Acknowledging the need to provide shelter for Greenwich residents' pets during emergencies, such as Hurricane Sandy, the management of The Nathaniel Witherell, the town-owned nursing home, has agreed to permit residents to bring their pets to the facility during town-wide emergencies.
The issue of Greenwich being the only municipality in Connecticut that bans residents from bringing pets to emergency shelters was brought to the forefront at the Greenwich United Way Legislative breakfast in mid-December. Former state legislative candidate Stephanie Paulmeno, a nurse and former director of The Nathaniel Witherell (TNW), asked why Greenwich is the only municipality in Connecticut with the restriction.
She said she and several of her Old Greenwich neighbors decided to ignore mandatory evacuation orders as Hurricane Sandy approached the region on Oct. 29 because it would've meant that pet dogs and cats would have been left in empty homes during the storm. Neither of the shelters at the Bendheim Western Greenwich Civic Center nor Eastern Middle School were open to pets.
Several legislators including state Rep. Fred Camillo, (R-151) agreed the ban needed to be reviewed. Camillo himself took in an elderly woman and her pet dog only to have to leave his Old Greenwich home after a towering oak crashed through the roof of his home during the hurricane.
Paulmeno's question and comments prompted fellow Democrat, Selectman Drew Marzullo, to investigate on his own with a working committee that includes Camillo, Greenwich Health Director Caroline Baisley, Ogden Ross of the Red Cross and resident Kerrin Coyle.
"We began a discussion about animals being sheltered in times of emergency. All other towns in Connecticut do it. Why not Greenwich," Marzullo said. "People's pets are their family and I know people who love and enjoy their pets more than family."
Marzullo added, "This storm generated hundreds of people in shelters. We would have had even more people if we allowed pets."
As the discussions began, Belle Haven resident Joseph Kaliko also got involved, according to Marzullo. Using his connections with The Nathaniel Witherell board chairman, David Ormsby, Kaliko asked whether pets brought with travel crates could be housed at the Parsonage Road facility.
Within hours of that conversation, Ormsby said TNW would allow the sheltering of pets. The facility already is pet-friendly with its several therapy and recreational programs involving animals.
Marzullo says that while he's grateful that residents have an option now, he is planning another meeting to involve police, Parks and Recreation, and Board of Education officials to resolve issues regarding access and boarding of pets at the designated emergency shelters. Marzullo also said, "We do not want to discourage people from coming to a shelter because they're afraid of animals or allergic."
Of the committee, "Our immediate goal is to educate and dispel the perception that Greenwich is not pet friendly. Once we get the places, we can work out the logistics. The Witherell has graciously offered space because the town doesn't offer space," Marzullo said. One issue is that TNW is located in an area that typically has roads blocked by fallen trees or downed utility wires during severe storms, Marzullo said.
"It's a start and hopefully be a compliment to town-run facilities," Marzullo also said. "The certainty is the town will face another power outage. Will it be another Sandy? We don't know. But the stresses of losing your home, losing your power ... knowing that you can have your pet with you reduces pressure."
*Editor's note: the story has been updated to reflect the correct Greenwich neighborhood where Joe Kaliko lives.