Community rallies for laid off Hartford animal control officer

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HARTFORD – Just one week shy of her 17th anniversary as an animal control officer for the city of Hartford, Sherry DeGenova was laid off. On Monday, around 100 people rallied in Hartford hoping to help her get her job back.

"I'm completely overwhelmed. I knew of the support I had, but to see it come out in droves like it did, people that believe in me,  across the state of Connecticut was just so overwhelming," she said.

DeGenova and another animal control officer, Carmello Mercado, were among the 40 city workers laid off last week in city-wide cuts to fix a $48.5 million budget gap.

Community members attended Monday’s City Council meeting to speak in DeGenova’s defense. During public comment before the meeting, it was standing room only.

"I think it's a disaster. The dogs are not going to get out without her. She advocates for them and gets those dogs out. Without her there, it's not going to happen," said Brenda Albert, who was among those who marched to city hall.

With those two officers gone and a third on extended medical leave, only one animal control officer is left on the job for the entire city of Hartford.

"These animals are not going to get adequate care. They're not going to get evaluations, and the residents themselves are going to be put in danger," said one resident who spoke up during public comment Monday night.

DeGenova spoke up for herself as well, and tells FOX 61 it was more than just a job.

"I don't even know how I've gotten through the past week to be honest with you. To me, it's not just a job. It's who I am. It's how I identify myself and it's something I love. I actually can't even come into the streets of Hartford because I miss it," she said.

DeGenova worked off the clock to help city residents care for their animals, and to get animals without a home rescued. She even started a non-profit group called Kenway’s Cause to help animals in Hartford that the city couldn’t help for one reason or another. The future of that group is up in the air now that DeGenova no longer works for the city.

In addition to speaking at the City Council meeting, the community started a petition to reinstate her back on Wednesday. It had 10,557 signatures as of Monday night.

On Tuesday, DeGenova released a statement on Facebook about all that has happened:

City Council members did not directly address the crowd's concerns on Monday night, but Councilman Larry Deutsch told reporters there is still time to make a change.

"We can veto a budget that does not have certain things. The city council will really have to go at it and have negotiations and bargain, and say 'Look, you can't cut some of these people,'" said Deutsch.

A spokesman for Mayor Luke Bronin said they are receiving calls and e-mails about this decision. The mayor's office sent the following e-mail in response:

Of the difficult decisions that need to be made to deal with Hartford’s budget crisis, the toughest by far is the decision to eliminate a hardworking employee's job.  Facing a massive budget gap of $48.5 million next year, we have no choice but to reduce our workforce, including dozens of layoffs.

Nearly every department in our city is feeling the impact of personnel reductions, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Families, Children, Youth, and Recreation, the Department of Public Works, and many other areas.  The layoffs include two of four Animal Control Officers at the Hartford Police Department.

None of these layoffs are the result or reflection of any individual’s performance, and I wish that none of these painful decisions was necessary.  These workforce reductions are, however, part of the many difficult changes required to confront our city’s dire fiscal challenge.  I earnestly hope that we will be able to get enough savings from labor negotiations that additional layoffs will not be necessary.

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