2014-03-19 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

On Sunday at our St. Pat’s Day luncheon, Last Hope Animal Rescue honored Cindy Iacopella for her accomplishments as director at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter over the last three years. We wish Cindy and her family well as they relocate to Georgia this summer.

Being a municipal shelter director is an extremely difficult job.

It is mentally and physically exhausting. To make this task even more challenging, Cindy took over amid picket lines protesting the Town facility’s past. Imagine this comparison. Cindy steps in from the outside during the Attica uprising, the mob immediately turns on her too, but she must ignore the attacks and concentrate on tending to hundreds of needy dogs and cats.

These critics refuse to acknowledge that during her tenure everything that they claimed was lacking plus so much more has become reality. Their focus should not be about their self-glorification and griping; instead, about putting pets first, brainstorming solutions and being proactive, educating the public about responsible ownership so fewer pets ever enter the shelter system, just as Cindy does.

Cindy Iacopella, director of Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter Cindy Iacopella, director of Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter In the rescue realm, there are those who ACT and those who AGITATE. Cindy, unlike the other faction, is the real deal. None of the disgruntled would last a day in her position. Nor would I.

Cindy came to Hempstead Shelter in 2011 with vast experience. In the mid- 1990s she started at NYC Animal Care & Control (AC&C) as a New Hope rescue liaison at a time when there was virtually no rescuing allowed from the NYC shelters. She was one of the pioneers in this mindset. She was also a shelter manager at the Staten Island AC &C shelter; a director at Animal Haven in Queens and resident care director at Bideawee in Wantagh for five years.

Last Hope began leasing the former Bideawee Shelter in Wantagh in 2011 next door to Hempstead Town Shelter during Cindy’s time there. Homeless animals are best served when public and private shelters work together. We’ve collaborated on events like the three annual Bully Breed Brigades, inviting all area shelters and rescues to parade the potential of the many Pit Bulls overlooked in our Town shelters.

Public and private shelters differ. Town shelters like Hempstead, financed primarily by tax revenue, must take in all strays and deal with road pick-up, animal control, lost/found and public safety. Private shelters such as all-volunteer Last Hope, funded primarily by donations, can be discretionary about intake for adoption only. Hempstead is a huge Town. The shelter population averages 130 to 150 dogs in the kennels (about 85% or more Pits) and about 60 cats in the cattery. Every nook and cranny is utilized to house animals.

Here is a partial list of changes instituted while Cindy has been Hempstead director:

•A team rescue approach with coordinators, staff, volunteers and organizations working side by side.

•Free feral TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) program open to Town residents. In 2013 the shelter spayed and neutered 2,500 feral cats for their caretakers. The staff humanely trapped many of them. Feral cats are returned to their colonies, and not accepted for adoption or euthanasia (unless very ill).

•Foster program. Fostering dogs provides a home setting for nurturing and for ascertaining behavior. The foster coordinator also placed up to 200 kittens at a time in foster care during kitten season. Last year there were a total of about 250 bottle babies in home care.

•Volunteer program. Over 100 volunteers (that have gone through orientation) walk dogs and socialize cats. Some assist at off-site adoption fairs and training exercises. Others foster.

•Evaluating and training the dogs. The certified trainer from the ASPCA evaluates each new entrant with the Safer Test. The dogs are color-coded by temperament factors. The staff is learning how to use behavior modification to alleviate such issues as resource guarding, food aggression or stranger/ danger. Volunteers participate in the Buddy Program and partner with dogs that need additional work.

•Dog training classes for adopters and all residents or rescues.

•Enrichment programs. Girl Scouts are coloring ping pong balls and making catnip socks for the kitties; the dogs have Kong time. There are outdoor runs now and a small agility course.

•Complete veterinary care. Besides spay/neuter, routine vaccines and microchips, the dogs are heartworm tested, and the cats are FeLV/FIV tested. Many receive dentistry as well as life-saving or orthopedic surgeries like the Pit “Cody” who was operated on for a brain tumor before placement.

•Campaigns like “Home for the Holidays,” “Summer of Love” and “Woofstock” offering incentives and free adoptions. Potential adopters are screened via applications.

•Being rescue friendly. Hempstead Shelter reaches out to legitimate rescues near and far.

•Office dogs. Some dogs are too stressed to stay in the kennel. Every office has a resident dog learning to interact with visitors. When an Afghan surfaced, she moved into Cindy’s office until her stray hold was up. Then I took her into Afghan Hound Rescue. “Cynthia” now lives in Pittsburgh with another Afghan. “Pudding,” a fearful Pit mix, spent many months in Cindy’s office before finding her people who walk her on the beach.

•Off-site adoption venues. Staff and volunteers together showcase Hempstead dogs and cats at fairs and stores from Westchester to the Hamptons. The Best Friends adopt-a-thon in White Plains is an over-nighter.

•Working with the Nassau District Attorney’s Animal Crime Unit. The shelter is on the scene and also holds dogs seized from cruelty, neglect and dog fighting cases. When adoptable, the shelter works hard to find placements.

•Bully Breed Brigades. Cindy reached out to Tia Torres from Animal Planet’s “Pit Bulls & Parolees” after six dogs were seized as bait dogs in an Elmont fighting ring. Tia came to NY from California to get them for her new rescue facility in New Orleans, and appeared as a special guest at our first two Bully Breed Brigades. Last year Rock n’ Rawhide, a NYC advocacy group, co-hosted the event and provided rock bands as entertainment.

•News 12 “Dog Day Fridays.” Cindy established a close relationship with the channel 12 staff. Hempstead dogs often appear on this weekly TV segment, and News 12 broadcasted the 2013 Bully Breed Brigade.

•Superstorm Sandy Sleepover. When the storm was about to hit, Cindy, mother of an infant and a toddler, camped out at the shelter for two weeks to monitor the displaced pets and emergency efforts. Hempstead Shelter became a clearing house for pet supplies to many Nassau residents in need.

For Adoption: These poster dogs are at Last Hope, 3300 Beltagh Ave, Wantagh (516-783-0030). Both came from Hempstead Town Shelter next door. “Rocky” is a mellow Chow about eight years old. He was adopted from Hempstead years ago but his owner recently died. He seeks an only-pet home. “Tamara” is just one of the 150 Hempstead Pits. This sweetie was abandoned in an apartment with two other dogs.

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