It started as a normal trip.
A few days before Thanksgiving last year, Peterborough native Kate Olson went to Arnold, Mo., with her boyfriend, Curtis Chastain, to spend the holiday with his family. The couple went to visit friends one night and left their two dogs, Walter and Fox, with his parents.
When Chastain’s stepfather took Walter for a walk that night, the 3-year-old golden retriever, Labrador and Bernese mountain dog mix slipped out of his collar and ran.
“We were all out looking, and people in the neighborhood were helping us, walking in the woods with flashlights, but we didn’t find him,” said Olson, 32, who works at European Esthetics in Peterborough and now lives in Somersworth.
She and Chastain extended their trip another two weeks trying to find Walter but had no luck.
“I just wanted to stay,” she said. “I just felt complete heartache, emptiness and frustration.”
But Olson said she never lost hope, and after a year of searching, Walter was found in Missouri on Friday.
An Illinois-based dog rescue organization, Lost Paws Trapping, actively searched for Walter while Olson was back in New Hampshire after one of its volunteers saw his flier on Facebook, according to CEO and President Gay Arnold.
“Walter was just one that kept tugging at us. We wanted to find him so bad,” she said. “It got to the point where I just wanted to know if he was alive.”
The rescue group searched for Walter longer than any other dog it has ultimately found, Arnold noted.
With several livestream cameras set up around the area where Walter was last seen, Arnold said that, finally, last week a dog was spotted that matched his description. When they got a clear shot of the dog and determined it was Walter, Arnold said she called Olson, who got on the first flight out.
The rescue set up a camera and trap with food, while volunteers and Olson watched the live feed from their separate cars Friday. Once Walter was inside the trap, Olson said they made their way to him slowly.
“Walter was going mad barking,” Olson said. “I was told to walk slowly toward him and talk to him, and he stopped barking. He was still really freaked out, but I let him smell me ... and then he started getting excited, and eventually, when I felt safe enough to put my hand in the trap, he gave me paw.”
Walter is in nearly perfect health, as Olson said he maintained a good weight and “doesn’t have a scratch on him.” It’s thought he found a safe space in the woods with a water and food supply, she noted.
Olson and Walter were still in Missouri to give him a few days to decompress, with plans to head back to New Hampshire on Wednesday. To help offset the costs of his travel home, veterinarian bills and building a fence at home to make sure he doesn’t run away again, a GoFundMe page has been started for Olson.
And once home, Walter won’t just be reunited with his other human, Chastain. His brother Fox, a six-year-old golden retriever, will also be “so happy,” according to Olson, who said he has been “lost” without him.
And for Olson, the feeling is mutual.
“I’m just so happy,” she said.
“If any dog could survive,” she added, “[I knew] it would be Walter.”
BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro selectboard indicated Tuesday that it will resume deliberations on a measure that would bar landlords from requiring tenants to pay the last month’s rent when they sign a lease.
The five-member board had tabled the draft ordinance, which a local tenants union says would improve housing affordability, at its Oct. 20 meeting, when it heard concerns from town staff about its enforceability. Several Brattleboro landlords also expressed opposition to the measure last month, with some claiming that without a substantial up-front financial commitment, they would offer leases only to wealthier people — reducing housing accessibility for low-income renters.
After previously voting to advance the proposal, board member Daniel Quipp said at that meeting the testimony “gave [him] pause” and joined Chairman Tim Wessel and Vice-Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin in opposing it. The selectboard asked town staff to prepare alternative housing-affordability measures instead.
After hearing several of those ideas Tuesday, however, Quipp expressed interest in reconsidering the draft ordinance. The measure was proposed in August by the Tenants Union of Brattleboro and would limit the up-front costs of a lease to the first month’s rent and a security deposit equal to the monthly rent.
The board’s other members, Ian Goodnow and Brandie Starr, have indicated they support the proposal.
The selectboard did not formally agree to reconsider the proposal, but Town Manager Peter Elwell recommended the board put it on the agenda for one of the body’s December meetings.
To enact an ordinance, the selectboard must approve the measure at a first reading before adopting it after a public hearing and second reading at a later date.
It is unclear whether resuming deliberations of the security-deposit proposal, which the board tabled at its Oct. 20 first reading, would restart that process. Town Attorney Bob Fisher told board members he believes they should proceed with another first reading as a legal precaution and that he will look into the issue further.
“My concern would be [that] if you jump right to a second reading … you might give anyone who opposes your ordinance grounds to challenge it [if enacted],” he said.
Quipp’s interest in reviving the security-deposit measure appeared to surprise the selectboard while it was reviewing the research by municipal staff into alternative housing-affordability measures that it had requested last month.
Brattleboro Planning Director Sue Fillion presented those proposals, which included publicly and privately funded options.
One measure would establish a town-operated “landlord risk mitigation fund” that Fillion said could improve landlords’ financial security while easing financial burdens on renters. She explained that for a tenant enrolled in the program, it would reimburse their landlord for any tenant-caused damages not covered by a security deposit, nonpayment of rent or costs associated with tenant-related legal proceedings.
Fillion’s other proposals included offering subsidies to low-income renters to help them afford rent, similar to the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, and also encouraging landlords to purchase insurance policies that would protect their tenant-related incomes.
Also on Tuesday, Fisher, the town attorney, informed the selectboard that federal Community Development Block Grants cannot be used to compensate landlords or renters for rent-related expenses.
Multiple board members had expressed interest on Oct. 20 in offering funds from that program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to landlords if a tenant fails to pay their last month’s rent or as loans to help renters afford up-front lease costs.
Fisher explained, however, that federal law prohibits municipalities from using CDBG funds for “income-type payments” that he said include food, clothing and housing costs.
“This section of the Code [of Federal Regulations] seems to answer the question quite clearly that CDBG funds cannot be used for any type of rent subsidy program whereby the funds are used for rent payments or mortgage payments,” he wrote to Elwell in a Nov. 5 memorandum posted on the town’s website before the selectboard meeting.
Wessel said Tuesday he feels it is unfair that CDBG funds can be used to support housing projects that benefit landlords but cannot be offered directly to tenants. He asked Fisher whether the town would be able to fund a landlord risk mitigation program, like the one proposed by Fillion, with CDBG money and bar landlords protected by that program from charging last month’s rent up front.
“I’m trying to figure out how we can kind of correct that [unfairness] while still staying within the legal system,” Wessel said.
Fisher responded that he was uncertain whether such an expenditure would be lawful and pledged to research the issue.
Quipp then proposed that the selectboard reconsider the security-deposit proposal, explaining that multiple renters had told him since the board’s Oct. 20 meeting that the measure would help them afford housing. He acknowledged that if enacted, the draft ordinance could threaten landlords’ financial security but noted his eagerness to provide assistance for “cost-burdened” renters.
“This proposal will improve the lives of tenants, and it will also put some landlords in a potentially riskier position,” he said.
Quipp said he is optimistic, though, that it would ultimately improve housing affordability.
John Burns says the drastic drop in the amount of people coming into his three recovery centers in Dover, Rochester, and Hampton for help worries him. Burns is director of the SOS Recovery Community Organization.
“I think they’re afraid of physical contact. I don’t know how they’re doing — but I can guess. And the isolation is a problem.”
“People just aren’t coming into the centers,” Burns said. “They want to come in and have coffee and snacks and sit in meetings, and they can’t do that. They’d have to wear a face mask, and so we’re balancing the pandemic and an epidemic all at the same time. It makes it super challenging, super complex.”
The only bright side these days is a boon in digital communication, he said, with about 70 Zoom meetings a week. “We run eight meetings a day, seven for all individuals struggling with addiction and one for family members, seven nights a week.”
Participation in those meetings has gone international, he said, with people from 32 countries logging in and reaching almost 300,000 people. However, says Burns: “It’s more what we are not seeing that concerns me.”
Burns’s centers work closely with Wentworth-Douglass hospital in Dover, which serves as a so-called hub, helping people in acute need and referring them to Burns’s center for support and follow up. There are nine such hubs around the state, affiliated with hospitals. These, along with recovery centers and other support services, make up the state’s federally funded Doorway program, also known as the hub-and-spoke system.
Funds slow to get where needed most
John Burns said two of his centers have experienced a 38 percent cut in funding and his third recovery center, which had been funded with federal State Opioid Relief (SOR) money, has been operating without funding since October. He says the state has been slow to address the issue.
“Although we’ve gotten a lot of wink-wink, nod-nod, don’t worry the money is coming ,we’re going to make it whole, we have yet gotten a commitment on that,” he said.
Burns is not alone in struggling financially, according to Jake Berry, vice president of policy for New Futures, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for health policies in New Hampshire.
Berry says a New Futures survey found that more than 80 percent of addiction treatment providers in the state reported significant financial hardship. About half of those who responded to the survey were forced to cancel fundraisers and other critical income-generating events. And about 75 percent experienced unexpected costs related to PPE and new technologies to adapt to the telehealth model.
“A lot of these organizations have a very thin bottom line. So the impact could be catastrophic unless addressed,” Berry said. “This addiction epidemic is absolutely debilitating to our state and it’s something that needs to be addressed fully.”
Katja Fox, director of the Division of Behavioral Health at New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services, explained the complex process for releasing SOR funds.
“We did not receive the award for next federal fiscal year until August. And that necessitates us to go through a process — with our Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, as well as our governor and council, to accept the funds and allow us to expend them. Then they have to go through a contracting process,” she said.
“We do know there have been gaps. Cash needs to be on hand especially for organizations that rely heavily on these state grants. While we understand that cash flow issue, we are working very, very hard and diligently to ensure the recovery centers are able to function.”
The state has been awarded $28 million — the first installment of a second two-year SOR grant awarded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency.
Data tells a mixed story
The Associated Press reports that although national data is incomplete, U.S. Drug overdose deaths appear to be on track to reach an all-time high. Before the pandemic arrived, the U.S. was in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in history, the AP reports, with a record 71,000 overdose deaths last year. In recent years, New Hampshire has had among the highest opioid overdose deaths in the country.
State data shows an increase in the number of opioid-related calls when comparing a more recent period with a pre-pandemic period. In September, there were 339 calls related to opioid use, compared with 251 opioid-related calls in February — before the pandemic hit in March.
But Fox points to a decline in overdose deaths in New Hampshire. When the state received its first two-year State Opioid Response (SOR) grant in 2018, there were 471 deaths reported, she said. As of mid-August this year, there were 200 deaths, a 12 percent reduction.
“But looking at numbers and looking at reductions makes no difference when we have one person who is lost to addiction. And to those family members and individuals who are impacted our work isn’t done until we see that number at zero,” Fox said.
The state has worked hard to widely distribute Narcan, the overdose reversal drug that can reduce fatalities, according to Fox. “That’s our front line. That’s where EMS workers are using it and more importantly our community members are using it. This is not something that should be hard to find. So we have tried to make it ubiquitous throughout the state in a number of different ways.“
Some SOR funds are now contributing to more widely distributing Narcan — including to Doorways and recovery centers. “But more recently, through the pandemic, we’ve distributed it through different channels you’d not typically think of — churches and food pantries,” Fox said.
Federal funding has also gone toward increasing medication assisted treatment (MAT) — using drugs such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone to treat opioid addiction. Fox says the state is still trying to make inroads with many “sober houses,” where people in recovery live temporarily, working to convince these residences to allow MAT drugs on the premises.
“Housing is so significant,” she said. “We are lucky enough to have a few sober houses open to hearing about medication.”
Few resources for alcoholism
Although SOR funding was originally narrowly focused on opioid treatment, eventually methamphetamine and other stimulant drugs were included.
But SOR funding still doesn’t cover alcohol abuse.
“To me it makes no sense,” said Burns. “Alcohol is just ignored in this state, while we make so much money off it, we’re not addressing it. Right now, our Doorway says there’s about a two week wait for residential treatment in this state, but there’s a longer wait often for detox beds.”
Fox, too, expresses frustration when it comes to treatment for alcoholism. “Addiction is addiction. We all get frustrated when we have to categorize people and match them up with a particular substance to match them up with a funding source” she said.
“Alcohol is the number one substance used by individuals especially in New Hampshire.”
Anyone seeking help for addiction can call 211 at any time of day or night for help. For information on the statewide Doorway system for addiction treatment, visit here.
Despite COVID-19 cases rising throughout the area, the Monadnock Regional School District will continue its hybrid learning model, the school board decided Tuesday, with members citing the low incidence of cases within the schools and the benefits of students receiving some in-person instruction.
At Tuesday’s school-board meeting, board member Karen Wheeler of Gilsum proposed that Monadnock follow the lead of several other area districts and transition to fully remote instruction, from Thanksgiving at least through the end of Christmas break. Her motion failed by a weighted vote of 10.909 to 0.97.
Board members who voted against Wheeler’s proposal said they are confident in the district’s plan to limit the transmission of the viral respiratory illness in the schools and to transition to remote instruction if necessary.
“I’ve been struggling with this for quite a while, as I’m sure most of us have been thinking about it, and I really think that the plan that we have in place is doing its job,” board member Kristen Noonan of Fitzwilliam said. “I think we should stay hybrid, and if there are cases and we do have to go full remote, then so be it. But I think it’s in the students’ best interest to stay hybrid.”
Students in the Monadnock School District attend school in person two days per week and do remote learning the rest of the week. Families also have the option for their children to learn fully remotely.
Wheeler said she proposed the transition to remote learning through the holidays to align Monadnock with other districts making the switch, including the seven districts of N.H. School Administrative Unit 29. SAU 29 Superintendent Robert Malay announced the decision Friday to give staff and families in the unit, which covers Keene and six surrounding towns, time to plan for the change before it goes into effect Nov. 30.
Scott Peters, chairman of the Monadnock board, said families appreciate the opportunity to plan, but he still favored staying with the hybrid model for as long as possible.
“Personally, I don’t like the idea that we would give into fear for the sake of fear,” Peter said during the meeting, which drew about 160 viewers on Zoom. “I would prefer that we either had cases in front of us or a clear strained staffing issue. Today we don’t, and we have a plan in place to pull the rip cord if we have to. It’s not ideal to surprise people, but the advantages of the face-to-face learning are so much greater than the remote model.”
Monadnock board member Nicholas Mosher of Roxbury, who joined Wheeler as the only other member to vote to switch to remote learning, said he wanted the district to take pre-emptive action.
“I don’t think it’s responsible to wait until we’ve wrecked the car to make a change,” Mosher said. “I think it’s important that we be proactive. We see a number of other local school districts doing that exact thing, being proactive for this portion of the year, and I’m in favor of this.”
Before voting on the proposal, Monadnock Superintendent Lisa Witte told board members that the district will be prepared to go fully remote if necessary but that student absentee rates are low, and schools in the district are not experiencing staffing shortages — both metrics that the state health department advises schools to consider when deciding whether to operate a hybrid model or offer fully remote instruction,
“Right now, we’re in a good place,” Witte said. “I think the conversation around whether to go remote proactively, pre-emptively, really hinges on, one, what we’re seeing with substantial transmission. Is it inevitable that we’ll start seeing clusters in our schools? I don’t know that it’s inevitable.”
Witte added that she believes Monadnock and other school districts around the state have done a good job implementing their reopening plans, “and that’s why we’re not seeing many clusters or outbreaks in our public schools,” she said.
The Monadnock district has reported two COVID-19 cases this school year — one at Troy Elementary in early October and another at Gilsum STEAM Academy later last month. The district did not disclose whether the two people who tested positive for the virus were staff or students.
While Monadnock will remain in a hybrid model for now, several other local districts have gone fully remote, either due to COVID-19 cases within the schools or the rising number of cases throughout the state and region.
Hinsdale schools will be remote until after Thanksgiving after learning last week that a high-school student in the district tested positive for COVID-19. The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District will be remote until at least Dec. 7 following several confirmed COVID-19 cases at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School/Conant High School. And the Winchester School Board voted last Thursday to switch to fully remote instruction due to the rising number of cases in Cheshire County.
And in addition to SAU 29, the ConVal School District — which covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple — is planning to switch to remote learning from Nov. 30 through Jan. 15. This transition was written into ConVal’s reopening plan in anticipation of a second wave of the coronavirus around the holidays, Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said.
The Monadnock board decided it will reconsider switching to fully remote instruction at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 1.