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George Beatty

Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

After a tumultuous year at the Smithtown Animal Shelter, a new director has been appointed and a fresh start seems certain.

The Smithtown Town Board has voted in Susan Hansen, of Rocky Point, and she began her new post on Wednesday, Aug. 5.   

“I’ve been an animal advocate for as long as I can remember, and I want to make a difference,” Hansen said in a phone interview.

Hansen has volunteered at multiple animal shelters including Manhattan Shelter, Brookhaven Municipal Animal Shelter, the Riverhead Municipal Animal Shelter and the North Fork Animal Welfare League.

But she has done more than just volunteer; she is also the founder of a nonprofit animal welfare organization that promotes shelter reform.

A Better Shelter Inc. provides assistance to local animal welfare organizations, shelters and communities through fundraising, adoption efforts and TNR, or trap, neuter, return. TNR is a proven method to help control the feral cat population.

Sue Hansen works with one of the many pets she has helped throughout her career. Photo from Sue Hansen
Sue Hansen works with one of the many pets she has helped throughout her career. Photo from Sue Hansen

Hansen’s expertise goes beyond animal advocacy; she has been a computer programmer for more than 20 years and hopes to bring her understanding of computer programs to the animal shelter, to update record keeping.

“I want to use my experience with computers and computer programs to help integrate old procedures and policies with new ones, and make the shelter a more welcoming and friendly environment,” Hansen said.

Smithtown Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R), who took on the role of animal shelter liaison earlier this year, was a part of the decision to bring in Hansen.

“She’s going to bring this shelter into the 21st century and set up new procedures and policies, including a new volunteer training program which will be much more intensive,” Nowick said in a phone interview.

The volunteer training program would help teach volunteers that aren’t familiar with certain animals how to interact with them and set certain age groups with certain hours to volunteer.

“Usually animals are kept separate, I want to introduce play groups, and make this a more progressive shelter,” Hansen said. She hopes that this new volunteer program would lead to an increase in adoption rates.

Nowick felt one of Hansen’s most unique skills she brings to the shelter is that she is a grant writer. If the shelter was able to apply for and receive grants, then new opportunities could be brought to the shelter, like getting a vet to visit the shelter two to three days a week, or having a behaviorist come to evaluate the animals and prepare them for adoption.

“Our mission isn’t to be a shelter, it’s to be a middle home, to get pets adopted,” Nowick said.

Hansen has worked with the Suffolk County Department of Public Works as a grant analyst, where she provided support for federal and state grants awarded to Suffolk County.

The previous director, George Beatty, 62, stepped down in June, after more than 30 years, following heavy criticism from Smithtown residents. Citizens deemed Beatty’s leadership role inadequate and the conditions animals lived in and were cared for at the shelter unacceptable.

“I was aware of what was happening with the shelter, and I recognized that there was a need for change there,” Hansen said.

She said she is looking forward to working with the staff and the community, and plans to give this new job “110 percent.”

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Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The director of the Smithtown Animal Shelter will be stepping down from his position at the end of next month, town officials said.

Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) publicly announced the resignation of shelter Director George Beatty, 62, at a Town Board meeting last Thursday night, citing the recent death of Beatty’s wife as a catalyst to his decision to vacate his post. Beatty, who has been at the helm of the shelter for more than 30 years, has been at the center of controversy for many months in Smithtown as residents have consistently used Town Hall meetings as public forums to question his conduct, leadership and performance.

“I know many people would like to know the status of the animal shelter’s supervisor, Mr. Beatty,” Vecchio said at the Town Board meeting. “Two weeks ago, he lost his wife. It put some burden on him, as he takes care of his grandchildren.”

Vecchio said Beatty submitted his letter of resignation to the board earlier this month intent on retiring as of June 30. The audience at the meeting started applauding and cheering. The letter, dated, May 19, was short but concise.

“I have enjoyed working for the town of Smithtown and its residents and very much appreciate all of your support,” Beatty wrote in the letter. “I will miss working at the animal shelter, and if I can be of any assistance during the transition, please let me know.”

It was unclear who would be replacing Beatty, officials said. Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) took on the role of animal shelter liaison earlier this year and has been working with an advisory board she established to enhance care at the shelter, usher in building improvements and work toward a 100 percent adoption rate.

She said at the meeting that Beatty had been working closely with her advisory board of experts, which included animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden and animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein, and was helpful in moving the project forward.

“We’ve been meeting regularly with him,” she said. “George has been absolutely cooperative and we’ve been working together for some time.”

Residents have been accusing Beatty of animal neglect at the shelter and called for his removal from the facility. Beatty blamed a lot of the accusations on misinformation, rebutting claims that his shelter was not clean nor doing enough to care for and promote adoption of the animals.

He said over his nearly three decades at the helm, he has seen the Smithtown shelter’s population shift from a dog-dominated census to a cat-centric group now because of his team’s hard work.

An online petition at www.change.org also called for Beatty’s resignation. The online petition, which also links to a Facebook page calling for change at the shelter, blamed Beatty for animal neglect and requested the town form a committee to choose a new director, independent of the civil service list.

The shelter director said the petition was rooted in misleading information.

“I’m very truly upset — I was mortified by it,” Beatty said in a previous interview. “It would have been of no use to speak. I feel our side was very well spoken and professional. But as for the opposing side, it was apparent to me that they only wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. Nothing I said could have put them to rest.”