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New London - If not for the animal control facility's construction, the building would have collapsed when the strong winds of Hurricane Sandy brought down a large maple on top of it.
Michael Martin, an animal control officer, made it out safely, as did the seven dogs held at the compound, saved by the building's cinder-block sides.
Two weeks later, the building remains uninhabitable. The animals are staying at Montville's dog pound, and Martin and his colleague, Tonya Kloiber, are temporarily using the city's police substation on Truman Street as headquarters. Assistant Building Official Rick Maurice hopes to get in and assess the building this week and set up a strategy for repairing and returning everyone to the city dog pound in Bates Woods Park at 120 Chester St. as soon as possible.
"The whole tree was balanced on the cement blocks of the walls," Maurice said of the 30-foot, 8-foot wide maple. "If it were not a cement block building, it would have collapsed on the ground. (The tree) just ruined the roof."
The roof has since been patched and Maurice said the holding area for dogs is mostly intact. On Monday, the remnants of the tree had been removed, the roof patched. Debris from an outdoor pen still lay crumbled where it had been crushed by the tree.
Concern remains in the cat area and the building's office, where Martin was sitting at his desk when the huge tree cracked and fell, driving a limb into the middle of the room. Power is cut off to the building. Water ruined much of the interior and electrical work remains to be done.
"The office portion where Mike and I would normally be is probably going to be a complete loss," Kloiber said.
A shaken Martin and Kloiber helped remove the animals as the storm raged on that day, and other 50-foot trees surrounding the building swayed in the stiff wind. The dogs were taken to Montville's pound, said Jamie Knighton, a part-time animal control officer there. Three of the dogs have since been adopted, she said.
"They called us and asked how many dogs we could take," Knighton said. "We said it's not a problem. We'll always help each other out."
Kloiber said area animal control officers have been "incredibly helpful." The public, too, has been gracious, and people have offered supplies. Kloiber said the best support now would be cash or gift cards.
"I want to say yes to donations because everything is trashed, but I have nowhere for it to go," she said. "At 40 Truman, it only has so much storage space. Someone offered 1,000 pounds of food but I have to find some place to put it. I'm going to arrange the spare bedroom in my apartment because I don't want to turn it down."
Martin and Kloiber make frequent treks to Montville to help clean and feed the animals. Few people know the officers are in the police substation, including one woman who found a stray dog and had to bring it to Groton's animal facility, Kloiber said. A phone line and answering machine has been installed, but Kloiber said they're looking forward to getting back to their building.
"Otherwise we're scrambling to make sure the public is being served," Kloiber said. "It's good for the dogs, they can come out hang in office. Now we don't get that. We miss it, they miss it. The worst part is there are no dogs to pet."
For more information visit www.facebook.com/newlondon.animalcontrol or call the temporary phone number at (860) 447-5265.