WESTPORT — The controversial animal site registry proposal was the subject of this week’s Board of Health meeting — but hours of talk led to no decision.
The health board told a capacity crowd Tuesday at the Town Hall selectmen meeting room that members were not ready to make a decision, and more details had to be worked out. However, animal activists pressed members to weigh in if they support the concept.
Members Maury May and Phil Weinberg indicated that they support the basic principle but believe more work needs to be done before a registry comes to fruition.
May advocated for a phased in approach. He recommended the health board devise a “bare bones” site registry that relies on citizen input concerning where non-domestic animals are located, as well as help from the animal control officer, the police department and some of the activist groups.
May said the board should then pursue a more involved registry that is funded. He urged residents to talk with financial officials such as selectmen about supporting a budget.
When pressed by activist Constance Gee, William Harkins, unlike May and Weinberg, would not comment on whether he supported a registry.
Harkins’ preceding remarks indicated doubt about the site registry. He mentioned logistical issues, such as vague information about how many small animal operations there are.
Harkins said the health board sought a list of backyard operations and received 54. He indicated issues with that numbers, as it had been reported that there were 130 farms.
“We can’t even get a list of where farms are,” Harkins said.
He also cited the issue of the town animal control officer not working under the health board — another logistical issue with the health board overseeing a registry.
“I am trying to make sense of where the animal registry would be more effective,” Harkins said. “Everyone is pointing to the Board of Health to start and maintain a registry. ... The Board of Health is a regulatory authority and if it is not a regulation, I have questions if it should reside in the Board of Health.”
New health director Matthew Armendo also weighed in, saying that the health board plans on coming up with a tenant farm regulation. He said more work and discussions need to take place before a registry is adopted.
The Agricultural Commission voted recently to advise the health board to pursue that instead of a site registry. The Commission noted that the landmark animal abuse case at the Medeiros farm was at a tenant farm. The commissioners mentioned that these farms were at the root of the abuse and some of the smaller operations are not to blame.
Commission Chairman Ray Raposa, who runs a hay feed business, estimated that there are hundreds of small chicken operations — a cause for concern with registry tracking.
Raposa also said that state law requires inspections, which would make a registry useless.
“The misconception of not having a registry or having a registry — it does not stop the animal inspections. It is state law,” Raposa said.
Activist Donna Parrillo agreed that a site registry would require interdepartmental cooperation but said that it might not be as expensive as what May believes.
May has cited a figure of $56,000 for a more extensive registry but Parrillo said it could be done for $5,000.
Parrillo served on the now disbanded Animal Action Committee, which pitched the idea of a site registry and researched registries in other communities.
Cheryl Castonguay, of Fall River, discussed the “enormity” of the Medeiros tenant farm case, which was named by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as the worst case of animal abuse in the Northeast.
“I don’t understand why this is a debate at this point,” she said, stressing that Westport could start a “sponsor a farmer program” to help farmers pay for fees.