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Town Meeting approves animal welfare proposals

Brookline High School students Ezra Kleinbaum and Hanna Szelenyi, who led the passage of two animal welfare warrant articles. Photo by Jeremy Margolis
November 16, 2023

Brookline’s Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to prohibit the sale of mammals and birds by pet stores and ban the use of wild animals by circuses and other traveling acts.

Neither ban will have any immediate impact: Brookline does not currently have any pet stores and has not been visited by a circus act in recent memory.

But Brookline High School juniors Ezra Kleinbaum and Hanna Szelenyi, who spearheaded passage of both warrant articles, said the bans are important preventative measures and may help spur similar statewide legislation.

The pet store warrant article passed by a vote of 200 to 13, while the traveling act warrant article passed by a vote of 209 to two.

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Kleinbaum, the president of the high school’s Warriors for Animal Rights student group, said the ban on pet store sales is designed in particular to make it more difficult for puppy mills — commercial breeding facilities widely considered inhumane — to operate. Under the new law, a pet store may still partner with animal shelters to display animals for adoption as long as the store itself doesn’t get paid for the animals’ sale.

The traveling circus ban will prevent performance groups from bringing animals such as elephants and monkeys with them if they perform in Brookline.

“This is a growing movement,” Szelenyi said of the wild animal ban. Fourteen other municipalities in Massachusetts have enacted analogous laws and similar legislation has been introduced in the state’s legislature, she said.

Following the successful votes, both Szelenyi and Kleinbaum expressed pride in their work.

“We’ve been working on this for months, so to see all that effort and time and energy that we spent coming to fruition is really exciting,” Kleinbaum said. “We’re two high school students and we had an idea and we got some signatures and we brought it to town government. And now this is law.”

While both measures received widespread support Wednesday, the warrant articles were not without controversy on their way to Town Meeting. During a presentation to the town’s Advisory Committee last month, Advisory Committee member Paul Bernard accused Kleinbaum and Szelenyi of wasting the town’s time, being manipulated by activists, and having a “Messiah complex.”

Rather than discourage them, Szelenyi and Kleinbaum said the town’s response to Bernard’s attack has been motivating.

“I’ve been really proud of the way that Brookline as a community has reacted to that behavior,” Kleinbaum said. “Many, many town meeting members have since voiced their support for us and denounced the behavior that went on in that meeting.”

Both Bernard and Moderator Kate Poverman, who appointed him, declined to comment on the incident last month.

After the animal welfare votes, the remainder of the votes in night two of this year’s special Town Meeting were largely procedural. Town Meeting voted:

  • To approve a zoning change for three Mason Terrace lots that will allow a family to build a second house on their property, by a vote of 171 to 44, with 19 abstentions.
  • To create a payroll division in the town’s finance department, by a vote of 198 to 1, with five abstentions.
  • To transfer and rescind funds from the Ridley School building project, by a vote of 225 to 0, with two abstentions.
  • To change the name of the Community Preservation Committee to the Community Preservation Act Committee, by a vote of 224 to 0, with six abstentions.

Town Meeting will continue Thursday with expected votes on whether to request permission from the state to implement rent control and to offer discounted water and sewer rates for seniors and low-income residents. Town Meeting is also expected to vote on a proposal to rename the Heath School.