2015-03-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Seeing a photo of the original Babylon Town Shelter on Edison Avenue in West Babylon and the 1955 Town Hall proposal to build this facility prompted memories of happenings at this long-gone building. It was demolished when the Resource Recovery Center was built, and shortly after the present shelter on Lamar Street opened in June 1989.

Funding for a new state-of-the-art shelter in North Amityville has been approved. Soon the current structure will be history too; while the progressive, compassionate policies continuing to evolve over the last decade will move with the staff and volunteers into Babylon Shelter III.

My first visit to the old shelter was in 1981 when my husband and I followed an Afghan Hound riding in the back of a police car there. I had previously met this dog and recognized the prisoner pup. We wound up adopting “Alfie” as best buddy for our Afghan “Juliet” despite his checkered past, after piecing together his life of abuse with broken bones and at least three previous owners, including time in a hippie van and with a druggie couple who used him to breed with their female. Years later we dubbed “Alfie” the “Norman Bates of Afghans” because of his split personality. He worshipped “Juliet,” and adored us most of the time.


Photo of the original Babylon Town Shelter on Edison Avenue in the 1950s Photo of the original Babylon Town Shelter on Edison Avenue in the 1950s Weekly trips to Edison Avenue to take photos and list the dogs began two years later because of “Alfie” when my friend Leslie and I launched “Pets” in the Beacon as volunteers for the now defunct South Shore Chapter of the League for Animal Protection. We held our meetings in Babylon Town Hall.

I would like to recount two old shelter stories that are stuck in my head. There was such a vast contrast then to enlightened shelter attitudes and procedures now because of progress made by shelter director Chris Elton and his staff as well as public perspective morphing into a view of pets as family. Please keep in mind that the old shelter cast of characters is long gone just like the original pound, which was a “pound” in every cruel sense of the word. The municipal mindset back then was to picture pets as disposable commodities.

Owner surrender dogs and all cats could be put down immediately. Stray dogs, including Lassie incarnate or no matter how adoptable, would be euthanized on the seventh day. It didn’t even matter if the dog’s photo was coming out in the Beacon that day. Please, nothing I write here about the old timers should reflect upon the current shelter staff. Here goes:

*Invisible Great Dane: The old shelter was one long, continuous kennel with several cat and puppy cages, then female dogs, a small prep room running into male dogs with a few adjacent runs designated as “sick bay” at the end. Trust me- the germs spread.

Phone information, especially inquiries about lost or found, left a lot to be desired. In fact, it wasn’t until well into the tenure of Babylon Shelter II, our constant requests and finally the intervention of the deputy commissioner that the office began answering the phone at all on Saturdays. A purebred Great Dane puppy came into the old shelter as a stray and was placed in the last run of the female section. (I haven’t seen one since at any shelter.) A woman called about her lost “male” Dane pup and was told there were no male Danes at the shelter. Good thing she came in to check in person because, lo and behold, there he was with his manliness the size of a Buick, sitting in the female section. No one had bothered to check his sex.

*Pagan panic: Let me preface by saying that working at an animal shelter can be a dangerous job especially when irrational people make ludicrous demands. Today’s staff tries to use diplomacy to defuse, rather than ignite, potentially volatile situations. However, the dog owner in the story below did have a legitimate gripe.

Often on Saturdays the old shelter office staff consisted of an Ebeneezer Scrooge clone and his Nurse Ratched co-worker. They got along with no one except for each other. A biker group entered the shelter led by a Pagan member in a wheelchair at closing time. He claimed that the animal control officer (ACO) had taken his dog off his property. (Actually, this was a common complaint made against the particular ACO by other residents.) He demanded his dog back, while the Mean Team argued vehemently with him and his back-up buddies. The biker said he wasn’t leaving unless they gave him his dog. The Mean Team’s badgering escalated the tension.

Meanwhile, Leslie and I (who were trying to sneak out inconspicuously so we weren’t taken hostage) slipped past and watched from the parking lot which was by the front door. We saw the owner wheel out the door and pull something from his pant leg before going back in. We couldn’t make out what it was but thought it could be a gun or a knife. This was years before cell phones to dial 911 so we raced to the First Precinct on Route 109 to get police to save the Mean Team. Doubt if our shelter pals would have reciprocated the gesture for us.

It was a miracle we weren’t stopped for speeding, or committed when we ran into the police station, blurting out our suspicions about the Pagans possibly harming office personnel at the animal shelter. The sergeant phoned the shelter and, by some other miracle, one of the Mean Team answered on a Saturday. Remember- in those days there was no caller ID. Who knows why they picked up the phone? It was after hours and before message tapes. They were fine. We never told them that we were the ones who notified the police. It didn’t matter. They rarely spoke to us. I don’t recall if the Pagan in the wheelchair got his dog back, but I really hope he did.

Babylon Shelter Dogs for Adoption (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Falcor” 15-136, a Sheepdog/ Wolfhound mix, looks so much like dogs that populated the shelter decades ago. Actually, “Daisy,” a very sweet, mature Shepherd mix, who loves dogs and kids, is no longer at the shelter but still needs a forever home. She is in foster care, courtesy of her kind finder. Please call 631-539-4868 to find out more about dear “Daisy.”

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