Smithtown shelter considers animal behaviorist

Smithtown shelter considers animal behaviorist

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Smithtown Animal Shelter Director Sue Hansen, left, outlines candidates she helped seek out with hopes of hiring somebody to work with her team as an animal behaviorist. Councilwoman Lynne Nowick, center, and Supervisor Pat Vecchio say they are on board to hire someone. Photo by Phil Corso

After losing her volunteer advisory panel tasked with moving the Smithtown Animal Shelter into a new era, town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) moved forward this week by inviting the shelter director to speak before the board.

Early this year, Nowick assembled a panel of animal welfare experts with hopes of soliciting their advice and bringing calm to a contentious conversation that has surrounded the shelter for the past year. That panel, however, called it quits at a town board meeting last week, accusing Nowick of being unable to respond to one of their top concerns of hiring a full-time animal behaviorist at the shelter with an annual salary of $45,000. In an attempt to set the record straight, Nowick invited new shelter Director Sue Hansen to speak at a work session on Tuesday morning about finding someone to fit the behaviorist role.

“The last meeting was a little bit contentious,” Nowick said. “I want the board to be aware of what we were doing as far as hiring our behaviorist and why we haven’t done certain things.”

Nowick’s former advisory panel consisted of animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein and animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden. The three penned a letter to the board on Sept. 15 accusing Nowick of failing to serve as a bridge between the animal experts and elected town officials, raising the issue of the town neglecting to consider hiring a full-time animal behaviorist to train dogs at the shelter.

The letter was news to Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R), who told the animal experts that he was never made aware of any discussions regarding a behaviorist position.

“You guys got tricked,” Nowick said at the work session Tuesday. “They only wanted one full-time behaviorist. They didn’t want to consider anything else.”

Stein, DeFina and Madden did not return requests seeking comment.

On Nowick’s invitation, Hansen introduced two potential candidates she had vetted who could fill the role of an animal behaviorist at the shelter with hopes of finding homes for the eight dogs housed there: Michael Gould, owner of Hounds Town USA, and Aimee Sadler, owner of Dogs Playing for Life.

“These candidates would be available to work with the staff and make our dogs more adoptable,” Hansen said.

Both candidates, who did not return requests seeking comment, have extensive backgrounds in training dogs and also pet lovers on how to interact with them.

Gould, a Long Island native, has worked with the shelter in the past, helping some dogs train their way to becoming police dogs, Hansen said. If the board chooses to work with him, he would work as a volunteer to help train and assess Smithtown dogs and teach shelter staffers how to handle them. The proposal was met with satisfaction from board members, with Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) calling it a “great idea.”

Sadler, the other candidate for the job, would call on her experience working with other Island shelters including the Southhampton Animal Shelter to assemble socializing playgroups for dogs in Smithtown. Hansen said she’s had Smithtown shelter workers visiting Sadler’s programs over recent weeks to explore how her services could benefit the town. But the town would need to seek ways to fund it, she said.

The board asked Hansen to speak with the candidates and report back  how they might fill the Smithtown shelter’s needs before a deal is inked.

Residents have flocked to board meetings over the past year to air their grievances surrounding the shelter, accusing former Director George Beatty of mismanaging animals and staffers and honing in on various aspects of operations there. Beatty retired as director in August, prompting the hiring of Hansen.

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