as far as if wild animals need to be tested.”

While Zaveruha said animal-related calls are in the top three categories of calls to the Leyden Police Department, Neipp said there haven’t been many “issues” involving animal complaints or rabies encounters over the years, aside from the raccoon previously found on Zaveruha’s property.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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