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Animal Shelter

Left, David Ceely, executive director of the Huntington-based Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center. Right, John Di Leonardo, anthrozoologist and executive director of Humane Long Island. Left photo from Ceely; right from Di Leonardo

Animal shelters pose increasing challenges to shelter staff, policymakers and community members.

With limited budgets and staffing shortages, local shelters are becoming increasingly overwhelmed. In the face of these pressures, animal caregivers throughout the area are working to adapt to these circumstances.

Trends on the ground

David Ceely is the executive director of Huntington-based Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center, a nonprofit organization coordinating with and rescuing from municipal shelters throughout Long Island.

‘I think all shelters are very overwhelmed.’

— David Ceely

In an interview, Ceely highlighted the fundamental differences between nonprofit and municipal shelters, noting variations in financial structure and rules. Based on recent experiences on the ground, Ceely indicated that the number of animals admitted to shelters has generally increased since the pandemic.

“When we go out to these other shelters on Long Island, [New York] City and even across the country, we’re definitely seeing an influx of animals turned into shelters,” he said.

John Di Leonardo is an anthrozoologist and executive director of Humane Long Island. This nonprofit animal advocacy organization also specializes in nontraditional shelter animals such as chickens, turkeys and ducks.

Di Leonardo reported that the general trends “have remained pretty similar” from prior years. However, there has been “immense progress” in some areas. 

He cited recent state legislation barring the sale of kittens, puppies and rabbits in pet stores, suggesting that these trends signal progress for animal rescuers.

“Once that bill does take effect, and stores will only be able to sell rescued animals, I think that a huge burden will be lifted off of shelters in our area,” he said. “But until then, I think all shelters are very overwhelmed.” 

Contrasts in shelters

“Our job is to go out to the municipalities,” Ceely said. “They’re funded by government, and they have a different set of rules than we do, where if they run out of space, they may have to euthanize.”

He added, “Little Shelter doesn’t do that. … We don’t euthanize for space, and some of the municipalities may have to.”

Along with these differences in financial and administrative structures, Ceely suggested that the municipal and nonprofit shelters often further depart in their hiring and training practices.

“Unfortunately, with the town shelters, they don’t necessarily have a full-on training program for the directors that go in place there,” Ceely said. “They have to try to figure it out as they go, which gets really demanding, so I see a lot of turnover there.”

He added that the lack of training and turnover at a municipal shelter can lead to “concerned citizens.”

Di Leonardo added to this sentiment, noting the differences in qualification for shelter management positions at municipal and nonprofit shelters.

“A lot of times in municipal shelters, the positions may be union-based, or they may be patronage positions mixed in with a lot of people who actually have the animals’ interests at heart,” he said.

Despite some of the perceived downsides to the municipal hiring structure, Di Leonardo maintained that privatization presents a host of new challenges, such as closed admissions policies.

“When these shelters are privatized, they often become closed admission, which is a problem,” he said. “When you’re closed admission, you have to pick and choose which animals you take, whereas municipal shelters are typically open, and they have to take whatever animal comes to their door.”

Possible solutions

Di Leonardo outlined some steps locals can take to reduce the burden upon local animal shelters. He said the process can start with reorienting thinking around the sanctity of animal life.

‘Our animal care as a whole and our sheltering system is definitely a reflection of the values in a community.’

— John Di Leonardo

“Before surrendering an animal to a shelter, everyone should always make sure that they are exhausting every possible outcome to make sure they’re treating that animal like a family member and not just as a disposable birthday present,” he said. “Before anyone does get an animal for a holiday or a gift, they need to remember animals are not props.”

Ceely maintained that outreach initiatives could help alleviate pressures on both the municipal and nonprofit animal shelters on Long Island.

“Probably the best way [to enhance services] is to work on a lot of outreach to get the word out on social media and through word of mouth,” he said. “But also to have plenty of events at the facilities to try to promote adoptions.”

He added that lowering or eliminating the adoption fees for qualified adopters is “also a good idea.” In addition to these remedies, Ceely suggested a shift in focus among local officials and greater initiative by those directing the municipal shelters.

“There are a lot of other areas in the municipalities that are prioritized before the animals are,” the Little Shelter executive director said. “Oftentimes, if the animal shelter directors themselves are not speaking up, they might not get the attention or the funding that they deserve to run their shelters the right way.”

Ceely said residents can assist their local shelters by donating, volunteering, fostering and — above all — adopting.

“Most importantly, they can adopt — getting the animals into homes so that we can go out and rescue more,” he said.

For Di Leonardo, a community’s animal shelter system reflects its values. He recited a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, who once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

“Our animal care as a whole and our sheltering system is definitely a reflection of the values in a community,” the Humane Long Island executive director noted. “How we treat them and care for those who have the least rights in our community is a reflection on ourselves.”

Some of the dogs rescued from a slaughterhouse in South Korea and brought to Elwood. Photo from Little Shelter

By Victoria Espinoza

Ten dogs from South Korea were rescued from certain death this past month after the Little Shelter in Elwood stepped up and gave them a new home.

The dogs arrived at the shelter Monday, Feb. 27, after a long, 14-hour journey by airplane. The dogs were scheduled to be slaughtered for their meat, a common practice in South Korea. However, with the help of a local Korean rescue group, Free Korean Dogs, a transport was arranged for them to come to New York.

Shelter workers carry the dogs into their new home. Photo from Little Shelter

Free Korean Dogs estimates more than 2 million dogs are raised and slaughtered for the Korean meat trade annually. The group often seeks to partner with larger rescue groups like Little Shelter to help get these dogs to safety and give them a chance to be adopted. Little Shelter Executive Director David Ceely said the group has wanted to get involved with this cause for years.

“We knew we wanted to help out with this problem,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s such a growing issue. In the last three to five years it’s really come to light, and as the oldest shelter on Long Island our mission is to help animals locally, however also use our capabilities to help beyond the local level.”

The Little Shelter created a plan called the Passage to Freedom Program, which aims to help dogs throughout the world find a home.

Rowan Daray, marketing coordinator and spokesperson for the Little Shelter said the rescue took a lot of work.

“The rescue was a long process, our team had been working on it for over a month,” he said. “We were communicating with the rescue group and a third party to help us transport the dogs, so responses could be delayed due to time zones, language barriers and just all the steps needed to get the dogs ready for their flight.”

He said once the dogs were on their way everything went smoothly.

The South Korean dogs are between four and 15 pounds, and range in age from 9 months to 3 years. The dogs are mostly small-sized breeds though some are medium. Little Shelter said all of the animals are healthy and friendly dogs that have been socialized prior to receiving their doggie passports.

Ceely said when the dogs first arrived on Long Island they were understandably shaken, but some were more social and resilient than others — for perhaps one specific reason.

“Some people from those countries are not above stealing people’s pets,” Ceely said. “They can easily get a couple of bucks by stealing someone’s dogs … so the dogs that are now licking our hands through the cages, wagging their tails and becoming more outgoing, I suspect they had to be someone’s pet. There’s no way they weren’t.”

Some of the dogs rescued from a slaughterhouse in South Korea and brought to Elwood. Photo from Little Shelter

Before they arrived in New York each dog had a full medical check up and was fixed while in South Korea. As part of the Little Shelter’s protocol the dogs will be kept quarantined for two weeks when they have time to settle down and become familiar with the staff.

So far their adjustment period has been a success, according to Daray.

“The dogs are doing well, many of them are opening up to staff and showing us their personalities,” he said in an email “We have two who love to dance on their hind legs and do ‘happy paws’ for their handlers. Two others are very excited to meet people but will try to walk in between your legs when on leashes, so they can be as close to you as possible.”

Ceely said he expects at least five dogs to be ready to go up for adoption next Monday when the quarantine period is finished.

Little Shelter was asking for donations to help cover the incurred $5,000 of transporting these dogs to safety, and they were able to reach their goal in less than two weeks. If you would like to donate to the cause, go to the Little Shelter, call 631-368-8770 ext. 26 or visit their website at www.littleshelter.com. The Little Shelter is located at 33 Warner Road.

By Colm Ashe

This Saturday, Aug. 20, the Smithtown Animal Shelter will host an event to commemorate Homeless Animals Day, an international day dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of domestic animals that suffer from neglect and abuse every year. The day of awareness was introduced by the International Society of Animal Rights in 1992 and, according to Smithtown Animal Shelter volunteer Michele DeSanti, was officially recognized in Smithtown “over 10 years ago.” This is the first year that Smithtown Animal Shelter has organized an event centered around the day. DeSanti and the dedicated team at the shelter plan to celebrate this day in a “big way from this year on forward.”

The goal of the event is simple: find loving homes for the pets who were rescued from the darkest corners of Smithtown and given a second chance at life. Considering the conditions some of these animals were put through, the shelter might even be considered their first chance at life.

For animals like Sammi, the nervous Cane Corso, Smithtown’s homey facility is paradise compared to the cage she was locked in for the first 5 years of her tortured life. Sammi was saved from a hoarding situation where 46 other dogs suffered under the ownership of neglectful breeders. When the volunteers rescued her last February, she was skin and bones and frightened even by a garbage can. Though her fur has regained its luster and her body has gained some healthy weight, the trauma lingers on inside her heavy eyes.

Beside Sammi, the shelter is home to 10 more dogs such as Dinah, the energetic bull terrier blend who would be perfect for an athletic family, and the lovable Tank, a beautiful, stocky pit bull whose playful personality would be a great fit for a family with kids. There is also a cat sanctuary, full of approximately 30 rescued cats, and about 30 kittens roaming free and playing all day. The list of wonderful animals is extensive, and the shelter hopes to shorten that list at its event on Saturday.

The festivities kick off at 11 a.m., when Pastor Kathleen Kufs, a modern interfaith minister, will open the ceremony with a blessing for the animals in the shelter, as well as other companion animals in the community.

“We encourage all Smithtown residents and beyond to bring your companion animals to the shelter to be blessed. We think it is a fitting way to kick off Homeless Animals Day,” DeSanti said.

At 1:30 p.m. Peter Borchelt, a certified applies animal behavior consultant based in Brooklyn, will give a talk about dog aggression, teaching pet owners how to predict and prevent it. Borchelt will also present an interactive learning experience by answering questions and engaging the audience. From 3 to 4 p.m., Charlene Sorrentino, dog trainer, canine behaviorist and founder of The Dog Chick, will provide the audience with some essential knowledge regarding how to give a shelter dog the life it needs. Sorrentino works with several other rescues on Long Island and has built a reputation as a mentor for trainers in the area.

Finally, from 4 to 6 p.m., renowned psychic Jim Fargiano will offer group readings for up to 20 pet owners. Fargiano is a medium and a healer famous for his ability to communicate with both dogs and humans that have passed. In addition, the day will feature live music, kids activities, vendors, food and a visit by a wildlife rescue organization, the STAR Foundation.

Though the event is jam-packed with exciting features, International Homeless Animals Day is not successful if it doesn’t end with adopted animals. People like Jim McCourt, the proud guardian of a rescue dog, are urging others to answer the call for compassion. McCourt said people will “never know the gratitude of a rescued animal until [they] rescue [one themselves].”

The Smithtown Animal Shelter is located at 410 East Main St. in Smithtown. For more information, please call 631-360-7575.

Nunu wants a home outside the town animal shelter. Photo from Brookhaven Town

The town animal shelter is now open every day as part of an effort to get more dogs and cats adopted.

Supervisor Ed Romaine said the expanded hours would make it more convenient for people to visit the shelter in Brookhaven hamlet, which is located on Horseblock Road.

The Brookhaven Town Animal Shelter and Adoption Center is now open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-451-6950 or visit www.brookhaven.org/animalshelter.

A young Huntington resident gets acquainted with some of the smaller dogs up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda this past Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski

Huntington Town is trying a new approach to care for homeless and abused dogs. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) announced last week the launch of Give a Dog a Dream, a not-for-profit foundation the town formed to raise money for dogs in Huntington’s municipal animal shelter.

“For some time, people have asked how they can help improve the lives of dogs entrusted to our animal shelter’s care,” Petrone said in a statement. The foundation is a new “vehicle through which residents can help provide the extras and specialized care beyond the basics [that] public funding provides.”

Residents are encouraged to donate money, food, beds or other supplies.

A young Huntington resident gets acquainted with some of the smaller dogs up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda this past Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski
A young Huntington resident gets acquainted with some of the smaller dogs up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda this past Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski

Gerald Mosca, the head of the Huntington Animal Shelter, said the town has worked to change the image of the dog refuge.

“What we wanted to do when I took over in 2010 was change the perception of municipal shelters,” that they’re a place where dogs go to die, Mosca said. “That was not what we wanted to portray, and it’s obviously not what we wanted to do.”

The shelter housed nearly 80 dogs when he took over, he said, and now, many adoptions later, they’re down to seven. He credited his dedicated volunteer staff for training the dogs and preparing them to be adopted.

Michael Costa, the assistant executive director of Give a Dog a Dream, stressed the importance of helping the municipal shelter not only be a “no-kill” shelter, but also to give the dogs living there a good quality of life.

“You end up with a dog that sits in a kennel for four, five years,” Costa said. “In most shelters they’re only getting out for maybe 15 to 20 minutes a day if they’re lucky. They’re confined to three-foot by five-foot kennels most of that time. It’s not adequate care. It’s not adequate compassion. These dogs physically may be fine, though mentally they tend to suffer. By working within the community and pushing the way we’ve pushed to get these dogs where they need to be — in homes — we help to make sure they get the care that they really need.”

A dog up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski
A dog up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski

To kick off the foundation, Huntington Honda hosted a special adoption event on Saturday. Members of the community passed through from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. to meet the seven dogs currently being cared for at the town shelter.

“These dogs are all well prepared to go into every house,” Mosca said. “Most of these dogs are very well behaved.”

Huntington Honda’s Marketing Director Jeffrey Hindla talked about the business’ commitment to be part of the community.

“We can really make these dogs’ lives better,” Hindla said Saturday. “We’re super excited to be working with the Town of Huntington and I can’t wait to do more with them.”

Give a Dog a Dream is planning to host more adoption events in the near future. To donate to the foundation or to learn more, visit www.giveadogadream.org.

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The Comsewogue Public Library held its second Pet Adoption Fair on April 23, showcasing several animals from local shelters who are looking for adoptive homes.

Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center, Brookhaven Animal Shelter, Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, Live Love Bark, the Long Island Parrot Society and other animal organizations brought some of their furry friends to the fair.

There were dogs of different ages and breeds greeting people inside the library, bringing light to a rainy day.

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Cause Four Paws co-director Jason Fluger with his dog Brooklyn. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center is joining with Commack Middle School and Dr. Michael Good, the founder of an initiative called Homeless Pet Clubs, in an effort to find homes for animals. Good flew in from Atlanta, Ga., to speak to a group of about 30 Commack middle schoolers on Thursday afternoon in the school’s auditorium.

Good, a veterinarian, formed the Homeless Pets Foundation — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization — in 1998, according to its website. In 2010, Good started Homeless Pet Clubs as an adjunct to his foundation. The clubs are meant to encourage and organize students and community members to spread the word about specific animals that are in local shelters, in the hopes of finding suitable homes for adoption.

In an interview after the presentation, Good told the story of how he was inspired to start Homeless Pet Clubs a few years ago. He was attending an event for kindergarten age students designed to answer questions about a veterinarian’s job and what it entails. After about two hours of young children telling stories about their pets, rather than asking questions about becoming a vet, Good was hit with a stroke of inspiration, he said.

“What if we could get millions of kids all over this country telling stories about animals that don’t have homes?” Good asked. “That was the foundation of my Homeless Pet school clubs, and it has worked fabulously.”

The idea for Good’s clubs is fairly simple; Introduce homeless pets to middle school, or if Good has his way even younger-aged kids, allow them to spend time with the animals and take photos, and then empower the kids to spread the word about the animals. Kids are then made aware of when an animal is adopted, and given positive reinforcement for their role in saving a life. Commack’s version of the club will be the first on Long Island, although Good is always interested in expansion.

Renee Landsman and Jason Fluger teach at Commack Middle School, but they also run Cause Four Paws, an after-school club that meets monthly to educate students about animals and how to train them safely.

“Children love animals, and I think they should be encouraged to love animals,” Landsman said. Many Cause Four Paws students were in attendance for Good’s presentation, though they were not the only ones. Landsman and Fluger hope to make Good’s vision a schoolwide cause.

Smithtown animal shelter Director Susan Hansen also attended the event. She met Good at an event two years ago, she said. One of her first actions after beginning as the shelter’s director in August was to register on Good’s website to be a shelter rescue partner.

“At the shelter we’re approached on a regular basis by various Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, youth groups and individual kids that come to the shelter and say ‘I want to volunteer,’” Hansen said in an interview. “Unfortunately a lot of them are under 16 and at the shelter you need to be older to interact with the animals. I recognized that when you exclude that young population, you’re really discounting a tremendous resource, because as Dr. Good advocates, they can promote these animals virtually.”

Hansen believes in Good’s assertion that young students and social media can be valuable assets in finding homes for animals.

“Maybe you can’t give them a home, but maybe you know someone who can,” Hansen said about the importance of including youth in the effort to find homes for animals. “Spread the word and make a difference.”

For more information visit www.homelesspetclubs.org or call the Smithtown animal shelter at 631-360-7575.

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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!”

Figgy is one of the dogs up for adoption at the animal shelter. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Residents who visit the Brookhaven Town Animal Shelter on Oct. 17 can adopt a dog or a cat for free, as part of a Halloween-themed “Barktoberfest” event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The family-friendly event also includes music, games and face painting.

While dog adoptions at the shelter typically cost $137 and cat adoptions cost $125, those fees will be waived. All animals have been spayed or neutered and microchipped, and received their vaccinations and licenses. They have also been tested for heartworm and fleas.

The shelter is located at 300 Horseblock Road in Brookhaven. For more information, call 631-451-6950 or visit www.brookhaven.org/animalshelter.

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.