2013-03-20 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

The Nassau County Emergency Pet Shelter at Mitchel Field officially closed last Saturday with County Executive Ed Mangano presenting citations to veteran volunteers. Three cheers (actually a million) for the tireless workers who cared for 515 storm-displaced pets, and then found placement for at least 75 of them that had lost their homes forever.

“This was the longest animal emergency deployment ever. Never before have 100% of the pets gone to homeswhich is a feat in itself,” stated Gary Rogers, spokes person for the Nassau County SPCA at the March 16 press conference. “The County executive made a commitment that we would stay open until every animal went home. Our help stretched beyond the County. We took in pets from the Rockaways to Mastic Beach,” Rogers added.

The Suffolk pet shelter closed about a week after the storm, and NYC was completely unprepared for the aftermath of the hurricane. Hence, no Long Island pet owner in need was turned away when they came knocking at Mitchel Field. Who would have thought temporary would turn into four and a half months; or that many owners would still be out of their storm-ravaged homes, unable to reclaim their pets? Who would have thought that emergency caretakers would need to become pros at finding adoptive and foster homes too? Their labor of love was much more than they signed on for.

The Frosts with “Woody” and “Star” The Frosts with “Woody” and “Star” Complex Pet Placements: On Feb. 1, North Shore Animal League reneged on their offer to oversee adoption/ foster care, leaving a handful of people from Pet Safe Coalition, Nassau SPCA and HUG (Humane Urban Group) as a constant presence until the very end. Their expertise spans pet welfare during natural disasters, animal cruelty investigations and spay/neuter initiatives. These are not rescues that specialize in finding adoptive homes. Liz Fox became the commander and chief, not only of the makeshift shelter, but of Operation Adopt/Foster, a daunting task.

Oily Oreo Oily Oreo Legalities and limbo made the situation more difficult. Many who had lost everything in the storm were now faced with the heart-wrenching reality that they would be forced to give up their beloved pets too because they would not be in permanent housing in the foreseeable future. Other owners had vanished or relocated far away. Feb. 17 was the designated date when registered letters went out, giving owners 20 days to respond before the pets were put into the custody of Nassau SPCA. Volunteers had to wait for the owners to request foster care, surrender their pets or for the 20 days to be up on March 11 before decisions were finalized.

Meanwhile Liz and crew networked for alternative homes full speed ahead. Some owners changed their minds several times. It is hard to show pets to prospective adopters when it’s uncertain if the pets will become available. Fosters/adopters pulled out last minute too. Some of the remaining pets were seniors, or they had medical or behavioral issues, like 15-year-old “Oily Oreo,” the cat that had been submerged in oil during Sandy, and was allergic to her own saliva, requiring frequent baths and medication. Many needed to be spayed/neutered before adoption. When possible, pets that lived together would remain together such as two Maine Coon sisters that now live in Chelsea.

“Precious” and Beverly Poppell “Precious” and Beverly Poppell All told- 55 pets were surrendered, more cats than dogs. About 20 additional pets went into foster care. The goal was direct placement with an approved family rather than with rescue or another shelter. For example, Last Hope was the back-up for five cats and “Mugsy” the elderly Pug, but these found homes. Six Pit mixes were flown to a California rescue that had foster homes waiting, and the Rottie, “Bruno,” the last dog went to Northwind Kennels, a rescue in Bedford, NY that will choose from hundreds of home prospects, responding to the media blitz on his behalf, including a LI soldier in Afghanistan who inquired after learning of Bruno’s plight.

Bruno, the Last Mohican; well, not really: Bruno nearly drowned along with his owner in their flooded Long

Beach home. Then his owner lost his job, and at times was living out of his car. He tearfully signed Bruno over. The homesick seven-year-old 120-pound Rottie was not a happy camper but did bond with Ann Tomkalski, a Pet Safe volunteer. Another Rottie traveled to Bedford on Bruno’s coattails. “Mister,” a 13-year-old Mitchel Field guest had gone home. Shortly after his owner died, Mister returned to the shelter. Hopefully, a suitable Bruno responder will be able to give old Mister a comfy place to rest his weary bones for the rest of his days.

Incredible Volunteers Providing Forever Homes: After Sandy, Tracey and Ron Frost left the Red Cross facility to drop their Boxer “Woody” off at Mitchel Field, and never left. Literally. Twelve hours after the bank closing, their future home in Merrick was destroyed by the storm. They wound up staying at Mitchel Field for the duration as invaluable dog handlers, and roundthe clock volunteers. They adopted “Star” a Pit mix left homeless after the deluge. Star and Woody have been in side-by-side crates while their owners sleep on cots. They all will be moving to a Bellmore rental. It will be a long time before the Merrick home is rebuilt.

Other volunteers couldn’t bear to walk away from orphaned pets they had cared for so long. Ann adopted “Pork Chop” a Pit. “Mugsy” had many Pug admirers but went home with a volunteer.

Beverly Poppell, vice president of Pet Safe Coalition, watched two sad sagas unfold. “Precious,” a 10-year-old Pointer mix was left behind after her Golden Retriever sister was adopted into a loving home. A tentative placement for Precious fell through, so Precious met Beverly’s two dogs and will be joining her household. Hours before the press conference, foster arrangements for Oily Oreo dissolved also. Beverly, who has never owned a cat before, will be starting her feline family with a geriatric hospice case that she will keep separate from the dogs, so not to stress Oreo.

Remember the million cheers for the tireless workers? The humble heroes mentioned and more at Mitchel Field deserve a ticker tape parade instead.

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