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Sue Hansen

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.

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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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