Panel hears requests for funding

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 29, 2008

NEW HAVEN — The Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee held a public hearing on the city’s 2008-09 budget Tuesday night.

Supporters of various city programs and other entities, including the Shubert Theater and Tweed New Haven Regional Airport, urged the aldermen to continue funding support in the budget.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has proposed a $466 million budget that would represent a 4.6 percent increase over this year’s spending. But the mayor’s budget relies on millions of dollars in state funding that the legislature may not approve.

About 200 people crowded into aldermanic chambers for Tuesday’s hearing, and more than 20 spoke.

Several of the speakers expressed support for the Shubert, saying it plays an important role in the community’s economic and cultural development.

“I think the Shubert Theater is an invaluable resource for the city residents,” said Norman Forrester, secretary of the Shubert’s board of directors.

Claire Criscuolo, co-owner of Claire’s Corner Copia near the Shubert, said that customers brought in during shows at the Shubert have helped support her business.

“We employ 50 people at our restaurant,” she said. “We couldn’t do this without the Shubert shows on a regular basis because there just isn’t enough business when the students are away.”

Another group of speakers asked the aldermen to continue subsidies for Tweed New Haven Regional Airport.

“We need a small regional airport from which we can quickly reach major hub airports,” said Tina Doyle, chairwoman of the Tweed New Haven neighborhood liaison committee.

Other speakers asked the board to maintain funding for programs like the Small Business Initiative and the Commission on Equal Opportunities.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to start deliberations on the budget May 7.

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Guilford parents’ PAC aims for school needs

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 39, 2008

GUILFORD — As the school district continues to study a possible renovation or replacement of two schools, a group of parents and other residents is forming to encourage people to support upgrades to the school facilities.

The organization, calling itself GuilfordPACT — Parents and Citizens Together — hopes to work on voter education and turnout efforts, co-founder Chris Moore said.

School officials have been investigating the options for improvements to Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School and Guilford High School for months. Currently, they are looking at a range of alternatives from basic repairs to new schools.

The new group, which has filed as a political action committee with the state Elections Enforcement Commission, is in the early stages of development and is holding an organizational meeting May 13.

Moore said one of the first aims of GuilfordPACT is to educate other people on the schools’ needs.

“My view, and I think the view of a lot of parents, is that it’s time to do something in Guilford with the schools,” he said. “There’s going to be people who are against that because it’s clearly going to cause a rise in the taxes — you have to pay for it — but we feel that it’s not only important for the kids, but important for the community.”

So far, the group has about 30 members, many of whom joined through the Web site, guilfordpact.org.

Moore said he is hoping that the group’s work will help a situation like in 2003, when a $55 million bonding referendum to replace Adams Middle School and renovate Abraham Baldwin Middle School failed at the polls.

“The driving issue right now is the school facilities, but we do feel that on a larger scale voter turnout and voter — I don’t know if it’s apathy — but under-education is an ongoing problem in Guilford,” he said.

He added that the group is not advocating a particular building option right now, other than not supporting a “Band-Aid” solution. The committee is also hoping to work with other educational organizations in town, like the Guilford Parent-Teacher Association.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said there was no similar political action committee working on voter turnout at the time of the 2003 referendum. The group is separate from the school district, he added.

“They have a lot more flexibility than we do at the school system,” Forcella said. “They can advocate much more strongly than the school board does.”

Board of Education Chairman William Bloss said the board is seeking more input from residents during the planning process than it did for the 2003 referendum.

“There is no other decision that elected members of Guilford’s boards will make that has a greater impact on the town, both in terms of finances and in terms of facilities,” Bloss said.

Moore, who has four young children and two currently in the school system, said that the first phase of GuilfordPACT’s work will be education about the school facilities. After the Board of Education votes on a bonding option, he said, the group would work on marketing it to voters, and finally would emphasize voter turnout in the run-up to the referendum.

“Guilford has a reputation for excellent schools,” he said. “There are excellent teachers and excellent students, but we don’t want to see the facilities bring it down now or in the future, and we’re worried that if we don’t act now, that’s going to happen.”

The first meeting for GuilfordPACT is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 13 at at the Nathanael B. Greene Community Center.

Guilford runner goes distance for stepdaughter

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 26, 2008

GUILFORD — When resident Margot Sherwin first contemplated running the Big Sur Marathon, she thought that her athletic stepdaughter, Cindy Sherwin, would be by her side to help her complete the race.

Margot Sherwin said that Cindy will still be with her when she competes in the marathon this weekend, but not in the way they had hoped.

The marathon was a 50th birthday present to Margot from Cindy, who died April 2007 at the age of 33 after suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm while preparing for a triathlon.

After months of training, Margot Sherwin, now 51, flew to California Friday to take part in the marathon Sunday.

This will be Sherwin’s third marathon. She walked in the 2006 New York City Marathon and then ran the race in 2007 to benefit a charity set up after her stepdaughter’s death, the Cindy Lynn Sherwin Memorial Foundation.

For the Big Sur Marathon, which takes place in Monterey, Calif., Sherwin is not raising money for the foundation.

“The intention of doing this marathon is simply to honor Cindy,” she said. “It’s going to be tough, but I felt compelled to do it.”

Cindy Sherwin was a nutritionist and personal trainer who had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and two master’s degrees from Columbia University.

Sherwin said that Cindy motivated many different family members and friends to improve their physical fitness.

“She was the type of girl who always pushed people to do their utmost,” Sherwin said. “She was a beautiful girl with a beautiful spirit, and just very warm and loving and she would push you in a way that was very gentle but effective.”

Last year, the foundation was one of the sponsors of the New Haven Road Race, and Sherwin said they are planning to sponsor the race again in September.

She said she expects this weekend’s marathon to be difficult, but she hopes her memories of her stepdaughter will help motivate her to complete the race.

“Part of a marathon is a big mental challenge, just to push yourself to do it,” she said. “She’s going to be on my shoulder pushing me to complete.”

North Branford cat tale over — maybe

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 26, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — The good news: The cat is out of the tree.

The bad news: It ran off once its paws touched solid ground.

Timmy Sommo, the owner of the property where a cat had been stuck in a tree for nearly a week, said a friend who owns Ted’s Tree Removal and Landscaping reached the brown tabby using a bucket truck Friday.

But in the process of transferring the cat from a bag to a carrying crate, it escaped and ran away, heading west across Branford Road.

“The cat scooted away — we haven’t seen it since,” Sommo said.

Friday’s events followed two failed rescue attempts Thursday, when the cat moved onto high branches out of reach of a climber and a different bucket truck.

Local residents first noticed the cat in the tree April 19.

Branford Animal Control Officer Pam Medlyn, who was at the home Friday, said the cat looked relatively healthy, and she believes it is feral. No one in the neighborhood has come forward to claim it and it was not wearing a collar.

“He was a little disoriented,” she said. “I would guess that the cat was definitely feral because when he put it in the bag, it was crazy. The bag was shaking all over the place, the boom was shaking.”

She added that the cat headed in the direction of a local feral cat colony, although she cannot be sure exactly where it went.

“He probably went back to wherever he normally was getting food from,” she said. “I’m sure he’s going to be OK — he survived that long.”

Sommo said that a local woman is “98 percent sure” that the cat is a stray that she has been feeding and that went missing. But the woman was unable to identify the cat while it was 60 feet off the ground, and she was not there when it was brought down from the tree.

Pam Cramer, a neighbor who put a note on the craigslist.org Web site several days ago asking for help in rescuing the cat, said she is glad the situation has been resolved.

“I’m thrilled the cat’s out of the tree, I just didn’t want to upset the neighbors that much,” Cramer said.

The story gained media attention after the Sommos initially said they did not want anyone attempting to rescue the cat because of concerns that they would be liable if a climber were injured. Those worries were defused Thursday after people attempting to reach the cat signed liability waivers.

Stephanie Maselli, who works with Halfway Home Rescue and was at the home Thursday, said her organization is not currently working to find the cat.

“There’s not really a whole lot we can do unless there’s a sighting of some kind,” Maselli said. “We’re happy to go out and set a trap if there’s a location where the cat is being seen.”

Cat climbs higher as rescuers approach

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 25, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Wildlife experts spent the day trying to retrieve a cat stranded in a tree, but the animal was still swatting away rescue attempts as of Thursday evening.

One person climbed the tree, and another tried to reach the timid cat using a bucket truck with a 55-foot reach, but the cat scrambled to higher branches where it could not be reached.

The cat has been in the tree since at least Saturday.

Police and animal control officials were at the Branford Road house Thursday morning, Deputy Police Chief Michael Doody said.

Homeowner Timothy Sommo allowed volunteers access to the tree, and Marc Mathews, a tree-care professional who rescues cats for free, climbed it. The cat, however, eluded Mathews by moving into higher branches, which were too weak to support the climber.

“I went up about 60 feet, and then it went up too high,” Mathews said. “There’s really nothing I can do — they’re going to have to get somebody with a 75-foot bucket truck.”

The owner of New Haven Signs used his truck to access the tree, but it extended only 55 feet, and the cat remained out of reach.

When Mathews climbed the tree, other volunteers surrounded it with a stretched-out tarp to catch the cat. There was a hopeful moment as the cat hung on with only its front paws, but it was able to again secure a spot in between two branches.

Jennifer Weiffenbach of Statewide Wildlife Rescue in New Haven said she tried for several hours Thursday, with the assistance of the authorities, to find someone with a tall enough truck willing to come to the house.

Weiffenbach said she plans to continue working to free the cat today. Volunteers set up a tarp around the tree in case the cat falls overnight. There has also been food set out at the base of the tree for a few days.

Without food and water for several days, Weiffenbach said that there is a risk of renal failure for the animal.

“We really want to get her down before her system starts to suffer,” she said. “She can look as healthy as she can from the ground, but her system is going to start to suffer, so we need to get her down and get her to a vet.”

One woman, who said she was from Guilford, went to the house Thursday because her cat has been missing for several days. The photo she brought looked similar to the cat in the tree, brown with white paws, but it was not possible to tell from a distance if it was the woman’s cat.

Rescuers do not know if the cat is feral, but no one in the neighborhood has said they are missing a cat.

Rescuers willing to go out on limb to save cat in tree

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 24, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — A cat is stuck, but so are its would-be rescuers.

The feline has been perched 40 feet up a tree since Saturday and either can’t or won’t climb down. A group of animal lovers brought together by a Web site are ready to mount a rescue effort, but the property owner won’t let anyone go up the tree due to liability concerns.

The town’s volunteer fire department, like most departments, does not rescue cats.

So the brown cat remains sitting in the V-notch of a tall, straight tree with just a few branches below.

Pam Cramer, who lives next door, said she noticed the cat Saturday. She posted a message in the “pets” section of http://www.craigslist.org on Monday, saying that the cat “is getting too dehydrated to move” and asking for help from “anyone in the area with a 40-foot extension ladder.”

“It’s a little tough to watch at this point, although the cat has come down a little from yesterday, so maybe it is trying — it is still moving around the tree,” Cramer said Wednesday.

Cramer said she received responses from two people in the tree-care industry willing to get the cat down for free. But the homeowner said she did not want to let them climb the tree because of the possibility that she could be sued if anyone was injured, according to those involved.

The property owner, who does not own the cat, said she left food out hoping to lure the cat out of the tree, but it didn’t work. She declined to discuss the situation further. It is unclear whether the cat is feral or a pet, but Cramer said she knocked on several doors in the neighborhood and did not find anyone missing a cat.

Mary McMullen, who became involved through the online posting, said the police and fire departments have been unresponsive.

“It is within our power to help this animal,” McMullen said. “I understand people aren’t cat lovers, but I can’t sleep at night thinking this poor animal is going to die from starvation or get so weak she might fall from the tree.”

At least one of the professionals who offered to help was willing to sign a liability waiver, McMullen added.

Pam Medlyn, an animal control officer at the Branford Animal Shelter, which also covers North Branford, said she went to the home Saturday after receiving a call about the cat.

“I said, ‘Give it a couple of days because most of the time they go back down,’” Medlyn said. “Well, evidently he went higher.”

And she does not think animal control officers would have the authority to go on the property without permission.

Deputy Police Chief Michael Doody said Wednesday he was not aware of the situation.

Cheryl DeFilippo, the president of the Greater New Haven Cat Project, thinks it is the responsibility of town officials to intervene in the situation. The Cat Project is a nonprofit organization that works with stray, abandoned and feral cats.

“When you intentionally withhold water and shelter and food from an animal, that’s neglect and cruelty,” she said.

Cats will often come down from trees on their own, she said, but after several days without food and water, the cat could be in distress.

“It’s probably scared out of its mind,” she said. “It could be, too, that it’s become dehydrated.”

Frederick Acker, the director of the SPCA of Connecticut, said that animal control officers in the state are legally responsible only for dogs and not cats. But, he added, the officers could choose to help.

“Animal control would have liability insurance and there should be no reason that they couldn’t make an attempt at saving the cat. Also, probably businesses may have liability insurance that might be able to use a ladder and go up and rescue the cat,” Acker said.

Acker added that cats can survive a few days without food and water, but could need veterinary care after that.

DeFilippo said that her organization could help with the cost of veterinary care and finding a home for the cat, if it is feral.

“That cat that’s stuck up in the tree, whether it be a feral cat or a tame cat, an abandoned cat or somebody’s pet, it’s a life and that life is supposed to have value,” she said. “Is that the kind of value that we want to promote in the community, that, ‘Oh well, it’s just a cat, leave it alone?’ That just doesn’t sit well with me — it’s not fair.”

Toddler uninjured after fall from window

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 24, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — A 23-month-old child escaped serious injury Wednesday after falling from the second-floor window of an Arthur Road house, according to police.

The boy was “up and running around in the yard” when emergency services responded to the 911 call, Deputy Police Chief Michael Doody said. He was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital for evaluation, but Doody said it does not appear he was injured.

The boy complained of a sore foot when emergency personnel arrived, Doody said.

Police did not identify the child or his parents. There was no one home at the house Wednesday afternoon, and the homeowners did not return a call for comment.

The boy’s mother called 911 at about 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, a dispatcher said.

The mother was washing dishes while her two sons, aged about 2 and 4, played upstairs. The mother looked out the window and saw the younger boy fall from the second floor. He hit an outside cellar door and received a bump to the head but was not bleeding, the dispatcher said.

No further information was available on the child’s condition.

Doody said it appears the boy opened the upstairs window himself.

“The officers instructed her to make sure (the window is) secured so there’s no problems in the future,” he said.

No charges will be filed in the incident.

“He was a very, very lucky boy,” he said. “They’re pretty flexible at 2 — the Lord made them so they can … keep on going.”