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Swampscott Board of Health exploring options to make animal control staff full-time

SWAMPSCOTT Diane Treadwell has spent her work weeks on call at all hours for 15 years as the Animal Control officer. She receives no benefits, has no uniform, and says residents don’t take her seriously.

Swampscott Board of Health Chair Marianne Speranza-Hartmann is fighting to change that. At Tuesday’s meeting, she said the board members discussed the topic and tried to throw out some options, such as regionalizing the Animal Control department and collaborating with nearby communities such as Lynn or Marblehead. 

“I’ve been banging that drum even before I was on the Board Of Health,” said Speranza-Hartmann. “I feel we need someone who is at least more permanent part-time and I’d love to see full-time, but I know it’s a difficult thing to ask the town because then that position requires benefits … There are obviously a lot of things in town where money is really needed and the town budget needs to be spent in the wisest way.”

The number Speranza-Hartmann has in her head to fulfill the role expansion is $40,000, she said.

Years ago, Swampscott’s Animal Control had its own department and full crew, said Speranza-Hartmann, but then it got cut from the budget. Now, Animal Control consists of Treadwell during the week and newly hired Dan Proulx on the weekends. 

Treadwell makes between $15,000 and $16,000 a year and Proulx makes $2,000 to $3,000, she said. Both Animal Control officers are 100 percent dedicated to the job and at times are working 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. shifts so they can respond to every call that comes in, she added.

“With more human-wildlife interaction than we’ve seen in recent years, unleashed dogs, the new bylaw put in place to keep dogs off town fields, and even tightening up bylaws we’ve already had, it’s a lot,” said Speranza-Hartmann. “If I had my way, I’d love to have them be part of police force and the budget could stay in the health department. It would just give them more authority.”

Treadwell said working Animal Control in Swampscott has morphed into more than a part-time job. If moved into a more full-time situation, she said she and Proulx could do daily patrolling, instead of waiting on a call to respond to, and they could do necessary educational outreach.

When either officer goes out on a call involving an unleashed dog or a dog on any of the town fields, which are now prohibited by a bylaw passed at the 2019 Town Meeting, Treadwell said they show up in plain clothes, because they aren’t provided with uniforms. Residents often ignore them, act belligerent, and don’t pay them respect, she said.

“We aren’t just dog catchers,” said Treadwell. “It’s more than that.”

When Treadwell began working with Swampscott Animal Control as an independent contractor, she said it was run under the police department. The officers at that time weren’t familiar with animal behaviors and weren’t up to par on their wildlife efforts, she said.

She spent her free time researching how to handle wildlife and even got a second job as a private contractor with a company that responds to natural disasters and helps rescue animals. In the event she ever decides to leave the Animal Control job in Swampscott, Treadwell said she wants a formalized, viable department to leave behind for whoever would replace her.

She cares deeply about the animals and residents of the town and she wants them to have a department they can go to for quick responses on calls and one filled with employees who can answer their questions, she said.

“I stay with it because I care and I don’t want to walk away,” Treadwell said. “If we aren’t out there a lot of the animals might suffer, so much more than people realize … The minute I show up the outlook for that animal is better, whether it’s a non-viable animal, one that needs to be re-homed or one that is in distress. I have to remember I am here to make a difference. That’s why Animal Control is so important.” 

Speranza-Hartmann said all the Board of Health members at Tuesday’s meeting were in agreement that Animal Control is in need of a more formalized department, one more proactive than reactive. Next steps to push the goal forward are bringing Treadwell and Proulx to the next meeting on Sept.17 and having a discussion with Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald, she said.

“Going full time will move us forward into the 21st century and make us a more viable, professional department,” said Treadwell.

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