2007-09-05 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
He's been threatening for a long time, yet I thought this day would never come. After three decades, Matt Caracciolo, director of Islip Town Animal Shelter is retiring tomorrow. Matt has been my mentor, advisor and best friend in shelter rescue for the last 25 years. To echo Johnny Maestro: "Maybe it's the best thing that could happen to you; but it's the worst that could happen to me." The little written here doesn't scratch the surface of the immense impact he has had on shelter animal welfare. I am just one of many who will be lost without him.
Running a municipal animal shelter is a very tough job, where heartbreaking decisions are made everyday. Islip is a huge town with a population of more than 320,000. The Islip animal intake is enormous. Problems everywhere, especially for dogs, are tied to demographics. Affluent areas tend to be insulated. Matt and Islip Shelter have had more than their share of tragic cases. Despite the media coverage, few knew that an Islip animal control officer was first on the scene to help Maximus, the poor Pit burned alive this summer.
Attitudes toward the "dog pound" are finally changing. Now it's vogue to banter about the cliché "no kill". Matt Caracciolo started back in the dark ages when town shelters were virtually death camps. He's done more than anyone on Long Island to change that sad fact. Matt championed many creative programs at a time when few would listen. He extended animals' stays to better their chances at adoption.
Although Islip Shelter is government run, Matt's had the courage to screen potential adopters with special applications, vet references and home checks- all the prerequisites that private organizations use to find the best home and to protect the animal from ever entering a shelter again. He's maneuvered around many obstacles, including his Town's policy that views pets like boat slips and lets any resident, even Charles Manson, bump a more qualified person waiting to adopt a dog.
Matt personifies compassion to the utmost degree, always going above and beyond. (A typical trip to his dentist will detour into a cat rescue.) He always puts the animals' (dog ,cat, rabbit, wildlife , even 3 elephants who stayed at the shelter in the '80s) best interest first while balancing the often opposing forces of the Town, staff, public and rescue groups. A great problem-solver, he can defuse volatile situations, be it a dangerous dog incident, or a disgruntled owner. Matt's an excellent judge of character who sees the difference between the ethical and the humaniac (or political phony). His daughter Janice is now a veterinarian, a legacy to his commitment to animals.
Matt dreams big for the shelter animals. His goal was to control pet overpopulation by spaying and neutering at the shelter. His persistence paid off. The last few years Islip, in cooperation with VCA, a veterinary corporation, has a spay trailer on the property where all animals are altered prior to adoption. He orchestrated a massive TNR campaign of stray cats at a trailer park. He is still trying to convince Town Hall that a feral cat spay voucher system will curtail feline suffering and taxpayer expense.
About 10 years ago, Matt began a unique adoption cooperative within his facility. Last Hope, a private rescue, would foster certain dogs while still at the shelter. Last Hope would supply veterinary care and neutering and screen the homes, while the shelter would provide boarding and NYS licenses. Later the program was expanded, with Last Hope volunteers showcasing the dogs at PETCO.
Our friendship was cemented in the early '80s. I was a League for Animal Protection volunteer and new at the column. There had been a fire in the Islip lobby and office, cramping everyone in a van for more than two years. With shelter animals, the equation is simple: Space=Time=Life. I wrote a plea; repairs materialized. Matt gave me the credit I didn't deserve. He has repaid me, and so many others like me, a million times.
Matt has never said no to our requests made on behalf of an animal. No matter what we asked, no matter where we found them, he's taken in those who had no where else to go- a cat with a broken femur, a dozen pathetic dogs from a hoarder in the city, kittens that may or may not tame, to name a few. He'd open the shelter in the middle of the night for us. He's given us the luxury of time and helped us place them. He lent us a homemade trap to try to catch Vivi and raccoons trashed it. Matt wasn't angry.
I've spent most of my time at my home town shelter. Matt is my touchstone. Recently, when I repossessed a dog and thugs threatened me, Matt was the one called while hyper-ventilating and waiting for police.
We had a private joke. Whenever was so frustrated locally, Matt would tell me to come advertise his shelter instead. I'd laugh and say that the Islip animals didn't need me, because they had him…That won't be true any more, so dear Mr. Caracciolo, here's my wish for happiness and health in your well-earned retirement, and my promise, made here in print, that I'll be at Islip Shelter, much more from now on.
Sad Paw Note: Many know the saga of Duke, the wrongly accused Pit bull, confined to Islip Shelter by the courts almost 4 years now (Pets, 4/18/07 online archives). In 2005, Matt predicted that "he'd probably be out of the shelter before Duke". Matt now says that "inherent in this statement is a cruelty that in some respects is worse than Michael Vick."
Our poster pets come from Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon. "Bobby" in C-5 is the instant, indoor cat. This 4 yr. lovable, neutered orange tabby is declawed. "Buster" #90841 is a 3 yr. neut. chocolate Lab mix who lost his home when his owner had a stroke. He is good with kids and other animals; housebroken and knows basic commands. See more photos on the shelter's Petfinder site.
•Males: "Cosmo"- the terrific tabby in the Cat Colony; 2 purebred Siberian Huskies Cage 43 & 39; a Shihtzu Cage 41; a Min Pin mix Cage 47; Chow mix Cage 13; Hound mix Cage 9.
•Females: "June"- the loving young Mama cat in the Cat Colony; "Lady"- buff Cocker Spaniel needs a home without kids Cage 59; a skinny Shepherd mix Cage 57.
•Free Rabies Shot Clinic- Islip Town Hall- Sat. 9/15- Call 224-5660.