2011-01-19 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Last week’s Pets detailed the plight of the geese-chasing Border Collies who are being forced to reside at the Oyster Bay Animal Shelter. The Town has ignored requests by experts to allow the three working dogs to live with their handlers. Treatment of the Border Collies is indicative of the Town’s indifference toward all animals in their care. This Geese Peace pathos can still be remedied; the time is right for other improvements at Oyster Bay Shelter too. All these “golden opportunities” pivot around the choice of the next shelter director.

Besides spending nearly 30 years at Babylon, I visit other shelters to take column photos and to represent Last Hope and Afghan Hound Rescue. Oyster Bay is not rescue friendly and does not welcome any volunteers, nor are potential adopters screened. The Town tends to set up obstacles rather than open doors to pet-savvy, qualified people who can provide invaluable assistance.

Mixed Breeds In Needs (MBIN) is a unique rescue/ resource organization, incorporated in 2004 specifically to aid the animals in Oyster Bay Shelter, but both their cat socialization and dog training programs were inexplicably disbanded by the Town last spring. As MBIN president Marsha Greenman says: “Everyone has his niche and talents. We should work together to help a larger number of animals in Nassau County. In the public/ private partnership, if you interconnect with many, you will be more likely to be effective for the animals.”

Who’s the Boss? Oyster Bay’s shelter director of several decades recently retired. Now is the time to search beyond the current employee pool for a handson, compassionate director with a rescue background rather than a political figurehead. Brookhaven recently hired Dori Scofield who hails from Save-A-Pet in Port Jefferson. Commitment to animal welfare must top resume requirements.

Each director is the sun of that shelter solar system. A director who truly cared about animals would never permit the Border Collies to languish in the pound. The director sets the tone and all policies, and knows how to be flexible when decisions are in the best interest of the pet and the public. The director should be familiar with the pets in-house, and also assess the animal handling skills of each staff member. Those workers exhibiting both animal abilities and concern should be commended rather than driven away. The director must design an application to screen potential adopters carefully because a wrong home can be worse than no home. Equally crucial-the director should view rescue as an ally and welcome a well-run volunteer program. The ousted Mixed Breeds In Need program was exemplary. It was a shelter volunteer brain trust.

Reach Out to Rescue: An effective director reaches out to reputable rescues. Each organization has its specialty. For example, Mixed Breeds In Need is wonderful reshaping dogs with temperament problems. Last Hope gravitates toward pets with physical ailments. Often purebred networks should be a first, not a last resort. At times a purebred dog in a municipal shelter is more vulnerable than the inconspicuous one. Everyone who sees the Saint Bernard puppy wants him. “Everyone” is not equipped to handle him. Years ago purebred rescues operated like an underground railroad, without the cooperation or knowledge of shelter management who felt all dogs should be “up for grabs”, and the desirable ones given out like boat slips to the residents. Sadly, this attitude still prevails at Oyster Bay.

Breed rescue volunteers, on the other hand, believe that since the general public had already failed the impounded purebred, the next placement should be with the intervention of those who cherished and understood the particular breed and would do all possible to ensure that this dog never surfaced in the shelter system again. No one was allowed to call me when an Afghan pup surfaced at Oyster Bay Shelter, yet Hempstead Shelter handed me his suspected sister. It took shared fostering with a Harvard grad veterinarian and the Westminster Best in Breed handler to help this gorgeous female overcome unusual issues. No novice could have managed her.

Their “Best Friend” at Town Hall: In reality, the animal shelter is low priority to most Town Halls. Usually Town Supervisors consider it only suitable for cute photo ops. Therefore, the director might have to “fight city hall” or help officials brainstorm solutions on behalf of the shelter animals. In three years, Babylon director Chris Elton has been able to institute many positive changes. Matt Caracciolo the retired Islip Shelter supervisor was a master at going to bat for the animals. He used special applications for “Bully” breed placements long before Town Attorneys were on board with the idea. Meanwhile, Oyster Bay didn’t update Petfinder for months when their digital camera was broken which seems a simple budget request in such an affluent area.

The Luxury of Less: Income levels govern homeless dog intakes. Oyster Bay Shelter is a relative canine country club. While at any given moment Hempstead can have 100 dogs, Oyster Bay rarely has more than 20. Even though Babylon Town has fewer people than Oyster Bay, in 2009 Babylon Shelter took in 905 dogs while Oyster Bay took in 408. Oyster Bay could capitalize on their smaller dog population by trying innovative programs such as MBIN training or even a quiet kennel behavior mod system.

The Value of Volunteers: An organized shelter volunteer program is an asset to any community, and, of course, the animals benefit from the loving attention. MBIN provided professional trainers who mentored volunteers and staff including the Town Supervisor’s daughter; supplies such as cat exercise cages, clippers, blankets; a mural to grace the lobby and the $6,000 furnished shed converted into a training real room which is now sitting idle. MBIN did the shelter laundry until the Town bought a commercial washer. They hosted adoption fairs at the Muttontown Preserve and placed at least 100 shelter animals. Greenman, an architect, offered to reconfigure the cramped cat room so it would ward off upper respiratory infections and be more inviting to visitors.

Oy vey, Oyster Bay! All this came at no expense to the taxpayers. I repeat. All this came at no expense to the taxpayers. Are you listening, Supervisor Venditto? Hire a shelter director who cares. With the help of your compassionate constituents, Oyster Bay’s collective goal should be to place each adoptable dog/cat into the best home available and enhance the quality of life of those pets still waiting.

Adoptable Pets at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: The sagas of our poster pups sing out like the lyrics of a country tune. Found as a stray in N. Amityville, “Johnny Cash” #93744 a mature Shepherd mix has a “face that has lived” with some gray around the muzzle.

This mellow fellow could croon a sad duet with little “Dolly” #93799, a matted Malti-Poo. See more Babylon pets at Petfinder NY275.

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