2011-01-12 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Several months ago I stopped visiting Oyster Bay Shelter to photograph the dogs and cats for the Massapequa Post edition of “Pets”. There were many reasons. The following is just one:

Never judge a book by its cover. And never judge an animal shelter by its pretty lobby, for the decor may be a hollow “pet” Pysansky egg. Architecture not supported by compassion is merely an empty shell. The Town’s indifference to the incarcerated Geese Peace Border Collies at Oyster Bay Shelter is symbolic of their perfunctory pet policies and of their dispute with a respected rescue organization that recognizes these dogs deserve better.

“There’s no place like home.” Border Collies, unlike the Dorothy from Kansas, are smart enough to know this instinctively. A concrete kennel within the Town of Oyster Bay Animal Shelter should never constitute a permanent home for any dog-let alone dogs that perform a service for the taxpayers. You cannot park dogs in a garage like the highway department trucks next door. No matter how comfy, shelters were designed as temporary havens for homeless animals with the hope that each will someday be adopted. The working Border Collies have been denied that hope. Skye...Abby...Xena...their names are painted over their cells.


Collies in Oyster Geese Peace Border Bay Shelter lobby. Collies in Oyster Geese Peace Border Bay Shelter lobby. These highly intelligent and active dogs are stressed because of lack of stimulation and social contact; and because of where they are. They stay permanently in the pound. They sense the anxieties of their canine co-inhabitants. In frustration, they tear up toys and blankets because their minds need to be challenged. They won’t work to their potential because of pent-up energies after being deprived of exercise and human contact. One is reluctant to return “home”.

The three Border Collies, currently “employed” by the Town to chase geese from Town parks and schools do not live with their handlers. During their down time hours (approximately 16 hours a day; longer on weekends) they are sentenced to solitary inside the back kennel alongside the strays, owner surrenders and the dogs awaiting euthanasia that are not on public view. (Before I realized who these poor dogs were, I naively thought I could find them a good home by calling Border Collie Rescue.)

In contrast, the 20 Suffolk County Police K-9s live with their police partners. Nassau County has two Border Collies residing family style in a mansion at Eisenhower Park when off duty. Staff is there most of the time. Babylon uses remote control boats and cars to ward off geese and hires owner/ handlers with pets including an Irish Setter while Oyster Bay spends $456,000 a year for four Geese Peace workers, three trucks and care of the Border Collie threesome.

The situation is more complex than Newsday’s December 27th article, so let’s backtrack a moment. At first, Oyster Bay’s canine Geese Peace consisted of three American bred Border Collies that resided with their handlers. The Town’s trainer (featured in the NY Times 11/15/06) resigned when the dogs were relegated to the shelter. The Town gave no reason. One might speculate it was for convenient accessibility. Those dogs were replaced by the current trio purchased from a Canadian breeder. The new dog/ handler teams received minimal training as a team.

Meanwhile, Oyster Bay never allowed volunteers in the shelter. However, about seven years ago, two residents formed the non-profit Mixed Breeds In Need (MBIN), specifically as a public/private partnership to enhance the lives and adoption possibilities of Oyster Bay Shelter dogs and cats. Both founders stumbled upon their shelter accidentally. Anita Von Himmel rescued a stray while jogging. Marsha Greenman, an avid horse fancier, went to see a Jack Russell there. (I understand, because my first shelter glimpse was after following an Afghan in a police car to Babylon in 1981.)

Mixed Breeds In Need garnered community support, expertise and resources. Their two trainers mentored volunteers and together the dogs received daily sessions of basic commands, socialization and joy. I would see them there. The changes in the dogs were remarkable. Simba, a bedraggled Pit, sticks out most in my mind. MBIN decorated the lobby with a gorgeous mural, supplied and furnished a $6,000 shed as a training real room, held adoption events at the Muttontown Preserve and placed over 100 dogs and cats- all at their expense.

Early in 2010, without explanation, the Town disbanded MBIN’s cat involvement and said all dog volunteers except the two professional, probono trainers had to leave. Without helpers, the MBIN program became unworkable. Oddly, around the same time, the Town asked one of the trainers, Kathy Dattoma, to evaluate the Geese Peace program. Years before Dattoma had adopted Oreo, an Oyster Bay

Shelter Border Collie who went on to obtain national agility titles.

Dattoma accompanied Geese

Peace on their rounds. Skye had been known to kill geese; Abby to run off from her handler for as long as several hours while Xena showed little interest in chasing geese. (Does this sound like an effective use of a half million in tax revenue?) Last April she prepared a six page report that reads like a doctoral dissertation, analyzing each dog’s behavior, and offering research-based techniques to remedy problems and improve the dogs’ emotional well-being. Each time she recommends moving the dog to a home environment besides individualized suggestions to establish skills.

Nine months later there is still no peace for the Geese Peace dogs. Despite larger runs with epoxy floors, the question remains: Why do the dogs still live there? MBIN has offered Border Collies experienced foster homes. Greenman insists “No rescue can assist in good conscience at our shelter while the Geese Peace dogs continue to languish there.” I agree. Next week will explore “Golden Opportunities Awaiting Oyster Bay Shelter”.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Apologies to the Babylon dogs and cats because I leave little space to advocate on their behalf. “Lex” # 93777 is a four year old Pomeranian whose owners could no longer afford pet care. He was great while we removed some mats. “Lele & Lola” #93769-70 are young yet weather-worn Beagles found as strays at Tanner Park on Christmas Day. Their rabies tags trace to N. Carolina, but no owner has answered messages about the sisters.

New dogs: black Chihuahua; “Bonito” chubby Cocker Spaniel who responds to commands in Spanish; female Lab/Shep puppy; female Cane Corso.

New cats: “Chablis” #20557- male Maine Coon/Persian & “Azure” female Siamese mix kitten abandoned by a tenant.

Return to top

Poll

Do you expect to spend more this holiday season than you did last year?