Diane Welch informs youngsters about an owl she holds.Diane Welch informs youngsters about an owl she holds at Spring Fling in May.

Residents express support

UPDATED July 19: Initial comments swirling on social media July 8 claimed that the town's popular animal-control officer, Diane Welch, had been fired or was laid off, sparking outrage.

By later that day and the next, commenters had toned down their stories: She was on paid administrative leave, some wrote.

Chief Julie Flaherty, who was on vacation at the time, confirmed on Monday, July 18, that Welch is on paid administrative leave.

"At this time, I cannot comment further, as it involves a personnel matter," she wrote. "The town will issue a statement when it is appropriate to do so."

YourArlington had asked for the reason, the beginning date and length of the leave. It will publish more once further facts are confirmed.

Welch has not responded to a request for comment emailed July 9, but that is usual for an employee placed on leave. While she may find it best not to speak, town residents have expressed support.

Letter of support from resident

Rosalind Shaw, an Arlington resident and an associate professor emeritus at Tufts University, shared this letter to the editor of YourArlington. It is based on one she earlier sent to Chief Flaherty and copied to Capt. Richard Flynn, Town Manager Sandy Pooler and the Select Board.

“I, like many others, have been shocked and dismayed to hear that Arlington’s Animal Control Officer, Diane Welch—our state’s ACO of the year for 2019--has been placed on administrative leave. For as long as she has been in Arlington Police Department, Officer Welch has been a stellar ACO. Arlington’s residents love her for the combination of knowledge, skill, courage, compassion, and integrity she brings to her complex job. 

“Arlington needs a modern, knowledge-based ACO because we are a fairly sophisticated community. We need more than a dog catcher who writes tickets for missing rabies tags, although this is also important. We need an ACO with strong skills in the issues that relate to animal and human health. This requires deep knowledge of environmental issues, especially regarding the death of our owls, hawks, and federally protected eagles, and the related use of rodenticides. 

“It also requires expert knowledge of wildlife habitats and animal behavior, in particular their interactions with people in urban and suburban spaces (especially coyotes, in Arlington’s case). In addition, the ACO needs to be able to reach the public effectively and compassionately to educate them about safely living with wildlife.  

“We are so lucky in having Officer Welch, who brings exactly these skills. She combines them with her amazing dedication to helping people with the myriad issues that arise regarding companion animals: lost cats and dogs, complaints about noise and neglect, keeping pets safe around roads and traffic, dealing with loose pets injured by vehicles, and much, much more. She does an extremely complex job brilliantly. 

“During the Lt. Pedrini crisis and long afterwards, Officer Welch urged kindness and understanding toward the police to virtually everyone she met. She has long posted stories of individual officers’ helpful actions in the ACO page on social media. She has been the best representative of APD to the public that you could wish for. And she has brought a much more authentic voice to her advocacy than any paid public relations firm's initiative. 

“All of this is even more admirable given that a work-related illness from parasites via wild animal vectors has damaged her health.

“I hope that APD can work with her to remedy any issues they have seen with compassion and without double standards. We remember that APD and the Town spent considerable effort and money in 2019 to rehabilitate Lt. Rick Pedrini, who in 2018 published incitements to police violence, including against immigrants, in three issues of a police newsletter. He was retained in APD and even given an award.  Diane Welch is a treasure who deserves the full support of APD—financial, administrative, and technical. And we, the residents of Arlington, deserve the kind of ACO she is.”

Oct, 8, 2019: Welch shares state's top animal officer award for 2019

This news summary was published Monday, July 18, 2022, and updated July 19, with a letter from an Arlington resident.