SPRINGFIELD — A pair of City Council subcommittees met to review the city’s policy on addressing potentially rabid wildlife and reached a general consensus that while the existing procedures are sound, it appears they were not followed in a recent alleged incident involving Fire Commissioner BJ Calvi, his SUV and a now deceased raccoon.

“Not by a longshot,” opined City Councilor Brian Santaniello.

The joint meeting of the General Government and Health and Human Services subcommittees came on the heels of an incident reported by local media that gained additional traction on social media in which Calvi allegedly killed what he believed to be a rabid raccoon by running it over multiple times with his department-issued vehicle at the Fire Department headquarters on Worthington Street.

City Councilor Victor Davila, who chairs the General Government Subcommittee, explained the purpose of the meeting was to ensure everyone was clear on the existing policy and individuals’ or departments’ responsibilities as prescribed in that policy. While he and Santaniello, chair of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, both initially said the meeting would not discuss any specific incident, the bulk of the meeting focused on one.

Davila almost immediately referenced the event by saying he was “distraught” by the image of Calvi’s reported actions. “It bothered me and so I think we all need to be cognizant of what the policy is [and] what each person is expected to do so that moving forward we all know where we are.”

The policy specific to removal of wildlife suspected of having rabies has been in effect since 2000 and revised in 2015, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris, who also said she gave the policy an additional review in 2021.

“I remember this policy very will through [Executive Director of Parks, Buildings and Recreational Management] Patrick Sullivan and the park department when we had to deal with rabid animals and we had to go through this process and it was very effective,” Councilor Brian Santaniello, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and former parks commissioner, noted.

Reading directly from the policy, Caulton-Harris laid out the procedure for responding to wildlife exhibiting behavior consistent with a rabies infection.

Those who encounter an animal they consider rabid, whether a city employee or resident, should contact the Department of Health and Human Services’ animal inspector. The current animal inspector for the city of Springfield is Environmental Health Director Steven Stathis, who can be contacted at 413-787-6719.

The animal inspector will be dispatched to determine if the animal in question is sick and displaying symptoms suggesting the animal may be rabid. These symptoms include discharge from the eyes or mouth, difficulty walking or walking in circles, appearing paralyzed or intoxicated, or making unusual sounds.

Should the animal inspector display any of these symptoms, they are expected to call the city’s contracted wildlife agent — currently Braman Termite and Pest Elimination — who will trap and euthanize the animal and keep the head intact for testing at the state’s laboratory in Jamaica Plains while disposing of the remainder of the carcass.

Caulton-Harris noted the city’s inspector is responsible for completing necessary paperwork documenting that the animal’s head was properly preserved and delivered to the lab.

In the event that a resident makes the call that triggers this protocol, the city will respond and, if the animal is determined to be exhibiting symptoms of rabies, remove the animal at no cost to the resident.

“If it is on a resident’s property and we have to go there and trap that animal with the suspected behavior, the city will pay for the removal of that animal,” Caulton-Harris said. However, nuisance wildlife or wildlife causing property damage are the responsibility of the property owner. “The city of Springfield is not in the business of removing healthy animals.”

Referencing the incident that initiated the meeting, Councilor Kateri Walsh asked how the carcass of the raccoon in question was disposed of, to which Caulton-Harris responded that she did not know. Santaniello followed that question by asking why the body of the raccoon wasn’t recovered and why it wasn’t reported for testing. Caulton-Harris retorted, stating the policy was followed. She explained Stathis was notified and contacted Braman, who was unable to respond “within a certain period of time,” at which point “the action was taken.” Caulton-Harris later said Stathis was in Chesterfield when he received the initial report and contacted Braman.

When pressed further on whether Health and Human Services had ensured the animal’s carcass had been secured for testing, Caulton-Harris said Stathis was informed by a dispatcher that the issue had been “remediated or mitigated” and his response was no longer necessary. As a result, neither Statham nor Braman responded to the scene, she said, reiterating she had no knowledge regarding the whereabouts of the animal’s remains.

Councilor Tracye Whitfield took exception to that information during her remarks. “To me, that in and of itself is a problem, like there’s something trying to be covered up; I’m just going to call it what it is.”

Whitfield also asked why Calvi was not present at the meeting. Davila explained he was not invited because the scope of the meeting was limited to reviewing the policy.

“I am sure there’s a plethora of questions that, at least in my mind, have already arised from what I have heard but there is nothing keeping us from having subsequent meetings, including calling the commissioner, if need be, to ask specific questions,” he said.

Santaniello agreed, “We can have a follow-up meeting with very, very shortly with Commissioner [Calvi] and also with the Police Department and the DPW because when you look at this, you’ve got a city department that disposed of this animal and didn’t do this in a proper way. The body of the racoon is missing, so there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered.”

As of press time, no additional meeting had been posted to the meeting calendar on the city’s website.

Whitfield opined another meeting should be convened at which Calvi and members of the Police Department could answer questions was warranted. She added that she felt it was unfair to expect Caulton-Harris to answer for actions outside of the purview of her department.

Davila agreed with Whitfield’s sentiments and reiterated that Calvi’s alleged actions disturbed him, at which time Whitfield interjected, saying the fire commissioner looked a “maniac,” to which Davila concurred and doubled down, referring to him as a “raging maniac.”

In addition to Caulton-Harris, representatives from the Police Department, the DPW, Thomas J. O’Connor were requested to be at the meeting, according to Davila. The Police Department and DPW did not have representation present. Davila threatened repercussions on departments whose heads did not appear at subsequent meetings in which they are asked to participate.

“This is the second time that I say this in less than a month. Department heads, be aware. Budget season is coming,” he said. “We call you, we expect you here. We have big scissors and I’m not kidding about this. It is an insult, it is disrespectful to this body when you are asked to come in and you do not come in.”

Other discussion

During the meeting, Davila asked for clarification on the Police Department and DPW’s role in these instances. Caulton-Harris said the DPW does not play any part in the process and is not included in the policy. Caulton-Harris said the Code of Massachusetts Regulations does include police response to incidents involving suspected rabies, to which Davila pressed as to whether police officers had the authority to euthanize animals. Caulton-Harris repeated her belief that the code includes police officer response. She later referenced the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which allows any state or municipal police officer to immediately kill raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes or woodchucks if they reasonably conclude the animal’s exhibited behavior suggests it is rabid.

Davila also clarified with members of the Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control and Adoption Center that it contracts a different service for disposing of deceased animals, including those found on roadways and brought to the organization by the DPW. Thomas J. O’Connor provides animal control services for Springfield as well as Holyoke and Springfield, including emergency response for ill, injured or aggressive animals, primarily dogs and cats and not wild animals.

Walsh also noted she has not seen the rabies policy before and asked how it was distributed. Caulton-Harris explained the policy has been distributed to emergency dispatchers, who she said had told her in related conversations that they were aware of the procedures. She acknowledged Walsh’s recommendation that the policy be redistributed to all department heads to ensure uniform understanding.

Walsh also asked if information for residents on who to contact regarding potentially rabid animals was on the city’s website. Caulton-Harris said she had not looked but did not believe it was. She said the city could pursue “appropriate signage and appropriate documents on our website.”

Caulton-Harris also stressed that while rabies is a serious illness, the overall risk of human exposure and an incident resulting in death is extremely rare.

“Annually, in the United States there are probably about 60,000 what might be scratches and/or bites, and I’m talking about the entire United States,” she said. “We do not have, to my knowledge, a case where an individual has expired and/or died from rabies, in my knowledge, in the last 10 years.”

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