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John Valentine

Visitor’s entrance to the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Every dog has its day, and Town of Smithtown could be handing a juicy opportunity to any private organization looking to run its animal shelter.

Town officials are looking to potentially turn partial control of the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center over to a private company. One caveat, though, is board members warn they will only go through with the plan if it doesn’t cost more than the town already spends.

“In my opinion, if this were to go through, the organization would have to be animal experts or organizations that are expert in the care of animals,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “And it has to be financially feasible. If the RFP comes back and it would be in excess of what we pay now we wouldn’t support it.”

The town board voted 4-1 July 17 to put out a request for proposal for any private organization that is interested in assuming day-to-day operations of the shelter. 

“We’ve been discussing this for more than 18 months as a board,” Wehrheim said. “Prior to choosing the director, if that happens and we keep it, the board has had conversations for professional animal
organizations who would agree to come in and operate the animal shelter in a public-private partnership. This is strictly exploratory.”

The supervisor said that some groups have already shown interest. Under the proposed plan, current animal control officers employed by the town would remain in place. The town would continue to assume the maintenance of the property and building, as well as handling any animal control or capture programs. The incoming private organization would handle the day-to-day operations, including feeding, cleaning and fostering the cats and dogs. 

The shelter has not had a director since Sue Hansen was suspended by the town from the position in February 2017 after allegations surfaced of incompetence and mismanagement. Hansen has a pending lawsuit against the town for being arrested on allegations of criminal trespassing on the town property after her suspension. She had taken over the reins from George Beatty, who resigned in 2015, after a
scandal surfaced with claims of animal neglect and abuse. 

Supervision of the shelter has since fallen to the town’s Department of Public Safety headed by Director John Valentine. Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said those public safety officers in the shelter would move back to the department office should this plan go into effect.

Wehrheim said they were looking for nonprofits already involved in animal care, but he did not rule out any for-profit organizations coming in.

Inzerillo, the liaison to the shelter, voted against the RFP, though she said she didn’t necessarily disagree with the concept. Instead, the councilwoman said she wished the town would have waited until after they finished upgrades to the shelter such as the construction of the new independent Trap, Neuter and Release building.

Smithtown has attained a $168,000 grant to build a new TNR building on the existing property. The town will pull matching funds equal to 25 percent of the grant, or approximately $56,250, from the town’s capital budget to complete the project, and it expects to begin building in early 2019. 

“I would have preferred to have some more time to make an informed decision … or to potentially discuss the idea with experts first or in a work session with the board,” Inzerillo said. “I have the utmost faith in my fellow board members that they would not commit to anything concrete that would put these projects in jeopardy.”

Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown officials and animal advocates are purring over a new addition to the town animal shelter that will help mitigate the local feral cat issue.

The Town of  Smithtown Animal Shelter has received a New York State grant that it plans to use to build a new trap, neuter and release building on Middle Country Road. The TNR building will be separate from the main shelter in an effort to keep feral cats, also known as community cats, which may have fleas or spread infection or disease to the other animals, privately sequestered.

“The isolation is important because some of these cats are going to be sick, they’re going to have fleas — this actually separates these [community cats] from our current cats in the building that are up for adoption,” said Denise Vival, a town animal control officer.

This grant will help us to keep our adoptable pets healthy while humanely and effectively controlling the free-roaming cat population through our spay, neuter and release program.”

— Lisa Inzerillo

Town officials voted to accept the $168,750 grant at their June 12 board meeting. The town will pull matching funds equal to 25 percent of the grant, or approximately $56,250, from the town’s capital budget to complete the project.

Town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said the town is already soliciting contractor bids for the design and construction of the TNR building. The state grant funds will become available in early 2019 and the town hopes to begin construction immediately, according to Garguilo.

“This grant will help us to keep our adoptable pets healthy while humanely and effectively controlling the free-roaming cat population through our spay, neuter and release program,” Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said.

The nonprofit American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ website advises shelters to have a TNR program to deal with feral cats, or cats that have adapted to living in small communities in the wild rather than indoors. A TNR program helps stabilize cat populations as well as prevent the spread of disease, according to the ASPCA’s website.

Vival estimates the Town of Smithtown has approximately 30 to 40 different colonies of community cats, each of which contains anywhere from 10 to 30 cats of different breeds. Without programs such as TNR, cat populations can quickly get out of control.

“We have around 80 cats in foster [care] right now, and if you release them on the street and you don’t spay and neuter them, 80 turns into a ridiculous amount,” said Kathy Giglio, a kennel attendant at the shelter.

These grants were awarded to shelters specifically that have made strides to improve the treatment, training and medical care of all our animal guests.”

— John Valentine

Vival said the town’s current TNR program, which operates behind a closed door in the back of the shelter, has six cages that each house two to three cats at a time. The shelter has a waiting list of two to three weeks before they will be able to trap and neuter different cat colonies across the town. The wait time is a problem because cats could become pregnant or give birth in that time, according to Vival. With the new building, the shelter would be able to quadruple the number of cats it can hold.

Animal rights advocate Diane Madden from the protest group Hope for Hempstead Shelter said the creation of a TNR building in the Smithtown sets up a service other government-run shelters lack.

“I wish that every town would put together a program such as this because that’s how overwhelming the amount of cats there are out there,“ Madden said. “TNR is the best, most humane way to deal with the community cat problem.”

The grant is part of a $5 million fund created by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) that gave out awards to 14 animal shelters and humane societies across New York State. The grant is funded by the state’s 2018  budget.

“These grants were awarded to shelters specifically that have made strides to improve the treatment, training and medical care of all our animal guests,” Chief John Valentine, director of Smithtown’s public safety department said. “Building a TNR structure will give strays and rescued animals a state-of-the-art facility to comfortably isolate and medically assess them for adoption and spay/neuter release programs.”

The new building will be installed on the south side of the property, behind the main facility and east of the office trailer the shelter installed in 2017.

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The suggestive advertisement offers cash-only massages in Smithtown. Screenshot from Backpage.com

An office building on West Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown was allegedly used as a front to house an illegal massage parlor, Smithtown officials said in a statement Wednesday.

Smithtown Public Safety fire marshals busted the parlor on July 19 around 2 p.m. operating out of 811 West Jericho Tpke. to find what Department Director Chief John Valentine described as an elaborate hidden facility with multiple bedrooms, each holding three to four young Asian women. Officials cited suggestive advertisements for the space on Backpage.com, promising patrons body rubs from Korean and Japanese girls for $60 to $70.

Smithtown fire marshals allege the office building at 811 West Jericho Tpke. housed an illegal massage parlor. Photo from Google Maps
Smithtown fire marshals allege the office building at 811 West Jericho Tpke. housed an illegal massage parlor. Photo from Google Maps

Valentine said the fire marshals acted in response to a request for assistance from the Smithtown Fire Department to find the parlor, filled with young Asian women in “various stages of undress.” Upon their entry, Valentine said a roughly 35-year-old Asian woman confronted the fire marshals and tried to block their entrance into the location.

“The unidentified females and several apparent patrons fled the location upon entry,” Valentine said. “Suffolk County Police 4th Precinct officers were contacted and responded to the location.”

Inside, officials found what Valentine described as suggestive advertising and photographs promoting the services. Subsequent online searches posted that same day on Backpage.com advertised a grand opening for cash-only massage services with several provocative photos of young Asian women. The posting was listed under a “Long Island body rubs” thread.

An ongoing investigation was put into motion through the Smithtown Public Safety Department and fire marshals have uncovered multiple violations of the fire and property maintenance codes as well as town code violations, including interfering with emergency personnel, Valentine said.

It was not clear whether criminal charges would be filed.

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