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Cats

Local animal activists and Brookhaven town to set up the new task force in March. File photo by Kyle Barr

Town of Brookhaven TNR [trap-neuter-return] Task Force, which started up as a pilot program in March, has already spayed and neutered 113 cats in the local area in April, according to Erica Kutzing, one of the heads of the task force and animal rescuer with Strong Island Animal Rescue League.

Erica Kutzing, of Strong Island Rescue and Brookhaven’s TNR Task Force, spoke at PJ Village’s July 20 meeting.

On a call with the Port Jefferson village board July 20, Kutzing said 113 cats no longer producing kittens means an exponential decline in the number of feral cats (aka community cats) crowding local areas.

While in the grand scheme of the many thousands of feral cats in local communities 113 may seem paltry, every neutered or spayed cat is potentially a way to slow the growth of feral communities. Kutzing said they have trapped, neutered and returned 40 feral cats back into their homes in Port Jefferson. Of those 40, if 20 are female, that means those cats can no longer produce five additional kittens per litter; and if a cat produces two litters per year, neutering 20 potentially prevents 200 more cats on the streets.

“Every neighborhood has a feral cat,” Kutzing said. “They usually hide, and you don’t see them, but there are feral cats all over the place.”

The Brookhaven voted to create the task force back in March, providing $60,000 that all goes to the costs of paying a veterinarian to perform the procedures. Kutzing, who works with Katrina Denning, the founder of Jacob’s Hope Rescue, and cat enthusiast Jenny Luca all work on a voluntary basis. They said the pandemic put their plans on hold, but they plan to be out again in August.

Though she said some locals may be hesitant to contact them, Kutzing emphasized there is no charge to the homeowner and they are professionals who know how to capture the felines without harming them. Though some residents may want the rescuers to move the cats from the area, taking an animal like a feral cat away from its habitat is considered abuse and is against the law.

The TNR Task Force can be contacted online at its Facebook page by searching TNR Taskforce of Brookhaven.

Katrina Denning, Erica Kutzing and Jenny Luca are the three in charge of Brookhaven’s new TNR task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new pilot trap, neuter and release program will look to stem the tide of the growing feral cat population in the Town of Brookhaven. Such has been the efforts of local animal activists who for months have advocated for official help in what seemed an insurmountable problem. 

Erica Kutzing, a Sound Beach resident and vice president of North Shore-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said she and others believe it will allow for better outcomes and success rates for feral cats. 

Strong Island Animal Rescue joined with local animal activists and Brookhaven town to set up the new task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It meant a lot to us to help solve this real issue,” she said. 

Kutzing, Katrina Denning, founder of the Jacob’s Hope Rescue, and Jenny Luca, among others attended a number of Town Board meetings from October to December 2019, discussing the need for Brookhaven to provide more assistance to local animal rescue groups in the ongoing feral cat crisis. 

“The TNR [Trap-Neuter-Return] program at that time was broken and needed to be fixed,” Kutzing said. 

At the end of December, the trio were given the opportunity to meet with Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Town Board members to talk about the status of the program. In two separate meetings, animal rescue advocates discussed ways they could improve the program and ease the burden on local rescue groups.

After some weeks of negotiations, town officials agreed to put the trio in charge of the task force. The town also decided to increase the original program’s budget from $40,000 to $60,000, began a partnership with Medford-based veterinary clinic Long Island Spay & Neuter, and will pay professional trappers to help capture feral cats. 

The pilot program was officially announced at the March 12 board meeting, classified as a “Program for the Public Good,” thereby qualifying it for coverage under the town’s public good insurance. 

“We are moving in a direction to reduce the population of feral cats — we believe the best way to deal with this issue is to work with nonprofits, who are extremely committed people,” Romaine said. “Limiting the population is the right thing to do for the community.” 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the feral cat population on Long Island has been increasing drastically over the years, with a significant amount being located in Council District 1. 

“The town was able to develop the pilot program with significant community input from the rescue organizations,” she said in a statement. “We are anticipating success of the pilot program and we appreciate the community groups working collaboratively with the town.”

Denning said they were pleasantly surprised that town officials put them in charge and supported their ideas. She expects to see improved results once the program is set up, especially with Dr. John Berger, a veterinarian at Long Island Spay & Neuter, in place to perform the procedures.

“The way it was done before was just not working,” she said. “We needed someone who was skilled with dealing with a high volume of feral cats. Dr. Berger is trained to do a large number of surgeries.”

In turn, Denning said it will allow them to get more cats fixed and treated than before. 

“We will be doing clinics and specifically have a block of time where Dr. Berger can deal with a mass quantity at once,” she said. “We will be able to treat 20-30 cats and deal with entire colonies.”

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

In addition, the group will come up with a list of approved trappers who will “go out and capture these feral cats instead of the homeowners who are not as experienced,” Denning said. “We will be paying them for their work and incentivize them to go out more, now they don’t need to spend their own money on supplies.”

Luca, who has been an independent rescuer for the past 10 years, said the new program will allow them to do more in helping feral cats. 

“Cats are on every block on Long Island — we were very limited in what we could do before,” she said. 

Luca said with added support they will be able to use funds to buy new equipment like drop traps to ensure they’ll be able to capture more feral cats. 

Another aspect of the program is public education. 

“Educating people is huge — we are looking for individuals/volunteers who are interested in learning what we do and help us, it would be great,” Luca said.

Kutzing said surgery appointments will be twice a month at the clinics and they expect the program to be up and running sometime in April. 

In the meantime, the trio is excited for
the opportunity.

“It is incredible what we’ve been able to do,” Kutzing said. “It has been such a rewarding experience.”

Photo from Metro

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Concerns about a human coronavirus, better known as COVID 19, is raising fears for a global outbreak. The good news is that although COVID 19 may have its origins in a coronavirus found in bats, THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AT THIS TIME that the known canine and feline coronaviruses can spread from animals to humans. The risk of spread of COVID 19 is human to human at this time.

Coronavirus in dogs typically causes enteritis, or inflammation of the bowel. Most of the cases cause a mild, self-limiting diarrhea that lasts for a few days and does not even require a trip to the veterinarian’s office. Less commonly, more severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, or vomiting occur. 

More recently, a canine coronavirus respiratory virus has been isolated in association with other respiratory viruses into a disease termed Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC). Again, the symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting rarely causing death.

Coronavirus in cats is much more serious. Most coronavirus in cats also cause self-limiting gastrointestinal symptoms similar to dogs. However, there is a particular strain of feline coronavirus that leads to a disease process called Feline Infectious Peritonitis, or FIP for short. 

This FIP strain of the coronavirus appears to be a mutation of one of the more benign strains of the enteric (gut) coronavirus. Rather than a self-limiting diarrhea, the deadly FIP develops. FIP has two forms: a “wet form” and a “dry form.” In the wet form a high fever and effusion develops. This effusion, or protein rich fluid, usually develops in the abdomen causing a peritonitis. Less commonly the fluid develops in the chest cavity causing a pleural effusion. In either case the outcome is severe and always fatal. The symptoms develop rapidly (over a few days to, at most, a few weeks). The patient stops eating and is usually humanely euthanized if he or she does not pass away on their own. 

There is also a less common “dry form” of the disease. The dry form of FIP is a slower developing sequela of the disease. Rather than a rapid progression of disease over a few weeks, the dry form takes months to years. The dry form produces a granulomatous response and produces deposits of a specific type of scar tissue in internal organs. These internal organs then begin to dysfunction and ultimately shut down. 

My experience has shown patients usually are humanely euthanized or pass away from kidney failure secondary to the dry form of FIP. The kidneys, unlike some other organs, do not regenerate cells or repair damage. Once a certain percentage of the kidneys stops functioning the rest of the body quickly shuts down.

There are both feline and canine coronavirus vaccines but their actual efficacy is questionable. There are so many strains that the single strain in the vaccine protect against them all. It would be like having a single flu vaccine that is never modified year to year. The good news is that most cases of both feline and canine coronavirus are mild and self-limiting. Also, I have found no information at this time that states that the canine or feline coronavirus poses any threat to human health. 

If you have questions that are not answered in this article, or are concerned about the health of your individual pet please contact your regular veterinarian for an appointment.  

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to [email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

Above, from left, Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan), Victoria (Francesca Hayward) and Mungojerrie (Danny Collins) in a scene from Cats. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

In 1939, T.S. Eliot published a slender volume of poetry: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Fast-forward just over 40 years and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s megahit Cats premiered in the West End, where it played for 8,949 performances, becoming the longest-running West End musical, a record it held until 2006. The Broadway production opened in 1982 and ran for 7,845 performances; it is now the fourth longest-running Broadway show. Cats went on to be seen internationally, playing in dozens of countries and languages.  

In 1998, a direct-to-video production was shot at London’s Adelphi Theatre. While significant cuts were made and it was played on a new set, it gives a sense of the stage production. 

Cats has always been a divisive musical, dividing into two distinct camps: It has its champions and its detractors, with few in the middle ground.

Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

The current offering of Cats many lives is the film directed by Tom Hooper with a screenplay by Hooper and Lee Hall. This means that Hooper is doubly responsible for what is on the screen. And while Hooper’s work has included the John Adams miniseries, The King’s Speech and The Danish Girl, Hooper also gave us the clumsy, bloated and wholly unsatisfying 2012 Les Misérables.

The plot of Cats — such as it is — tells of the Jellicle Ball, an annual gathering of cats where one is granted the chance to go the Heavyside Layer and rewarded with a new life. Here, it is told through the eyes of Victoria, an abandoned kitten. All of this is just a structure in which to introduce a range of cats who each pitch their right to be granted this wish, their individuality displayed through a series of musical turns. Throughout, the candidates are thwarted by the mysterious Macavity, whose nefarious plan is made clear fairly early on.

The film opens strongly with one of the best numbers from the show,“Jellicle Cats.” It manages to provide cinematic spectacle without losing its musical theater roots. Ultimately, it was when Hooper allows Broadway to come through, the movie finds its limited success. When the cast dances, there are moments of real celebration. Unfortunately, after the first 10 minutes or so, he decided to not trust the material, and the film becomes choppy, disconnected and feels overlong. There is an unnecessary slapstick, singing rats and dancing cockroaches. These elements are neither whimsical nor clever and enhance neither story nor spectacle.

The film boasts a number of high profile names. Rebel Wilson as Jennnyanydots and James Cordern as Bustopher Jones are ill-served by aggressively abrasive choices — novelty songs that are stripped of their charm and turned grotesque. Idris Elba fairs decently as the ominous Macavity, and Taylor Swift, as his henchperson, Bombalurina, is not given much to do but her one decently executed number. 

Judi Dench, as feline matriarch Old Deuteronomy, and Ian McKellen, as Gus the Theatre Cat, are channeling everything they’ve done for the past five decades and come out best. Jennifer Hudson, as the downtrodden Grizabella, is too overwrought and loses the sympathetic core of “Memory.” Newcomer Francesca Hayward functions nicely as Victoria the catalyst for the action (no pun intended). 

What is most surprising is that the voices in general are pleasant but not strong, which is an odd choice for an almost sung-through film. (The less said about the dialogue that has been shoe-horned in, the better.)

However, the biggest problem — and it is insurmountable — is the overall visual of the film. The characters have been strangely CGI-ed, and they come across neither as humans or cats but as some Island of Dr. Moreau hybrids. There is an unfinished quality to the faces, as if they are poking their heads through a Coney Island cut-out. The bodies are clearly feline but some are clothed and some are not, sending a bizarre and uncomfortable mixed message.

There is no commitment to what the audience is supposed to be seeing and the result is disturbing. Why the creators did not take a page from the stage production is a mystery for at least then they could have found an aesthetically pleasing or least unifying design.

There has been discussion of a Cats film since the musical first became popular. Given the nature of the source, it is a challenging one. And while the play will continue to prowl stages across the world, the film will surely be a strange and unpleasant footnote in the history of movie musicals.

Rated PG, Cats is now playing in local theaters.

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

With the growing issue of feral cats in Suffolk County, local animal rescue groups have told the Town of Brookhaven its current programs are not doing enough to stem the tide.

The rising population of feral cats on Long Island has been an ongoing issue for the past few years. In 2018, well over 300,000 cats lived in Suffolk County, including both feral and domesticated cats, according to data from the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

Erica Kutzing speaks on cats to the town board. Photo from TOB video

While trap, neuter and release programs have helped in combating the increasing population of feral cats, animal rescuer groups from the North Shore say the Town has not done enough to provide assistance in getting cats spayed and neutered.  

Erica Kutzing, vice president of North Shore-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, asked town officials at a board meeting Nov. 19 to consider creating a trap, neuter and release task force to assist local rescue groups in the ongoing feral cat crisis. 

Kutzing said the rising population of feral cats has overwhelmed many animal groups’ resources, especially citing the lack of manpower and cost they themselves incur.

Since speaking at a previous board meeting, she posted a message on Facebook asking people who have unfixed feral cats to reply with the number of felines they need to get spayed and neutered. 

Within 24 hours, 23 individuals had contacted Kutzing and among them they had a total of 324 unfixed feral cats that could “breed over and over again.” 

She said if those 23 people got two free vouchers from the Town, as the current trap neuter return program allows, it would leave about 278 of those cats still untreated. A task force, she added, could be an effective partnership with the Town, adding they could bring in volunteer trappers to teach others and help facilitate the task force.  

“Now they’re [the cat’s treatment] on nonprofit organizations and homeowners’ dime — who don’t usually want to spend their money on situations like this,” Kutzing said. 

The vice president of the animal rescue group said the proposed task force would help bridge the gap between nonprofits and municipal shelters and cut feral cat numbers down.  

As of now, two vouchers can be issued at a time to a resident, which critics said are not enough to handle the influx of feral cats. 

The vouchers are redeemed at Integrative Veterinary Therapies in Ridge, though residents must first call the clinic to make an appointment at 631- 924-7700. That policy has been criticized by animal rescue groups. 

Brookhaven Town Animal Shelter Director Christina Tormey said she does not speak to press and referred all questions to the Town
of Brookhaven.

A Brookhaven spokesperson said town officials could consider some of the proposed ideas brought up by the animal rescue group members, but added that the Town already has its own trap, neuter, release voucher program in place and at the moment the town doesn’t foresee making any major changes to it. 

Kutzing said if half of the 278 cats are female, the current voucher program would do very little to stop the proliferation of feral felines. 

“Multiply that by the average amount of kittens in a litter — five, that brings us to 695 kittens that will be born by the end of kitten season that normally occurs around February and March,” she said. “We don’t have room for 600 kittens, does Brookhaven Animal Shelter have room for this amount? Or hundreds more?”

Sue Hansen, Rocky Point resident and former Smithtown Animal Shelter supervisor, said the problem with feral cats is a community problem in need of local government support. 

“We have and will continue to offer our time, experience and services but we need your assistance … an effective program that works with the volunteers is the solution,” she said.  

A Selden resident asked the board to reconsider changes to the town’s TNR program.   

“I have many kittens in my home because there is no place for them to go but I have to keep them isolated from my other animals, we need some help,” she said. 

The Selden resident also mentioned the out of pocket cost to take care of these animals. 

“I’m not a trapper, I’m able to reach out to see if I can get a trapper for those cats that are not chipped but who’s going to pay for that?” she said. “Who is going to take care of them when they recover? It is a serious problem … something has to get done.”

by -
0 912

Partisanship is a distressing topic these days. We are a divided country on so many issues, and savvy candidates in the upcoming elections try to sooth that aggravation by offering to reach across the aisle to get the nation’s business done. But here is an age-old question that is simply unbridgeable: Which are smarter, dogs or cats?

Now many of us have heard of Chaser, a border collie from Spartanburg, S.C., who understood 1,022 nouns. His owner was John Pilley, a scientist who studied canine cognition and trained his pet as part of his work. There was also a border collie named Rico who could identify 200 items. These dogs helped us reach the conclusion that dogs were extraordinarily intelligent and certainly smarter than cats. But had their partisanship colored the verdict of remarkable canine smarts on the part of owner-scientists?

Currently there seems to be a study for every question, and this one is no exception. Stephen Lea, an emeritus professor in the psychology department of the University of Exeter in Devon, England, along with Britta Osthaus, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, England, conducted one such study, according to a recent Laura Holson article in The New York Times. The results are published in the journal Learning & Behavior. In the interests of full disclosure, Lea confessed that he was a cat person. Nonetheless the scientists tried to impartially compare dog cognition with three similar groups: carnivores, social hunters and domestic animals. Among those selected were wolves, cats, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses and pigeons.

Here is what they found.

Dogs cannot use tools, unlike dolphins, New Caledonian crows and chimpanzees, which according to The Times, can harness plant stems to fish for termites. Homing pigeons are trained to fly home over great distances, and probably would be more trustworthy to travel on a 1,000-mile errand than a dog, Lea believes. Domestic animals, like horses, can also impress with their learned tasks and tricks. Dogs seem smart in part, Lea said, “because they like to be trained.” The same cannot always be said for cats.

In my dog-owning years, some 45 all together, I’ve loved and enjoyed the company of three golden retrievers and one royal (the largest) standard poodle. From this small sample, I would conclude that the poodle was the smartest. When I would sit on the sofa and read the newspaper, he would hop up on the cushion next to me, sitting upright as people and that breed do, and peer over my shoulder. I swear I think he was reading the paper, much as paperless people used to do to their paper-toting seatmates on subways before the arrival of the smartphone.

So all right, I am a bit partisan.

The conclusion that Lea’s study reaches is that dogs “are not smarter than they are supposed to be, given what they are.”

Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University in Tempe and a dog lover, recognizes merit in Lea’s study. He explains that Lea is not putting dogs down but rather putting them in their proper context. What Wynne touts about dogs is their outstanding capacity for affection.

Cats, I feel, are more aloof. So while Lea concludes that dogs are not particularly extraordinary, I would say that by being so affectionate toward humans, they have created the best possible lives for themselves. I once had a plumber working in my house who, eyeing my dog asleep on a pillow, told me, “In the next life I want to return as an American dog.”

Now if that doesn’t show superior intelligence on the part of dogs and their ability to earn that kind of existence, I’m not sure what could reveal a higher IQ. Certainly our elected officials are not nearly so endearing.

A feral cat in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a right-of-way in Mount Sinai, the exact location volunteers preferred not to publicize, a number of cats stalk through the cover of tall grass on silent paws. Upon hearing human sounds, they scatter deeper into the weeds.

“Babies, babies, momma’s here,” Miller Place resident Rita Miszuk called to the wild felines as she refilled water and food trays. She said she didn’t want to give away too many specifics of the location out of fear more cats will be dropped there and left in need of care.

Miszuk is the president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc., a nonprofit that aids feral cat colonies across Long Island. Her group tries to infiltrate cat communities, taking the animals to places where they can be vaccinated, spayed and neutered, often on the organization’s own dime. Miszuk said she sometimes spends thousands of dollars to humanely control the number of wild cats roaming free.

Rita Muszik, a Miller Place resident and president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc. cares for feral cat communities. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There were 50 here, but we’ve gotten them down to 11 — they’re all healthy and they’re all taken care of,” Miszuk said. “This is what typical rescuers do.”

They’re not her cats, in fact they’re nobody’s cats. They’re considered “feral,” but that word belies the terrorized nature of these animals left in the wild. They’re shy, they’re alone, and there are more and more every year.

Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Chief Roy Gross estimated, using the organization’s own metrics, approximately 322,000 cats live in Suffolk County, including both feral and domesticated cats. For every four people in the county, there is approximately one cat.

The number of rescue groups, along with the amount of trap, neuter and release programs that attempt to capture these animals, care for them and sterilize them before releasing them back into their original environment, has gone up of late. Still, Gross said the problem only continues to grow as cats continue to breed and people leave unneutered cats in homes as they move away.

“The population is out of control,” Gross said. “[Rescue groups] put a dent in them, but there are just so many cats out there.”

One female cat can give birth to three litters in a year with an average litter of five. Multiply that by their offspring and one cat can become 225 in a year. Erica Kutzing, vice president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, suggested the problem is exacerbated by the warming climate. Where cats used to become pregnant only in the summer months, she said she is now seeing pregnant cats give birth as early as March or February as they get pregnant later in the year.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat,’” Kutzing said. “It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

A number of animal shelters exist across the North Shore, and many of them host TNR programs. Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton provides spaying and neutering for $50 per cat. Sometimes if the shelter is able to secure a grant, the price can drop to $20.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat. It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

— Erica Kutzing

Some shelters are expanding their TNR capabilities. In June, the Town of Smithtown accepted a grant to build a new TNR building at the Smithtown Animal Shelter that will expand the town’s capturing capacity, as representatives of the shelter said they estimated Smithtown hosts around 30 to 40 different cat colonies. The town plans to start construction after it receives the funds in 2019, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

David Ceely, the executive director of Little Shelter Animal Adoption Center, which is also the managing organization for the Town of Huntington Cat Shelter, said it offers residents free TNR services to deal with feral cat communities. Still, the problem is so large Little Shelter often relies on volunteers and community members to manage cat populations.

“We’re one shelter, so to go out there and take care of all of them physically we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Ceely said. “But thankfully there are people in the community who want to do the right thing, and we want to support that.”

Otherwise getting a cat spayed and neutered could cost up to hundreds of dollars per cat, depending on the animal shelter or veterinarian. It means doing TNR on an entire colony could create an incredibly restrictive cost barrier.

“We just did 24 cats in Stony Brook and the final price was about $1,400,” Kutzing said. “That came from our own funds.”

Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said small rescue groups are not large enough to combat the problem, and there is a need for community members to get involved with their own local feral cat communities.

“We get at least 20 calls a month, such as about kittens under a deck or cats with an upper respiratory infection,” Floridia said. “We handle what we can but we’re a small organization.”

Worse still is the proliferation of cats has made the population start to seem like an infestation or a blight. This mindset has fostered an environment in which some commit horrendous crimes against cats, including maiming and torturing the animals. All cats, not just domestic cats, are considered a “companion animal” by the state.

Harming them is a Class E felony punishable with a $5,000 fine and up to two years in jail. Taking a cat to another location is considered abandonment and is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000.

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There are people out there who are sadistic criminals who go out and find easy prey, generally the kittens,” Gross said. “We have had people in the past drive spikes through them, behead them, impale them, poison them — just horrible acts of animal cruelty. Some of those people are just sadistic, but in cases like poison some people just don’t like these cats roaming around on their property.”

Beyond acts of violence, many residents either don’t know what to do or don’t feel it’s their concern. If people do not interact with these community cats by either taking them to a TNR program or by feeding them, then either the cats numbers grow exponentially or they will start to die.

“Without these people who take care of the cat colonies, we would have cats starving to death,” Kutzing said. “There would just be cat bodies littered everywhere.”

Many groups and shelters like Strong Island or Little Shelter offer local residents opportunities to use their cages to trap the animals so they can later be spayed and neutered. Kutzing said if the cost prohibits a resident from acting on a cat population, they should try and get their neighbors involved and make it a community fund. After all, the community cat problem is a community issue.

“If everyone gets involved, this problem will be drastically cut,” she said.

Miszuk said while her group does what it can, she needs local businesses, residents and especially local government to step in and help, otherwise the problem will only get worse.

“This problem has been swept under the carpet,” Miszuk said. “We need support to say that we are legitimate first responders.”

Town board decides not to renew contract with current owner due to violating tax laws

The Grateful Paw Cat Shelter is located on Deposit Road in East Northport. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Huntington residents rallied behind the Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, of East Northport, this week after the Huntington Town Board announced it was evicting the shelter for failing to notify the board it had lost its 501(c)(3) not-for-profit in 2015.

Town Attorney Cindy Mangano addressed the public before the speakers began at the board meeting Tuesday, June 13, summarizing how the shelter, run by the League for Animal Protection and served exclusively by volunteers had taken this turn. She said the shelter was notified April 20 by the town to evacuate their Deposit Road establishment within 90 days due to losing their nonprofit status and violating federal and state law.

“In April, everybody here knows it’s time to file your tax returns or seek an extension,” Mangano said. “Charitable not-for-profit organizations must do the same thing. Earlier this year my office sat with Debbie Larkin, the president of LAP, and we were in the process of drafting a new agreement when we learned that a resident had incurred a penalty from the IRS for claiming a tax deduction for a donation to LAP.”

“I’m a cat lover, but five years without a filing, and it was known and the town was not told. I personally don’t have confidence in the league anymore to go forward when they knew the situation existed.”
— Frank Petrone

Mangano said the shelter had actually lost its not-for-profit status in 2015, but never advised the town, which was a breach in their original contractual agreement with the town. According to the town attorney, the LAP lost its charitable status because they did not file paperwork in time with the IRS and the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau office.

“When this came to my attention I scheduled a meeting with Ms. Larkin,” Mangano said. “She told us she knew but she failed to advise us of this fact. So I cannot in counsel to this board advise the board to enter into a new agreement with an organization that as we speak has violated its agreement with the town and is in violation of federal and state laws.”

Residents flocked to the podium to defend the shelter and its contribution to the Huntington community.

“I’m here today to appeal to the town’s decision,” Sharlene Turner, who has adopted many cats from the shelter, said. “Please give the league a renewed opportunity to prove itself.”

Turner suggested setting up strict guidelines and rules moving forward. She commended the dedication of the volunteer staff for providing a safe and warm environment for the animals.

“All volunteers know each cat by name,” she said. “They know their personalities and the relationship a cat has with every other friend in the shelter.

Donna Fitzhugh has been a volunteer at the shelter since 1989.

“I have volunteered over 3,000 hours,” she said. “As you can tell I love working with LAP and volunteering my time and energy to this very worthy organization that has been serving this community for over 43 years. Yes we screwed up, something happened, and we want to rectify this — we do not want to leave. We want to stay and serve the residents of the Town of Huntington.”

Haley Shore, an 11-year-old who donned cat ears at the meeting, said she’s been volunteering at the shelter for about seven years.

“When I heard the news Huntington was going to possibly close the shelter, I was devastated,” she said. “The shelter has become my second home. But this is not about me, it’s about the shelter and all the innocent cats. What are they supposed to do without all of their dedicated and loyal volunteers? For some of these cats this has been the only home they’ve ever known. The cats can’t talk, so we have to be their voices.”

Haley also brought a petition signed by many friends and neighbors.

Several of the volunteers asked the board what would happen to the cats if the shelter closed its doors. According to the town, two other shelters have offered to take over including The Little Shelter in Elwood. However volunteers argued they don’t offer the same amount of health services for animals as the Grateful Paw staff does.

“Yes we screwed up, something happened, and we want to rectify this — we do not want to leave.”
—Donna Fitzhugh

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) assured the audience that all of the cats living at the shelter now would continue to be cared for, and the shelter would continue with its no-kill policy. However despite the pleas of many residents, he said he had great concerns moving forward with LAP.

“Animals will not be harmed,” Petrone said at the meeting. “I’m a cat lover, but five years without a filing, and it was known and the town was not told. I personally don’t have confidence in the league anymore to go forward when they knew the situation existed.”

Petrone said it’s not as easy as the shelter just refiling for not-for-profit status.

“These laws were broken,” he said. “So you’re telling us just go forward and let’s make it nice. Well it’s not that simple.”

No further decision was reached by the board at the meeting.

Aging isn’t for sissies. We’ve all heard that line before and it also applies to our pets, our cats and dogs, our horses and so forth. Teddy is our only pet, a golden retriever with a square head, a pug nose, expressive brown eyes and an affable disposition. He has lived with us since he was 8 weeks, and in June he will turn 12.

It’s hard for us to see him getting old. He is totally deaf now and only knows we are there when we touch him. Then he will be startled as he whips his head around to see us and slowly wags his tail as if to say, “Oh, I know you, I’m safe with you.” He has serious cataracts that interfere with his vision, and he is beginning to bump into the corners of furniture. He’s gone white around his muzzle, although the changeover from light blond isn’t so dramatic. And while he still can find his way back to the front door after he’s gone out, he occasionally wanders aimlessly inside the house. Sometimes he just sits and stares at a wall. Yet most of the time, he is his usual self, putting his head in each of our laps in turn as we sit in the living room and nuzzling us with love.

Worst of all, for no reason we can discern, he will begin a chorus of howling. It’s a curious chain of sounds, starting at a high pitch and dropping down until it is wolverine, coming from deep in his throat. He throws his head back when he howls, much like the wolves I saw in the Oregon Zoo in Portland. Maybe it’s the equivalent of a primordial scream, or maybe he is communing with his ancestors, telling them he is on his way. It brings us to tears.

My sons tell me we should have cataract surgery for him on one eye to enable him at least to see better.

“You’d be howling, too, if you couldn’t see or hear,” they argue. Of course they have a point. But I am afraid, afraid of what Teddy’s reaction to the anesthetic might be, afraid to send him to a place of unfamiliarity, afraid to subject him to invasive procedure.

To further complicate the picture, he has had a seizure. We saw the whole thing. It happened only 10 minutes after the last of our dinner company had left a few weeks ago. He was laying down on his side in his familiar station near the front door when suddenly his legs started flailing at the air, he began panting and saliva started to bubble from his mouth. All we could do was look on in horror for the short time that it lasted. When it was over he became uncharacteristically aggressive for a couple of minutes. Then his breathing slowly returned to normal, and he started walking from room to room. After perhaps 15 more minutes, while we watched with concern, he sauntered over to his food bowl as if nothing had happened and began eating all his dinner, finishing up with a noisy slug of water. Finally he spun around, plopped down and looked at us as if to say, “Why are you following me?”

We called the vet, who seemed much more sanguine than we were and assured us that this sometimes happens to pets, although it had not happened to any of our preceding three dogs. She put him on meds to prevent another seizure.

What followed was a trial-and-error course of medication that alternately left Teddy so wobbly that he could barely step off the porch and caused him to sleep constantly, or wound him up so that he howled intermittently through the night, needing reassurance each time that we were there. It was like having a newborn baby in the house demanding multiple feedings.

We’ve finally gotten the right medicines to the right level and life is almost back to normal, but the questions remain: What to do next, and when to do it?

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.