My Search for Thomas J. O'Connor: The Man Behind Springfield's Animal Control
Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control in Springfield, Mass. When I visited T.J.O. for the post, I learned a lot about services they provide but I left with unanswered questions: Who was Thomas J. O’Connor and why did Hampden County’s Animal Control bear his name? With those questions in mind, I found myself in the bowels of the Springfield History Museum on a cool fall morning looking through old newspaper articles using an online database.
I typed in the search words O’Connor and dog rescue thinking I might come upon something interesting. Perhaps I would find out that Thomas J. had been a renown veterinarian who worked day and night in Springfield's first emergency animal hospital? No, it was not to be. Thomas J. O'Connor, I learned, had been a lawyer and politician in Springfield. He attended Amherst College and then Georgetown Law before returning to Springfield, MA where he eventually served as mayor. Once his time as mayor ended he went on to serve as chairman of the Hampden County Commission. According to the January 12, 1984 edition of The Morning Union newspaper, one of the projects of that commission was “to establish a regional dog control program”. I am guessing that is how Springfield's Animal Control came to take on the Thomas J. O’Connor moniker.
Having reached a somewhat mundane end to my search, I continued to scroll through the database search results. That is when I came upon a newspaper article about an O'Connor of earlier time in Springfield's history; an O'Connor who seems to have had a less sympathetic view of dogs than Thomas J.:
It could have been an opening scene straight out of a movie. Picture this: It is the dead of winter in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1927 and two boys are walking through an Irish neighborhood along the Connecticut River when they spot a dog struggling to stay afloat in the river’s icy waters. With not a moment to lose, Jimmy McQuade and Walter McKeeman break into a canoe livery business, (yes canoe livery) take a canoe, charge into the cold, icy river and save the dog.
The boys are hailed as heroes and the dog’s family is extremely grateful. But fortunes quickly turn when Edward O'Connor, owner of the canoe livery, requests a warrant for the arrest of the boys for breaking into his business and taking a canoe only to return it in a damaged state. Further, in their haste to access the canoe, the boys hacked two locks and upon returning the boat, Mr. O’Connor alleges that the young men did not even put the boat back up the way they had found it. Instead, he found the canoe on the floor as if it had been have thrown it inside the building. Mr. O’Connor was so angry about the damage that he went to the Springfield Police Department to issue a complaint and put out a warrant for their arrest.
When police refused to serve the warrant due to the late hour, Mr. O’Connor was not slowed. He went to visit Jimmy McQuade’s mother to directly request restitution for the damage, telling her that the boys had no business “risking their lives to save a mere dog.” Mrs. McQuade, who had not even heard about Jimmy’s heroics until late on that Friday evening, was beside herself. She responded by immediately contacting the owner of the dog, a Mr. Frank Chase of West Springfield, for help. Learning of Mr. O’Connor’s demands, Mr. Chase said he would put up bonds if the boys were arrested, pay any fines and expressed a willingness to pay all costs for damages incurred in the saving of his beloved dog “Jerry.” Mr. Chase stated: “I am grateful to the boys who saved Jerry and will do everything to see they do not suffer by it. Though Jerry is not a thoroughbred, he has been our family pet for five years and is worth ten times as much to us as his real value.” He went on to express his dismay that Mr. O’Connor had not contacted him directly to seek a solution for his losses.
As Springfield, Mass is a small city with deep Irish roots, it is possible that Edward O’Connor, was a forebear of Thomas J. but I do not know that for a fact. If they were relatives, Edward can thank Thomas J. for making the O’Connor name synonymous with dog rescue and atoning for a curmudgeonly reputation that might have previously dogged the O’Connor clan of Springfield, Massachusetts.
To read the entire, well-written article about this event, head down to the archives located in the basement of the Springfield History Museum located at the Quadrangle. You will have to pay a $9.00 fee to access the archive, but you will probably come across some gems. This particular article is titled: “Drowning Dog’s Rescuers Threatened With Arrest For Damage Done Canoe” and can be found on pages 1 and 2 of the Springfield Republican dated February 27, 1927. To find out more about Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control, please go to www.tjoconnoradoptioncenter.com and to learn more about the private foundation that helps support T.J.O.’s good works, please go to www.tjofoundation.org.