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Shelter

A feral cat in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a right-of-way in Mount Sinai, the exact location volunteers preferred not to publicize, a number of cats stalk through the cover of tall grass on silent paws. Upon hearing human sounds, they scatter deeper into the weeds.

“Babies, babies, momma’s here,” Miller Place resident Rita Miszuk called to the wild felines as she refilled water and food trays. She said she didn’t want to give away too many specifics of the location out of fear more cats will be dropped there and left in need of care.

Miszuk is the president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc., a nonprofit that aids feral cat colonies across Long Island. Her group tries to infiltrate cat communities, taking the animals to places where they can be vaccinated, spayed and neutered, often on the organization’s own dime. Miszuk said she sometimes spends thousands of dollars to humanely control the number of wild cats roaming free.

Rita Muszik, a Miller Place resident and president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc. cares for feral cat communities. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There were 50 here, but we’ve gotten them down to 11 — they’re all healthy and they’re all taken care of,” Miszuk said. “This is what typical rescuers do.”

They’re not her cats, in fact they’re nobody’s cats. They’re considered “feral,” but that word belies the terrorized nature of these animals left in the wild. They’re shy, they’re alone, and there are more and more every year.

Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Chief Roy Gross estimated, using the organization’s own metrics, approximately 322,000 cats live in Suffolk County, including both feral and domesticated cats. For every four people in the county, there is approximately one cat.

The number of rescue groups, along with the amount of trap, neuter and release programs that attempt to capture these animals, care for them and sterilize them before releasing them back into their original environment, has gone up of late. Still, Gross said the problem only continues to grow as cats continue to breed and people leave unneutered cats in homes as they move away.

“The population is out of control,” Gross said. “[Rescue groups] put a dent in them, but there are just so many cats out there.”

One female cat can give birth to three litters in a year with an average litter of five. Multiply that by their offspring and one cat can become 225 in a year. Erica Kutzing, vice president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, suggested the problem is exacerbated by the warming climate. Where cats used to become pregnant only in the summer months, she said she is now seeing pregnant cats give birth as early as March or February as they get pregnant later in the year.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat,’” Kutzing said. “It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

A number of animal shelters exist across the North Shore, and many of them host TNR programs. Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton provides spaying and neutering for $50 per cat. Sometimes if the shelter is able to secure a grant, the price can drop to $20.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat. It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

— Erica Kutzing

Some shelters are expanding their TNR capabilities. In June, the Town of Smithtown accepted a grant to build a new TNR building at the Smithtown Animal Shelter that will expand the town’s capturing capacity, as representatives of the shelter said they estimated Smithtown hosts around 30 to 40 different cat colonies. The town plans to start construction after it receives the funds in 2019, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

David Ceely, the executive director of Little Shelter Animal Adoption Center, which is also the managing organization for the Town of Huntington Cat Shelter, said it offers residents free TNR services to deal with feral cat communities. Still, the problem is so large Little Shelter often relies on volunteers and community members to manage cat populations.

“We’re one shelter, so to go out there and take care of all of them physically we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Ceely said. “But thankfully there are people in the community who want to do the right thing, and we want to support that.”

Otherwise getting a cat spayed and neutered could cost up to hundreds of dollars per cat, depending on the animal shelter or veterinarian. It means doing TNR on an entire colony could create an incredibly restrictive cost barrier.

“We just did 24 cats in Stony Brook and the final price was about $1,400,” Kutzing said. “That came from our own funds.”

Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said small rescue groups are not large enough to combat the problem, and there is a need for community members to get involved with their own local feral cat communities.

“We get at least 20 calls a month, such as about kittens under a deck or cats with an upper respiratory infection,” Floridia said. “We handle what we can but we’re a small organization.”

Worse still is the proliferation of cats has made the population start to seem like an infestation or a blight. This mindset has fostered an environment in which some commit horrendous crimes against cats, including maiming and torturing the animals. All cats, not just domestic cats, are considered a “companion animal” by the state.

Harming them is a Class E felony punishable with a $5,000 fine and up to two years in jail. Taking a cat to another location is considered abandonment and is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000.

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There are people out there who are sadistic criminals who go out and find easy prey, generally the kittens,” Gross said. “We have had people in the past drive spikes through them, behead them, impale them, poison them — just horrible acts of animal cruelty. Some of those people are just sadistic, but in cases like poison some people just don’t like these cats roaming around on their property.”

Beyond acts of violence, many residents either don’t know what to do or don’t feel it’s their concern. If people do not interact with these community cats by either taking them to a TNR program or by feeding them, then either the cats numbers grow exponentially or they will start to die.

“Without these people who take care of the cat colonies, we would have cats starving to death,” Kutzing said. “There would just be cat bodies littered everywhere.”

Many groups and shelters like Strong Island or Little Shelter offer local residents opportunities to use their cages to trap the animals so they can later be spayed and neutered. Kutzing said if the cost prohibits a resident from acting on a cat population, they should try and get their neighbors involved and make it a community fund. After all, the community cat problem is a community issue.

“If everyone gets involved, this problem will be drastically cut,” she said.

Miszuk said while her group does what it can, she needs local businesses, residents and especially local government to step in and help, otherwise the problem will only get worse.

“This problem has been swept under the carpet,” Miszuk said. “We need support to say that we are legitimate first responders.”

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Bridge of Hope Resource Center founder Celina Wilson is planning to turn a family owned home on Roe Avenue into a shelter for at-risk girls ages 16 to 21. Image from Google Maps

As the old cliché goes, it’s impossible to know when opportunity will knock, just be ready to answer the door when it does. Opportunity knocked for Celina Wilson about 30 years ago, both literally and figuratively. She went on to dedicate her life’s work to the opportunity that was standing at her front door.

The Port Jefferson Station resident founded Bridge of Hope Resource Center with her husband, George, in the late 1990s, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening communities through family communication. The organization for years has been holding seminars, forums, workshops and other similar events to educate the community and arm parents with strategies for connecting with teens and young adults. Wilson and the organization’s overarching ethos is that education and prevention are the best means for keeping kids from falling victim to the ills lurking in society, like drug addiction and depression. In 2018, Wilson is hoping to advance Bridge of Hope’s mission a step further.

Wilson’s in-laws lived in Port Jefferson Station for about 30 years, but 10 years ago, after her husband’s mother died, her father-in-law, John Wilson, decided to move out of the longtime family home on Roe Avenue. The home was left to Bridge of Hope to use as an asset, sheltering families in crisis who had a hard time finding a place to live. Wilson said the only stipulation was the tenants needed to find work and contribute to the rent. Over the course of the last decade, Wilson said three or four families have stayed at the home.

Now, she plans to repurpose it to serve as a shelter for at-risk girls between 16 and 21 years old. The shelter — which will be called John’s House, to honor Wilson’s late father-in-law — will be a place for girls who run away from home or pose a risk of doing so due to conflicts with parents or guardians. While at the home, those staying in the five beds will be supervised and subjected to counseling and other programs in an effort to restore open lines of healthy communication with parents.

The inspiration for the home was several decades in the making for Wilson.

She was living with her now-husband’s family in the same Port Jeff Station home about 30 years ago, she recalled, when a 16-year-old boy knocked on her door. Even though it was 10 p.m., the then-21-year-old answered.

“He was wondering if he could sleep in our house,” Wilson said. “He was tired. He had a fight with his mom, and I’m figuring, ‘He must have knocked at plenty of houses. Why ours?’ We didn’t understand. But he asked us, ‘Please, just for the night, can I just come in?’ What went through my mind was, ‘If we don’t let him in, he’s going to be in the street and who knows what?’”

In the morning, Wilson remembers waking up wanting to hear more of his personal story, but by that time, he was already gone.

“What went through my mind was, ‘If we don’t let him in, he’s going to be in the street and who knows what?’”

— Celina Wilson

“I realized then, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so many young people out there, I wonder what his mom was thinking, if she knew he was somewhere safe,’” she said. “The story repeats itself if we fast forward, but it’s
different today because of what our young people are facing.”

Wilson said the home will be funded by donations and some money from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which will also help in placing some of the girls in the home, though space will be available to accommodate the weary traveler like the one who knocked on her door 30 years ago.

“We feel the house is going to be a place where families can send their teens and work on situations that they themselves cannot work on in the home, and prevent them from running away,” Wilson said. “The goal is to reunite that youth back with their family.”

She said the length of stay for occupants will be determined on a case-by-case basis, with an eye toward sheltering those most in need, though she estimated many will be allowed to live there for up to 18 months. Each of the tenants will be expected to participate in counseling sessions and work toward agreed-upon goals, all while Bridge of Hope will be maintaining contact with the families to try to rebuild lines of communication. Wilson said the organization will follow up with the tenants even after they leave the home to make sure they stay on track as they grow up and prepare for independence.

One representative from the resource center will live permanently at the home, who Wilson referred to as the “house mom,” though aides, case workers and other specialists will also be on hand on a rotating basis seven days a week. She said tenants will be supervised at all times and expected to be at the home unless they’re at school, work or an organized activity.

She said admittance into the home will have nothing to do with demographics, as family conflict is common among all segments of society.

“It could be anyone’s child that is out there on the street,” Wilson said. “It could be my child.”

One community member who was helped by Wilson and Bridge of Hope said she sees the organization’s founder as the perfect person for an initiative like John’s House.

“She made things happen for me,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. She said Wilson and the
center worked with her for five years, assisting in finding work and getting her life on track while dealing with a physical disability. “She’s right for these kids. A lot of young people don’t have a place to go.”

She called Wilson a good person and a woman of her word, adding she wished the founder would run for political office.

Wilson said she contacted the Suffolk County Youth Bureau, an entity under the county executive’s purview dedicated to ensuring effective management of county funds for youth services, for assistance in
establishing policies for her initiative. She said the organization also conducted an inspection at the house, which will undergo minor renovations prior to her October target date for opening.

Though members of the bureau’s leadership declined to comment on the dealings with Bridge of Hope, one of its responsibilities includes monitoring and evaluating youth programs, research and planning; information and referrals; and training and technical assistance for community-based youth organizations, according to its website.

Wilson said she sees John’s house as a fitting tribute for the man it’s named after, who migrated to the United States from Jamaica in the Caribbean. He worked for years as a custodian at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.

“He left such a legacy here and abroad that we thought it appropriate to call it John’s House because he lived a life of service, kindness and love to his fellow man,” she said.

To donate to help Wilson’s cause, visit www.gofundme.com/xtzv6n-hope-for-her.

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From left, Valerie Sanks and Linda Scalcione with the many blankets donated this year. Photo from Scalcione

By Ernestine Franco

Everyone likes to curl up with a warm blanket as temperatures drop. So do the dogs and cats that live at the various animal shelters around Long Island. One Rocky Point woman is helping shelter animals keep warm one blanket at a time.

A few years ago Valerie Sanks and her son Matt decided to collect blankets that would be donated to the shelters for the animals.  During the holiday season in 2013 they collected 150 blankets.

In 2014 Sanks placed a post on her Facebook page requesting donations of blankets. By Dec. 17 of that year, her house was overtaken by 610 blankets, 600 cat-nip toys, and many boxes of dog biscuits and cat treats.

This year her goal is to collect 1,080 blankets and 2,000 cat toys as well as treats for all the animals that will be spending this holiday in one of the many shelters across Long Island. Throughout the year Sanks volunteers at the Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southhold shelters. The blankets and toys that she collects will be distributed to these shelters.

Linda Scalcione, a friend of Sanks and a Rocky Point resident, said that Valerie and her son “visit, help train and walk the dogs at the different shelters. Valerie goes above and beyond your average volunteer. She wants the dogs and cats that spend time at the shelters to be comfortable and for them to feel loved.”

If you would like to help Sanks reach her goal of helping shelter animals spend a warm holiday, friend her on Facebook or send donations to P.O. Box 262, Rocky Point, NY 11778. You can also send any blankets or donations to any of the three shelters: Brookhaven at 631-451-6950, Riverhead at 631-369-6189 and Southold at 631-765-1811. They all know Valerie Sanks.

Of course, if instead of donating a blanket, you want to provide a home for one of the animals, that would be great with Sanks. After all, all she wants is “for all the animals to one day have their fur-ever homes!”

Little Portion Friary is on Old Post Road in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After 35 years, Hope House Ministries is reuniting with its roots.

Earlier this year, in light of financial difficulties and a lack of manpower, the Franciscan Brothers of the Little Portion Friary on Old Post Road in Mount Sinai announced their building was closing. But this past spring, Father Francis Pizzarelli approached the brothers about acquiring part of the property, and now it can still have a future.

According to Pizzarelli, his Port Jefferson-based nonprofit Hope House Ministries began at the Little Portion Friary location, when it rented the friary’s guesthouse. The group has since grown, adding local properties such as the Pax Christi Hospitality Center on Oakland Avenue in Port Jefferson, where it shelters homeless men. Now it will return to where it all started.

Pizzarelli said the brothers were going to sell the 44-acre property to a developer who was going to build condominiums. Instead, Hope House will rent four acres of the lot — with the rent going toward the land’s purchase price — while the remaining 40 acres will go to Suffolk County. Hope House will change the facility’s name to Hope Academy at Little Portion Friary and use the building to further assist and support the people who are battling addiction.

With Long Island facing heroin addiction in particular as a widespread problem, Pizzarelli said he didn’t have enough space to help, so he first purchased an apartment house in Port Jefferson to accommodate those individuals brought in for assistance.

“What the friary is going to provide for me is greater space,” Pizzarelli said.

The young men who currently reside at the apartment house will be moved to the friary, and the additional space will give them more room to reflect and help further their treatment, the priest said.

The building required basic maintenance and renovations, including repainting the bedrooms, replacing carpets and cleaning the facility.

“When the brothers realized they had to leave, they weren’t going to spend money on a building that might have been demolished,” Pizzarelli said.

Hope House began renovating the building in September. Residents like Ann Moran of Sound Beach described the friary as a “little known secret” in the Mount Sinai area. She was pleased about the friary’s new future, saying, “I’m delighted that Hope House is taking it over and the [friary] won’t be closing.”

Pizzarelli said his neighbors were also thrilled that Hope House was preserving the friary’s nearly eight and a half decades of service to the community.

Despite the changes, one local tradition will remain — the bakery is and will still be open for business. For many years, the brothers were known locally for baking bread and have passed the baton to Hope House, which has been selling bread since October.

Pizzarelli said he kept the bakery “not so much to make money, but to basically honor the brothers and their 86 years.”

The labyrinth and chapel will also be available for community members to use.

According to the Little Portion Friary website, the friary helped serve the community through “prayer, study and work.” The brothers of the friary occasionally took in homeless people or others who simply needed a safe place to go.

The Franciscan brothers are currently in San Francisco and were not available for comment, but Pizzarelli said the brothers were also pleased to know the friary would be used for a good cause.

“The Franciscan brothers have always been supportive of this ministry and are grateful that [the] ministry will continue to give life to this holy ground.”

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A Boy Scout says hi to a puppy at the fourth annual Sound Beach Civic Association Pet Adopt-A-Thon. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The Hartlin Inn parking lot was full of furry friends from puppies to older dogs and kittens for the Sound Beach Civic Association’s fourth annual Pet Adopt-A-Thon in Sound Beach, Saturday.

Tanner is a 10-month-old hound that was up for adoption at the fourth annual Sound Beach Civic Association Pet Adopt-A-Thon. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Tanner is a 10-month-old hound that was up for adoption at the fourth annual Sound Beach Civic Association Pet Adopt-A-Thon. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Shelter’s and organizations like Save-A-Pet, the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, Grateful Greyhounds, Last Chance Animal Rescue, Long Island Bulldog Rescue and other organizations showed their many pets that are up for adoption. Organizations like the Regina Quinn Legacy Fund, which helps provide funds for animals in need, was also in attendance.

According to Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach civic, four dogs and one cat were adopted several hours into the adopt-a-thon, and three more dogs were adopted by the end of the event. In addition to adopting pets, people could also get their face painted, enter a raffle to win a basket of pet-related prizes and donate money to organizations to help their cause.

All proceeds went to the animal organizations in attendance.

The Sound Beach Civic Association hosted its first Pet Adopt-A-Thon in 2012, and the association intends on continuing its efforts to find loving homes for local pets in need.

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Save-A-Pet kittens are up for adoption at the annual Kitten Shower. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center is hosting its annual Kitten Shower on Saturday, Oct. 3, offering felines for adoption.

The event, at the shelter on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., when kittens can be adopted for $50. The furry friends are all spayed or neutered, are up-to-date with their vaccines and have had flea prevention treatment applied.

Refreshments will be served.

The shelter is also requesting donations of much-needed supplies, like canned kitten food, Purina Kitten Chow, and kitten milk replacement, for kittens in local foster homes.

For more information or to learn how to volunteer for the nonprofit organization, call Save-A-Pet at 631-473-6333.

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The Pax Christi Hospitality Center is on Oakland Avenue in Port Jefferson. File photo

Pax Christi Hospitality Center needs help supplying guests with sanitary products.

The center, which shelters local homeless men and is under the umbrella of Port Jefferson-based nonprofit Hope House Ministries, founded by Father Francis Pizzarelli, has asked for donations of toothbrushes, small soaps and small shampoos, like the ones found in hotel rooms. The items will go to guests who visit the facility for a shower.

Pax Christi is located at 255 Oakland Ave. in Port Jefferson, near the Long Island Rail Road tracks. It is a 25-bed facility for males older than 16 that provides emergency shelter, food and social services. Call 631-928-9108 for more information.

Panda the cat is looking for a loving home. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Panda, a black and white domestic short hair, has spent most of his life at Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station. Every day this 4-year-old male lounges about his space in the shelter and waits for someone to walk in and adopt him.

Panda had lived in the shelter since December 2012. Save-A-Pet worker Susan Manolakis said Panda was adopted in the past but was returned for an undisclosed reason.

Since then Panda has been patiently waiting to find a permanent place to call home beyond the shelter. The only thing stopping people from adopting this calm and friendly cat is that he has tested positive for feline HIV/AIDS, otherwise known as FIV.

Save-A-Pet Executive Director Lynne Schoepfer said it’s possible he contracted the disease from his mother.

The disease cannot be passed from cats to humans. Panda can also be around other cats as long as they don’t bite, fight aggressively or mate.

Although Panda may catch or have more difficulty recovering from a cold, he is a healthy cat who will live a long life with the right diet and living conditions. Panda doesn’t show any symptoms of FIV, but the shelter recommends that cats like Panda avoid going outside and remain indoors to stay healthy.

Panda is neutered, has tested negative for feline leukemia, and is up-to-date with his vaccinations. Won’t you open your heart and home to this calm and friendly sweetheart? Save-A-Pet is waiving his adoption fee to help him find a family.

Save-A-Pet is located at 608 Route 112, Port Jefferson Station. For more information, call 631-473-6333 or visit www.saveapetli.net.

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The Smithtown Animal Shelter is working toward a 100 percent adoption rate. File photo

The ongoing efforts to make Smithtown’s local animal shelter the best in Suffolk County continued this week when town officials announced a new partnership with another shelter.

The Smithtown Animal Shelter is partnering with The South Hampton Animal Shelter Foundation to offer low-cost spay and neuter services to the town’s community of pets.

Residents interested in participating can call 631-566-8870 to schedule appointments.

Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) signed on as the shelter’s government liaison in February and has since been working toward achieveing what she called one of her top priorities in making the Smithtown shelter reach a 100 percent adoption rate. She formed an advisory panel of animal experts soon after to help usher in change at the shelter.

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