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Officials mum on Animal Control Officer departure

January 8, 2014

The town’s full-time Animal Control Officer has been out of a job since last month, after town officials allegedly discovered that he was neglecting basic animal maintenance at the town’s new animal shelter on West Street. The shelter was dirty, and town officials allegedly discovered some of the animals in the shelter were living in their own feces and urine.

Sean Paul Ford-Withrow, hired in 2011 after the retirement of longtime ACO John Spillane, reportedly resigned last month after being confronted by town officials.

The information on his departure came from a well-placed source. Town Administrator Michael Boynton refused to comment on the matter, because it was a personnel issue. He only confirmed that Ford-Withrow had resigned. Selectmen Chairman Mark Gallivan, whose board is responsible for hiring and firing the Animal Control Officer, did not respond to multiple voicemail messages and an email seeking comment.

180 sat on the story for several weeks in order to verify the information with other independent sources. After ruthlessly investigating the veracity of the information, 180 decided to publish the story.

Boynton reportedly received a complaint last month from an unknown source that the building was unclean, and soon after, he dispatched Assistant Town Administrator Jim Johnson and Building Superintendent Don Anderson to take a look around the building. When they arrived, they found evidence that the shelter was not being properly maintained. There was a strong odor, there were animal feces on the ground and on the walls, and a litter box had not been cleaned.

At the time, the shelter was occupied by chickens, a cat, and a dog.

It’s unclear how long the animals were left in that condition.

Johnson took several photos of the shelter’s condition, and Boynton reportedly asked Ford-Withrow to resign.

Copies of those photos were obtained by 180 this week through a public records request, and appear to confirm the details (arrows in picture added by 180).

Per the town charter, Selectmen are the only authority that can hire and terminate the Animal Control Officer. Boynton apparently made Selectmen aware of the issue, and the situation might have escalated if Ford-Withrow did not step down voluntarily.

The animal shelter opened last year in a former pump station at the corner of Norfolk and West Streets. The town spent almost $100,000 to convert the space. Besides a kennel, it has an office for the Animal Control Officer.

Ford-Withrow was the town’s first full-time ACO. Spillane had served in the role on a part-time capacity, in addition to serving as the town’s part-time Veteran’s Agent. There has been significant discussion in the past few years in Walpole and other area towns about regionalizing one or both of those two positions.

Since Ford-Withrow’s departure, Spillane is serving as acting ACO until Selectmen hire a replacement. Spillane told 180 that he does not want to serve in the role permanently and is not sure why Ford-Withrow left.

Boynton said there are no animals in the shelter at this time.

180 made a good-faith effort to reach Ford-Withrow, including on his cellphone, but was unable to reach him.

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