The Smithtown Animal Shelter’s inaugural advisory council has called it quits.
It has been about eight months since Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) rolled out the panel of animal welfare experts, geared toward moving the town’s shelter forward, but those same experts spoke before the Smithtown Town Board last Thursday night, accusing Nowick of failing them as the shelter’s government liaison. Animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein read a letter she had sent to the board on Sept. 15, calling out Nowick for failing to serve as a bridge between the animal experts and elected town officials concerning one of the advisory group’s biggest points: hiring an animal behaviorist at an annual salary of $45,000 to train the eight dogs being housed there.
“We reassured the public, on countless occasions, that we were not on the advisory council as window dressing and that we would never compromise what we felt was necessary to protect the animals,” Stein said. “We were told the town council was supportive of our efforts, and were promised the council’s full cooperation. These promises were empty and the cooperation was never forthcoming.”
Stein said the experts were adamant about having an animal behaviorist working with the shelter dogs on a regular basis to address behavioral issues so they can find homes, but were stonewalled due to fiscal constraints.
In response, Nowick said she had brought the recommendation to the town attorney and comptroller, but had put it on hold when Susan Hansen took over for the retired George Beatty as shelter director in August.
“I did start the process of trying to get a behaviorist. We tried almost everything,” Nowick said in response to the advisory council resignations. “We talked item-for-item and decided to wait and see what the new director of the shelter wanted for the position.”
Stein and her former panel members, animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden, said they had brought a potential candidate forward who was willing to take on the behaviorist role on a full-time basis. Nowick said she could not yet iron out a full-time contract due to fiscal constraints, but reiterated her commitment to the position by exploring if it could be done on a volunteer basis instead.
“A behaviorist is necessary to make the shelter a progressive, no-kill shelter,” Madden said to the board last Thursday night. “When you have a 2016 budget that has cuts and making do with what you have, you’re not going in the right direction.”
Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) told the animal experts that it was the first he had heard of their recommendation to install a behaviorist. In his remarks, the councilman said he felt it was unfair for the panel to place blame on the town board as a whole if Nowick was not communicating their concerns to her colleagues.
“I object to the finger being pointed at me,” he said. “There has never been a discussion by this board involving these recommendations at any time that I’m aware of. Perhaps this board should cease-and-desist doing business like that.”
That news left DeFina stunned.
“I cannot believe my ears, because Lynne Nowick was supposed to be the liaison, and she put together this committee and I watched her for months and months on the video tape at home, bragging about how great we were and all the wonderful things we did,” she said. “To find out that the board knows nothing about our requests for a trainer, which we were all asking for from day one — it’s hard to accept.”
At the end of the meeting, Hansen mentioned some of the improvements at the shelter she and her staff were ushering in, including a new dog-walking plan and training program for volunteers, while acknowledging that it was only the beginning of progress.