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.”