2011-02-02 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

First, the good news about the Oyster Bay Border Collies: The word is that soon, possibly this week, the three Geese Peace dogs previously forced to live at the Town shelter will be going home with their handlers. Hopefully, this will be the start of a Town trend. The dogs’ housing was a heavily debated topic at the January 18th Town Board meeting, but so was substandard care and indifferent policies at Oyster Bay Shelter.

Now is the time for more improvements: If you are new to the “Oy Vey, Oyster Bay” shelter commentary, please read the 1/13 and 1/21“Pets” online which describe how the confined Border Collies became symbolic of the Town’s need for a rescue-friendly shelter led by a director who welcomes qualified volunteers. Presently, volunteers are verboten. The former director retired. This time, the position should be filled with an open-minded, compassionate, pet-savvy person rather than settling for an internal replacement. Experience applicants, let Oyster Bay know you are interested.

While I was at the podium, Supervisor Venditto asked why the shelter would want volunteers. The following outlines the value of a volunteer program to the animals, staff, over-burdened taxpayers, and- because of enhanced public relations-to elected officials. Volunteers, often seasoned rescue people, provide:

1) Free talent and skills: I’ve been a fixture at Babylon almost 30 years, so it is upsetting to hear Supervisor Venditto state Mixed Breeds In Need (MBIN) volunteers overstepped their bounds. He doesn’t want anyone “eating at their table,” “sleeping in their bed” or essentially making any shelter suggestions. Advocates from the outside have a lot to offer. Babylon has a Ph.D volunteer certified applied animal behaviorist who coordinates the volunteer program. Oyster Bay turned away free expertise from veterinarians, trainers, architects, and disaster trained rescuers. Venditto mentioned he may invite community members or the Boy Scouts to volunteer now. Hmm, this is the only shelter I know where you sign a release before seeing a dog or cat out of the cage. Does this mean adolescents will be able to play with the Pit Bulls while pro bono, animal professionals are considered intrusive?

2) Exercise and training for the cooped up animals: Not only are the dogs and cats happier when given a pleasant diversion from the drudgery of kennel/cage life, but an exercised animal shows better, and a dog with basic obedience has a stronger chance of staying in its next home. Before their dismissal, the MBIN trainers mentored volunteers/staff. In contrast, Babylon has three fenced yards and an enclosed walking path around a sump used by volunteers. North Hempstead has an agility course built by the volunteer group. Huntington’s League for Animal Protection volunteers train the dogs while sashaying them around the property.

3) Socialization and TLC: For staff, cleaning should be ongoing each shelter day. Medical concerns, feeding, potential adopters and the public’s calls take precedence over socializing pets. There is not enough time for a small staff to give pets the individual attention they crave. Merely feeding a cat isn’t adequate attention. Volunteers are adept at giving pets one on one. I tend to gravitate to the shivering pets in the back of the cage. Often one session of soft talking, gentle touch or even TTouch is enough to allay fears. Some want to be held, some need to know venturing out of the cage is safe and that the intake needles are not lurking again. Kittens must be handled, the younger the better. Before the Town disbanded the program, MBIN sent in a Katrina- experienced, licensed wildlife rehabilator to try to tame young ferals and make them more adoptable.

4) Grooming and de-matting for comfort and “curb appeal”: Mats can be painful and debilitating. When new arrivals show signs of neglect, volunteers can assist in beauty makeovers. Some dogs are so filthy and matted that they can’t move until groomed. At times, it’s less stressful to do a little trimming at a time. Brushing also helps to socialize. Keep in mind, shelter pets are like real estate. Once neat and comfy, the pet attracts potential adopters. It’s all about marketing. The messy Maltipoo I cleaned up two weeks ago at Babylon was adopted on Saturday. Why pay to send the pets out for grooming?

5) “The Triple A” a.k.a. the adoption-ambassador-advertising network: Babylon volunteers have contact with interested colleagues and other rescue groups. We pursue lost & found. Together with the staff, we can compare temperament observations to obtain a more complete assessment of the pet. When “Sylvester” the Sheltie has more fans who really know him, he has a better chance of finding a proper home. The “Wrong Brothers” featured here in the 12/15/10 and 12/16/10 editions were adopted together, via a volunteer’s SUNY Farmingdale coworkers. Veteran Babylon volunteers assist in adoptions, and can keep in touch with new owners. We show pets to the public and offer background information. I help fine tune breed identifications; post and name pets on the shelter’s Petfinder and FaceBook; send purebred photos to breed rescues; as well as showcase adoptables in “Pets.” Sharing photos is free advertising. I also have the time to listen to grieving owners. When a family came in with donations, we wound up having a discussion about FIP, a deadly feline disease. Hopefully, I was able to assure them that they did all possible for their beloved cat. Many things happen simultaneously at shelters.

6)Cooperativeefforts: Last Hope volunteers have worked alongside Babylon and Hempstead on medical cases, feral Trap Neuter Release seminars as well as low cost rabies vaccine and micro-chip clinics- all available to the public.

7) More hands: for washing dishes, doing laundry, scooping litter, and policing the yard.

8) Fundraising and beyond: MBIN built a $6,000 shed as a real room at Oyster Bay. It is used for storage now. They also created a colorful collage for the lobby. Islip’s volunteers have incorporated a group called Shelter Link. Besides working with the shelter pets, Shelter Link holds fundraisers. Soon, these donations will pay for free spay/neuter vouchers for owned Pits and Pit mixes in Bay Shore, Brentwood and Central Islip. Talk about being proactive! Talk about the VALUE of volunteers.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Pancho” is a young, sociable Chihuahua given up by folks with no time for him. He is ready for someone to love him forever, whereas “Bello” #93830 is an adorable Shepherd/Akita pup about 8 months old found by Taco Bell. There are many friendly cats.

Male: a Westie #93839 found in N. Babylon. He is not “Tuffy” profiled last week, the Westie who vanished from Enoch Island in Amityville; another Chihuahua #93838 picked up at Tanger Outlets; “Davy Bruno”-playful Pit; Ridgeback mix #93836.

Female: “Ali” #93828 Dobie mix puppy; “Emma” #93796 Shiba mix; “Honey” #93674 Shepherd mix; “Madison” Jack Russell; “Lydia” lovely Pit.

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