2009-03-04 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Long Island's homeless pets lost a true friend last month. Sharon Koester, former owner of Pet Paws grooming shop in Lindenhurst, unofficial headquarters of the League for Animal Protection (LAP) South Shore Chapter, passed away in Florida on Feb.19.

Sharon worked tirelessly, fostering and placing countless dogs and cats. Hundreds of orphan kittens, many less than a day old; owed their lives to Sharon's bottle feeding. Kittens were a constant. With her homemade formula and TLC, the kittens never knew Mama wasn't feline. A cat carrier and heating pad always sat on the store counter or in her kitchen. She could feed, burp, and toilet a kitten while juggling 2 or 3 other chores. Uttering shtup (her Yiddish mantra), Sharon never missed a beat when pilling a cat.

Sharon and her husband Dick, longtime director of Nassau SPCA, were founding members of LAP. I met them in the early '80s when I was pulled into the rescue vortex. Back then the new group held meetings in the Board room at Babylon Town Hall. Later we were banished to the basement. Actually I owe the column to the Koesters. I started writing "Pets" at their request when LAP needed a new spokesperson, agreeing to try it for a little while as a way to publicize shelter animals. Little did I know that "little while" would morph into 26 years as of last Monday.

Sharon answered the LAP hotline at her store. She gave out low cost spay certificates and fielded endless requests to take animals. Foster cats stayed in the store, the quasi-League shelter. More were at her home where a huge cat solarium gave the felines a safe outdoor playground. She had a hard time saying NO, even to the guilt trippers who tried to project blame onto us for the dog or cat that they were about to abandon or bring to the shelter.

Sharon's parade of poor waifs would stretch for miles…To name a few: the 3 legged pup who came from the shelter for a grooming and went home with a customer; the kitten missing both back feet because her legs froze to cement; Max a Shepherd with amputated toes; Moise the 1 eyed cat; Mark Spitz an American Eskimo with a plate in his leg, Belle the resident store cat whose head had been bashed with a bat. Some passed through on their way to new homes. Others stayed forever.

Sharon had a way of acquiring animals at adoption events. She found Shiro her toy mix outside a LAP pancake breakfast; 2 puppies dumped at the Lindenhurst Octoberfest became Koester dogs. For about 15 Augusts LAP partnered with Babylon Shelter bringing shelter animals to the Town Craft Fair. Sharon supplied all the tents, cages, refreshments and giveaways at the lakeside location, and would wind up with at least one extra dog or cat surrendered to LAP by the end of the day. She was a fairy godmother to Babylon Shelter. In fact a standing dog dryer, she donated ages ago finally conked out.

Pet Paws showcased shelter pets alongside the LAP fosters. Her store hosted Santa and Easter Bunny pet photo fundraisers. Matted shelter dogs came in for make-overs. Extra "Pets" poster dog Polaroids hung in the window. I was allowed to "borrow" kittens over Memorial Day weekend to give them exposure when the town shelter was closed. Sharon promoted cooperation between the municipal and private rescue; was the liaison for veterinary and corporate helpers; plus a maven at harnessing volunteer energy. Guess that was why I spent all my school vacations at the vet.

I'm allowed to say the following because I fit right in. It may be the nature of the beast but rescue groups attract colorful characters, ultra- passionate about their cause. Often volatile and/or needy personalities gravitate to animal organizations. They all found Sharon. The eccentric, old cat lady who needed a new roof; the lonely woman in the trailer camp who couldn't drive- Sharon wound up helping poor souls like these more than they ever gave back to the strays.

There are many fond and funny memories. Sharon once fired a teen worker because he was selling nickel bags of catnip to his gullible pals. Thieves broke into the store, took the register cash, left the adoption donations and fed the cats. Ohrbachs (boy, I am dating myself) used to donate items to LAP's perpetual garage sales. We had the Michael Jackson Moon Walk line that we'd model for our customers. Sharon chose her luxury cars- "Cat- illacs", as she called them, by calculating how many pet carriers she could stack on the back seat.

Despite years of health and family turmoil, Sharon always gave of herself. She rarely slept. She'd bring the gang to the vet but postpone her own doctor appointments. LAP South Shore disbanded when she closed Pet Paws about 10 years ago with the intention of retiring to Florida. But she didn't retire in her new home. Instead she lovingly assumed custody of her 2 grandchildren while also annexing her daughter's St. Bernard, the neighbor's castaway dog and a cast of cats.

There is a void in the animal world. Best way to fill it is to do something kind for strays, for ferals, for discarded pets in memory of Sharon Koester. Maybe you came to a garage sale where you learned how to clean cat's ears, or waited patiently at Pet Paws buying Duke biscuits while she booked spay appointments. Perhaps you even adopted a LAP foster. Even if you never met her, do a pet mitzvah. Both Sharon and the homeless animal beneficiary would be ever grateful for your compassion.

** Huge Thanks to Dr. Dennis Leon of Levittown Animal Hospital for hosting Last Hope's Free Feral TNR Clinic. Last Sunday 8 volunteer vets spayed and neutered 93 cats. More details soon.

* Last Hope St. Pat's Dinner & Auction Sunday March 15 from 1 to 5 pm at Milleridge Cottage in Jericho. Tickets $65 in advance; $75 at the door. Call 631-957-0023.

For Adoption at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677- 5784) Miller Pl. Syosset. Pretty "L'Oreal"#110 a Chow/Jindo with permanent eyeliner is a new arrival while "Cartwheel' #1025 is a friendly female 2 year tabby who has been at the shelter several months.

Dogs: "Bentley" #1013-Shiba mix; "Benelli" #109- a chocolate Lab.

Cats: "Hazel" #16- gray tabby; "Tigger" #73- 6 mon. tabby.

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