By Heidi Sutton
Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton has been a haven for shelter pets for almost half a century. In 2016, under the helm of Executive Director Pam Green, the shelter placed a record-breaking 1,016 animals in new homes and recently received a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. The Stony Brook resident recently took some time out of her busy schedule to talk about the shelter that has been her passion for 32 years.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, I have only a few pets. One small dog that accompanies me to work every day, Frodo; he is a puppy mill rescue that came to Kent in 2012; two cats, Wilson and Nellie, that were the offspring of a feral cat; and I added an equine to the mix in 2009, Ascot.
Did you have any pets growing up?
Yes, I came from a family of animal lovers, most notably my mother and father who had great love and compassion for all animals. We were always bringing some critter into our home including dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, a duck named Sam, a pony named Inca and a horse named Willy. If it needed a home, our doors were always open.
Did you always know that you wanted to work with animals?
Yes, as a young high school student my intention was to pursue a career in animal welfare, perhaps veterinary medicine.
How did you arrive at Kent?
I arrived at the Kent Animal Shelter in 1985. My intention was to continue my postgraduate education at the University of Kentucky. That did not seem to be in the cards as I responded to an advertisement for an executive director at the Kent Animal Shelter, a little-known animal shelter located on the east end of Long Island.
The organization was in dire straits financially at the time. There were very few animals, the spay/neuter clinic was closed and there were only two employees. I was introduced and interviewed by a volunteer board of directors, 13 members. In retrospect I believe they had their sights set on a candidate who they felt had the potential to lead and the background knowledge to help the shelter emerge from a critical situation. I decided to make re-opening the spay/neuter clinic a priority and went forth with that effort.
There was only a small list of donors actually hand written in a book, and so I began to write letters telling of the shelter’s plight and asking them to help. Donations slowly began to come in, and the list began to grow. We started taking animals from local municipal shelters that in those days also had a fairly high rate of euthanasia. The clinic didn’t take very long to get back into the full swing of things.
Today the shelter is financially secure and rescues animals from crisis situations across the country and sometimes internationally as well. The mission is the same as it was in 1968; however, the depth and breadth of the operation has grown enormously over the years. It still remains a smaller, personal organization. However, in 2009 it was honored as Shelter of the Year by North Shore Animal League and Purina for its innovative approach to adoption, rescue and population control.
Tell us about Kent’s spay/neuter clinic.
Last year 3,928 animals were spayed or neutered. The clinic is low cost to enable everyone to have their pets sterilized. Many pet owners cannot afford the service, and their pets are left to add to the overpopulation of homeless animals. Kent throughout the year receives grants from foundations such as PetSmart Charities and Pet Peeves Inc. and the ASPCA. These grants allow the clinic to perform these surgical procedures for just a $20 co-pay or in some cases not fee at all to the pet owner. The clinic, with the help of an ASPCA grant, is embarking on a campaign to help pet owners on public assistance or suffering from disabilities or financial hardship to have their pet spayed or neutered also for a minimal co-pay. Pet owners that would like to get more information can call the clinic at 631-727-5731, ext. 2.
I understand you took in homeless animals from Hurricane Harvey?
The shelter has taken in many rescues from Texas and the Carolinas previous to Hurricane Harvey. Unfortunately, the shelters there have high kill rates and are lacking in aggressive spay/neuter programs. However, the storms presenting this year are wreaking havoc in many places, notably Houston. The shelter was prepared to accept 15 animals from Austin Pets Alive, an organization working with animals displaced by Hurricane Harvey. Only six animals arrived on the recent transport, but more are scheduled to come in the ensuing weeks.
Why should people adopt a shelter pet rather than buy a dog from a pet store or breeder?
Potential adopters should elect first to adopt, not shop. Pet stores obtain their animals from puppy mills located in many places in the U.S., most notably Missouri. The public is often unaware of that fact and are finding that when they purchase a pet from a pet store, they are setting themselves up for getting a pet with congenital defects such as heart murmurs and/or diseases that present after the purchase. There are reputable breeders, however; those breeders do not sell their puppies to retail pet shops. There are many rescue organizations and shelters that have beautiful pets that have been vetted and neutered.
Tell us about your upcoming fundraiser.
On Sunday, Oct. 1 we will be holding our 5th annual Wines & Canines Run/Walk fundraiser. It is widely successful and takes place at Baiting Hollow Vineyard and Horse Rescue on Sound Avenue. This year, the proceeds will go to finance expenses incurred due to intake of rescued animals from hurricane ravaged states. The shelter also hosts a comedy night at the Hotel Indigo in Riverhead every year in the spring.
What’s next on the agenda?
We have hopefully found a perfect location for the construction of new kennel facility along with exercise pens, interaction rooms to acquaint potential adopters with a new pet, grooming room, storage etc. Over the next year, the board of directors and myself will be in negotiations with the Town of Riverhead to secure the needed permits. It is my goal to finalize everything and go forward in the planning and construction of the new building next year, which is a huge milestone for this organization, the 50th anniversary of helping homeless animals! The present facility will be kept intact minus the antiquated kennel building. That will also allow the shelter to restore the beautiful riverfront behind the kennel to its original state.
How can the public help?
Donations of blankets, towels, newspapers and money are all needed along with volunteers. There is an Amazon Wish List on Kent’s website, www.kentanimalshelter.com. We encourage anyone who wants to donate to take a look at the list and choose any items that they would like to send or bring to the shelter.