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Smithtown Animal Shelter

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.

Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The former director of the Smithtown animal shelter is suing the town, her former co-workers and Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) who she claims were personally hostile in their actions toward her.

Rocky Point resident Susan Hansen, who served as the supervisor of the Town of Smithtown’s Animal Shelter and Adoption Center for under two years, filed a lawsuit April 25 in United States District Eastern Court. Hansen is claiming her First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was arrested for alleged criminal trespassing at the shelter after she was suspended as director in February 2017.

Former Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter Director Susan Hansen. Photo from Sue Hansen

“They caused criminal proceedings, including arrest and prosecution, to be instituted against Hansen, not for any legitimate concerns to seek justice, but rather for collateral and malicious purposes,” reads the lawsuit.

Hansen, who supervised the town’s animal shelter from August 2015 until February 2017, was arrested for allegedly criminally trespassing at the facility during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 18, 2017.

Upon arriving at the volunteer orientation, Hansen said she was informed by her former co-workers that she was not allowed to be in the building and willingly left. She was later arrested by Suffolk County police March 10, 2017.

The criminal trespassing charges against Hansen were later dismissed upon the Suffolk County district attorney’s request.

Hansen claims she began being harassed by Inzerillo shortly after she was elected to the town board in 2016. Hansen said the councilwoman, who serves as co-liaison to the shelter, inappropriately criticized her management style in front of visitors during a Feb. 11, 2016, tour of the facility. This continued through several emails and confrontations, according to the court records, before Hansen had an attorney reach out to former Supervisor Pat Vecchio to address the situation in January 2017 — weeks before she was suspended.

Inzerillo said she had no comment on the lawsuit, stating that she had not yet been served the papers or a chance to read it. Smithtown Town Attorney’s office had no comment on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit also alleges that the town purposefully “hamstrung” Hansen’s work by not giving her the necessary funds and staffing to improve the heavily criticized conditions at the animal shelter.

“They caused criminal proceedings, including arrest and prosecution, to be instituted against Hansen, not for any legitimate concerns to seek justice, but rather for collateral and malicious purposes.”
– Court Records

“Long after Hansen’s departure from the animal shelter, independent animal rights advocates were expressing their opinions that the animal shelter was not being run properly, thus, it is more likely than not that Hansen was correct that conditions at the shelter (which were abysmal long before Hansen arrived) were caused by upper management’s failure to assist the animal shelter …,” reads the lawsuit.

Hansen had taken over the shelter from former director George Beatty, who stepped down in June 2015, after more than 30 years. His resignation came after heavy criticism from Smithtown residents who alleged he was doing an inadequate job and the conditions animals lived in and how they were cared for at the shelter were unacceptable.

It cites the town increased the shelter’s budget by 14.6 percent in 2017 once Hansen was gone.

As of April 30, town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo confirmed the town has spent $76,086.10 on upgrades to the shelter since February 2017. These upgrades include renovating the former director’s offices into a meet-and-greet area, a complete renovation of the veterinary office, new dog beds and replacement of the cat condominiums. The town has also promoted two part-time animal control officers to full-time positions, according to Garguilo, accounting for some of the budgetary increase.

The town does have plans to replace the water main leading to the town property — also the site of the firematic training grounds and senior citizen center — to improve service. This would allow for future installation of a fire sprinkler system in the animal shelter, Garguilo said. There are also plans to construct a TNR building to house its trap, neuter and return program in 2019.

Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The Town of Smithtown’s decision to shut down the Smithtown Animal Shelter’s Facebook page is the latest controversy to bombard the already problem-plagued center.

Smithtown resident John Urbancik openly criticized town councilmembers’ decision to take down the shelter’s Facebook page earlier this month at the Nov. 7 town board meeting.

“Before you took down the page, you weren’t promoting the animals,” Urbancik said at the board meeting. “Put it back up and promote the animals. If you want the animals out of there, you need to promote them.”

Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said the site has been temporarily taken offline alleging that public commenters harassed and cyberbullied town employes by claiming they had failed to provide adequate care for the shelter’s animals.

Shelter dog Dinah was recently adopted. Photo from George Speakman

“It was destroying the self-esteem of the staff who work there every day,” she said. “It’s been shattered with this negativity. It’s hurting our adoption success. It’s hurting the animals. It’s a few people who start these rumors that go all over about the shelter, but they aren’t thinking about the animals.”

Over the last two years, the Smithtown Animal Shelter has been plagued by a series of problems. Former director James Beatty resigned in May 2015, after more than 30 years running the shelter, following months of accusations by Smithtown residents of his animal neglect and cruelty. He was replaced by Rocky Point resident Sue Hansen, who was fired by the town in July 2017 on charges of incompetence and mismanagement which led to a deterioration of the animals’ living conditions.

Urbancik said in a telephone interview with TBR News Media Nov. 10 that the shutdown of the shelter’s Facebook page wasn’t over harassment or bullying, but rather a calculated effort to silence public outcry. He claimed the shelter’s dogs are being neglected, citing they are being left locked inside unclean kennels.

Urbancik has started several Facebook pages of his own to draw attention to his problems with operation of the shelter including “Smithtown Animal Shelter needs a director” with more than 700 followers and “Remove Public Safety from Smithtown Animal Shelter” with more than 70 followers as of time of this publication.

The Smithtown Animal Shelter Facebook page comments, Urbancik’s social media posts, along with others made by animal activists concerned over conditions at the Smithtown shelter, caught the attention of New Jersey resident George Speakman.

The self-professed dog lover traveled more than two and a half hours Nov. 12 after hearing rumors the shelters’ vet was operating without anesthesia and all dogs in the shelter would be euthanized by December.

“I saw the Facebook page before it went down; it was one of the main reasons I decided to travel up to New York to take a look — I wanted to see for myself,” Speakman said. “If it was the way it was described on Facebook, I would have sat outside that shelter and protested.”

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals.”

— George Speakman 

Upon arriving, he said he met with the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Susan Zollo, and a kennel attendant.

“I told them about the stories I had heard, and for my own peace of mind, asked if I can look around and see the shelter,” he said. “She was more than happy to accommodate me.”

Speakman said he toured the facility and took a video recording of the kennels and dog park before deciding to adopt Dinah, a female bull terrier and corgi mix who has been a long-term resident of the shelter.

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals,” he said, saying he would highly recommend local residents visit themselves. “They bend over backwards for them.”

Smithtown resident Vicki Feuerstein, a volunteer of the shelter since it was under Beatty’s leadership, said there have been positive changes in recent months at the shelter with proactive leadership and the remaining staff responsible and dedicated to their jobs.

“You have the backbone to make it a really good shelter,” she said.

Feuerstein admitted there is still room for improvement as dogs are spending too much time in their kennels, largely due to a shortage of kennel staff.

“I would love to see more kennel staff, that really affects the life of the dogs,” she said. “ Also, an animal behaviorist.”

Councilwoman Inzerillo admitted the town only has two full-time employees at the shelter, after recent efforts to clean house of troublesome employees. She said there have been conversations with supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) about hiring two additional kennel staff members once he takes office. In addition, Inzerillo said the town has started extensive renovations to improve the dated shelter.

“We are focusing on moving forward,” she said. “We can’t focus on the negativity. I encourage residents to go and visit the place.”

The Smithtown Animal Shelter, 410 E. Main St., Smithtown, will offer Easter photos of your pets on Sunday, April 9 from noon to 3 p.m. Come on down and have a photo taken of your pet and enjoy a family fun Easter egg hunt with lots of prizes! $10 donation requested for a framed color photo. All funds raised will go to the Star Foundation, a non-profit volunteer organization based in Middle Island that is dedicated to the welfare of domestic and wild animals. For further details, call 631-360-7575.

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Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The director of the Smithtown Animal Shelter will be stepping down from his position at the end of next month, town officials said.

Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) publicly announced the resignation of shelter Director George Beatty, 62, at a Town Board meeting last Thursday night, citing the recent death of Beatty’s wife as a catalyst to his decision to vacate his post. Beatty, who has been at the helm of the shelter for more than 30 years, has been at the center of controversy for many months in Smithtown as residents have consistently used Town Hall meetings as public forums to question his conduct, leadership and performance.

“I know many people would like to know the status of the animal shelter’s supervisor, Mr. Beatty,” Vecchio said at the Town Board meeting. “Two weeks ago, he lost his wife. It put some burden on him, as he takes care of his grandchildren.”

Vecchio said Beatty submitted his letter of resignation to the board earlier this month intent on retiring as of June 30. The audience at the meeting started applauding and cheering. The letter, dated, May 19, was short but concise.

“I have enjoyed working for the town of Smithtown and its residents and very much appreciate all of your support,” Beatty wrote in the letter. “I will miss working at the animal shelter, and if I can be of any assistance during the transition, please let me know.”

It was unclear who would be replacing Beatty, officials said. Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) took on the role of animal shelter liaison earlier this year and has been working with an advisory board she established to enhance care at the shelter, usher in building improvements and work toward a 100 percent adoption rate.

She said at the meeting that Beatty had been working closely with her advisory board of experts, which included animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden and animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein, and was helpful in moving the project forward.

“We’ve been meeting regularly with him,” she said. “George has been absolutely cooperative and we’ve been working together for some time.”

Residents have been accusing Beatty of animal neglect at the shelter and called for his removal from the facility. Beatty blamed a lot of the accusations on misinformation, rebutting claims that his shelter was not clean nor doing enough to care for and promote adoption of the animals.

He said over his nearly three decades at the helm, he has seen the Smithtown shelter’s population shift from a dog-dominated census to a cat-centric group now because of his team’s hard work.

An online petition at www.change.org also called for Beatty’s resignation. The online petition, which also links to a Facebook page calling for change at the shelter, blamed Beatty for animal neglect and requested the town form a committee to choose a new director, independent of the civil service list.

The shelter director said the petition was rooted in misleading information.

“I’m very truly upset — I was mortified by it,” Beatty said in a previous interview. “It would have been of no use to speak. I feel our side was very well spoken and professional. But as for the opposing side, it was apparent to me that they only wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. Nothing I said could have put them to rest.”

Smithtown Comptroller Donald Musnug outlines his capital budget suggestions before the Town Board on Monday. Photo by Phil Corso

Smithtown’s new comptroller is calling on the town board to borrow money to fund upcoming capital projects.

Donald Musgnug, who was sworn in as town comptroller in February after his predecessor, Lou Necroto, took a job with the county, provided his first capital budget recommendations report on Monday and pushed for borrowing money to pay for improvements. He listed several bullet points justifying his recommendation, as the town gears up to fund projects like an animal shelter renovation, LED streetlight retrofittings and marina bulkhead improvements.

“Interest rates are at historically low rates and the town is fiscally strong,” Musgnug said. “Now is the time to borrow, when rates are low, and thankfully we are in a position to do so.”

The comptroller said he expects replacing aging and otherwise deteriorating equipment would reduce the amount of money set aside in future budgets for repairs and maintenance. In reference to an upcoming streetlight project that would bring LED lighting to Smithtown’s streets, Musgnug said the town would offset the costs of future projects in the form of savings.

“Taking advantage of new technology, such as in the case of LED bulbs for streetlights and the municipal solid waste facility, will reduce utility costs [and] repair costs and improve safety,” Musgnug said in his report. “Because the town’s finances have been conservatively managed over the years, there is little room to cut operating budgets, making the goal of staying within the New York State tax cap increasingly difficult in light of rising compensation, health care and pension costs.”

In the upcoming year, Musgnug said most of the budgetary requests are equipment-related and should be done in the near future as assets deteriorate due to age and usage.

The streetlight project, he said, would total $5.6 million but could be offset by a possible $750,000 grant from the state.

“It should also be noted that … we expect to reduce utility costs and repairs by $350,000 as a result of the streetlight LED retrofit, which will offset the cost of borrowing, which is $270,000 per year,” Musgnug said. “So we actually more than offset the cost of installation.”

The comptroller also said the town should anticipate equipment purchases and construction in 2016, mostly because of the first phase of Smithtown Animal Shelter renovations as well as upgrades at the town marina, which collectively require about $3.1 million in financing.

The following year, he said, those projects would require about $6 million in funding overtime to complete.
After the comptroller’s report, Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) said he was impressed by the thoroughness of Musgnug’s pitch and wants to make sure the town follows through on capital projects after setting aside funding for them.

“Overall, I think it’s excellent,” he said. “In past years, we borrowed money and put up capital projects, but they never got done. Let’s make sure someone oversees these.”

In his report, Musgnug said even if the town chose to borrow more money as recommended, it would still see its overall debt steadily drop because of its conservative fiscal management policies.

“You should be commended for putting the town into a position where it can borrow significant sums of money and still have declining debt service payments [for which] it must budget,” he said.

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Councilwoman Lynne Nowick is the town board liaison to the Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo

Their calls for change helped spark the formation of an expert-led animal shelter advisory board, but Smithtown residents still said they felt excluded from the process.

Several residents have flanked each town board meeting over the last several months with aggressive calls for change at the Smithtown Animal Shelter. In response, Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) announced a new advisory board back in February, soon after taking on the shelter liaison role from Councilman Bob Creighton (R), which included the shelter’s 30-year Director George Beatty, animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden, and animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein. But residents still confronted Nowick at last Thursday’s town board meeting demanding answers as to why there was no Smithtown-based spokesperson involved.

Angela Cano, a Smithtown resident, was only one of several residents to call on Nowick to give Smithtown natives a seat at the advisory table to help shape the shelter’s future. She thanked Nowick for assembling the board, but spoke as a member of a Smithtown mothers’ Facebook group in saying she and her neighbors felt shut out of the process.

“They feel very strongly that while we are thankful for the women on the advisory board, we feel at least one resident should be more involved in what is going on in the shelter,” she said. “There are thousands of people backing that up.”

Nowick defended the advisory board and said they were already making great strides toward addressing accusations and concerns over animal neglect and institutional failure under Beatty’s watch.

“There is a Smithtown resident on the board,” Nowick said, causing a brief moment of confusion throughout the room. “I am a lifetime resident of Smithtown. I believe I have an advisory board that is working.”

Nowick said the board was looking to meet every two weeks until tangible changes are enacted, and each step of the decision-making process would be done publicly.

Liz Downey, a volunteer Humane Society district leader in the state’s 1st Congressional District, defended the advisory group as proof that Smithtown and its elected leaders were serious about shelter reform. She asked the residents of the community to embrace the board and stand behind Nowick rather than challenge her.

“The Smithtown Animal Shelter has already taken the unprecedented step of appointing an advisory council comprised of known animal advocates,” she said. “This is a step that other shelters do not take, proving that the Smithtown Animal Shelter is serious about making changes. Now is the time for advocates who brought the issue to light to roll up their sleeves and work with the council as it reviews, recommends and institutes a plan that better serves the animal[s] moving forward.”

Town Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) also stood behind his colleague and said the town was doing whatever it needed to do to make sure the shelter stepped up its game to the satisfaction of its own animal advocates.
“Everyone on this board is committed to make it a state-of-the-art, best animal shelter on Long Island,” he said.

Currently, Nowick said the town’s Parks Department was working with the town board and Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) to help shelter volunteers keep the space clean. She also said any residents who felt they were being disenfranchised from the process could give her office a call at any time to brainstorm potential ideas, or check in on the progress of her advisory board.

“When the board was formed, I didn’t say, ‘Where do you live?’” Nowick said. “I said, ‘What is your background?’ I have faith in the board. They’re doing the job.”

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