2006-11-02 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

...by Joanne Anderson

Elmo, Coonhound mix at Little Shelter, left and Cotton, longhaired kitten at Oyster Bay Shelter. Elmo, Coonhound mix at Little Shelter, left and Cotton, longhaired kitten at Oyster Bay Shelter. Lester has a quizzical head tilt; he was hit by a car some time ago. From his Wyandanch stoop, this big Chihuahua watched while Little Shelter workers weighed and wormed his puppies. Then it was Papa's turn. They'll be back next month to give the pups a distemper booster. So far the owner doesn't want to surrender the litter to Little Shelter or neuter Lester, but they'll keep asking...gently.

Little Shelter knows that there is more to animal welfare than the Cinderella stories. At their shelter on Warner Rd. in Huntington, rescuers can strive for the fairy tale endings- the neglected dog or cat now adopted into a doting home. Little Shelter's mission ventures far beyond. Their Animal Soup Kitchen (ASK) travels into low income areas to provide free pet food, medicine, shelter and spay/neuter. Guard dogs on chains; pitbull puppies in back yard pens; feral cats rummaging for food may not live "happily ever after", but their quality of life is vastly improved.

ASK is based on Training Wheels(r), the brainchild of acclaimed animal behaviorist Sue Sternberg. Her progressive program, successful in places like the South Bronx and Harlem, combines intervention, education and outreach with the goal of bringing the services of a shelter to the people before the people bring their pets (and their pets' progeny) back to the shelter. Little Shelter's ASK van has wandered through Wyandanch for 2 years. Last week 87 homes were on the list for monthly deliveries of more than 6,000 pounds of pet food. Drop offs of insulated igloo doghouses and straw for bedding have stepped up, now that winter is near. Workers are sure to mention that the straw goes inside the igloo.

Led by Little Shelter's dog coordinator, Linda Klampfl, also an RN, the team began in '04 by knocking on doors, offering food, shots, and what seems, to some but not all, like the ultimate bonus- free pet neutering. Although ASK workers do not condone outdoor tethering, or pit pups sold for profit, or dogs kept hungry to make them mean, their approach is soft and firm, yet non-judgmental... something, I must admit, that comes hard for me. They were ready to throw me back in the van when I started with the "let Little Shelter neuter your male now and take your tiny female for a C-section when her pups are due" spiel. Linda and the vet techs, leave their card, then quietly remind the ASK families to call, if they want help.

Though not oblivious to gang and drug dealing nearby, the grassroots effort operates one on one and relies on rapport with the community. ASK volunteers have earned trust and aid those, who for financial reasons, be it poverty or priority, cannot afford or are unaware of basic pet care. At times expensive ATVs intersperse the chained dogs. Once each month 3 ASK vehicles make the big delivery with "ice cream man" fanfare. If no one is home, the food is piled by the door. Everyone knows Linda by name. Cars stop to join the program. She adds their names to her overflowing clipboard. Monitoring ongoing medical concerns, she checks vision on a partially blind cat; the healing of a bitten ear; and sets up a new pen where a pup was hospitalized for a rare canine tetanus infection, reminding the young owner, one more time, to cement the floor.

Weekly, vet tech, Elizabeth Moschner, known locally as "Miss Liz", does the pick ups for spay/neuter. The animals return home the next day. So far, 177 pets have been altered via ASK. Last trip 2 potential patients in crates relaxed (a third owner wasn't home) while Miss Liz finished her stops. With the strength of a tiny teamster, she recycled an igloo because these plastic dog domes cost $100 each. Later she dropped off more food, buckle collars, eye ointment, applied mange cream to pups to keep the skin condition from spreading. The trapping of some feral cats for TNR would have to wait a few more days.

Earlier intervention: other Little Shelter workers visit Wyandanch elementary and middle schools twice a week to teach humane education, to regard pets as precious, not merely property. The kids explore their needs vs. the animals' needsin this head start toward kindness. Classes at LaFrancis Hardiman School are giving back now by collecting "Pennies for Puppies".

With welcome wags, ASK pups, like Pogo the Shepherd in his new comfy pen, recognize Linda and the Little Shelter crew too. His owner is proud of Pogo's recent weight gain. Because of an expanding demand for help, the ASK program is distributing more supplies than Little Shelter collects. You can help with donations of money, pet food, dog houses (used or new), or even by buying a $100 chance in "Little Shelter's 6th Annual Mercedes Raffle". Only 600 tickets will be sold. On 11/19 you might be lucky enough to drive away in a '06 Mercedes- Benz C-230 or walk away with $25,000 in cash. Contact: info@littleshelter.com .

"Elmo", one of the poster pups this week is at Little Shelter (631-368- 8770). He's a 2 yr. old Tree Walking Coonhound mix, who likes other dogs. This handsome fellow was rescued from a Virginia shelter. There's also "Susie" a tiny blind Poodle.

The rest of these adoptable cats and dogs are waiting at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset. "Cotton"#1050, a beautiful longhaired muted calico kitten, is posing next to Lady & the Tramp. "Benji" #991 the gorgeous Maine coon mix has moved to a lobby cage. See more photos on Petfinder.

More: "Creamcicle" #859- the friendly pumpkin- colored polydactyl; "Joltin' Joe" #893- a white Shepherd; "Dee Dee"- #1010- a Pointer mix; "Kelly"#860- a deserving gold Shepherd mix.

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