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2009-01-28 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

With the inauguration of our new President and the wave of hopeful change sweeping our nation, I'd like to spotlight ongoing positive trends in our Long Island town shelters that are already set in motion.

I began visiting shelters in 1981, penning this weekly column in 1983; others were there before me. Back then the conditions were deplorable, but you will be spared the horror stories that still give us nightmares. Despite many obstacles people worked together to alter conditions, attitudes, laws, adoption policies, and even methods of euthanasia.

Those of us oldsters who have spent decades in animal rescue are heartened by the many LI improvements and the cooperation of true animal welfare folks- the shelter staff and volunteers- whose sole objective is to put the best interest of the dogs and cats first.

However, there is a destructive undercurrent. Having seen the issues from all angles, we are aghast when pseudo experts without hands-on experience or historical perspective spread derogatory dribble, calling shelter workers "killers". The volume of the rant seems inversely proportional to the time, if any, spent in shelter kennels. Their venom poisons the momentum we have worked so hard to obtain. These people mislead others to believe all pet agony stems from the shelters, that insensitive owners are never culpable. Thus, the hypocrite "activists" scare the public away, ultimately hurting all shelter animals.

To counter the damage, this list highlights some of the local town shelter progress made over the last ten years or so: 1) Municipalities view their "pounds" as adoption/ redemption centers rather than animal warehouses. 2) All LI town shelters spay or neuter pets prior to adoption at a nominal fee, and sometimes for free. Newly adopted pets will never add to the suffering stemming from overpopulation. 3) Shelter stays are open; not finite. Some animals are cared for months, even years, before finding new homes. Older pets are put up for adoption- something unheard of years ago. Upper respiratory or kennel cough, mange or ringworm is no longer a death sentence. Most animals put down are either of unsound temperament or quite ill. Where I volunteer, animals are not "killed" just to make cage space. 4) Animals receive emergency and routine medical care including shots and wormings. Many are transported to the hospital with follow up by the staff vet tech. Some towns have "special needs" medical funds and are grateful for all donations-monetary and supplies. 5) Certain shelters are implanting microchips and registering them for free. Others offer "Seniors for Seniors" adoption incentives and Humane Ed in the schools. 6) Orphan infant kittens are bottle-fed, adopted by surrogate Moms, or placed in foster homes, often with the staff. Everyone tries to make the shelter environment as comfy as possible. Dogs get personal attention and time to play in the yard. Cats are handled as much as possible. Animals lounge in cages with beds, pallets, cat condos, toys, and blankets, but many still prefer the floor. Matted and neglected pets are groomed. 7) Shelters are reaching further to find responsible owners. Lists of homeless pets anywhere in the US are just a click away on the miraculous Petfinder website. Reputable purebred rescues and humane groups are considered allies. Gone are the days of our underground railroad. Out of state transports are arranged, at times by staff on their days off. 8) Dogs are temperament tested but no sheet is considered gospel. Visitors are advised that an evaluation is a snap shot in time. Dogs (and cats) can behave differently depending on their setting. Towns are vigilant and proactive about cruelty cases. 9) Shelters furnish Meet N'Greet rooms and encourage visitors to bring their own dogs for compatibility checks. Towns are realizing that sometimes no home is better than just any home. Therefore, municipal shelters are screening adopters and, when necessary, denying applications. 10) Private non-profits and municipal shelters are teaming up to help and educate the public about proper pet care, training, feral cat TNR (trap/neuter/return), community outreach, the Pit Bull plethora and other timely topics. They work with, not against each other for a common compassionate goal.

Almost thirty years ago I was one of a few Long Islanders hoping that others would discover the buried treasure overflowing in our town shelters; that these poor waifs waiting would be treated kindly and every effort possible would be made to find each a forever home. A pioneer, Matt Caracciolo, retired Islip Shelter Supervisor, mentored many. His visionary ideas are finally coming to fruition in part because more elected officials are open-minded.

Our dream, now becoming reality, faces obstacles, old and new. Running a town animal shelter is an emotionally draining task, demanding difficult decisions that benefit animals while safeguarding citizens. The directors understand the problems, know the solutions but lack the finances to enact all they need. The flood of unwanted animals into a shelter never stops. Dog fighting flourishes. Callous individuals continue to be creative in their cruelty. Our struggling economy will jeopardize the security of pets' homes at a time when tax revenues needed to sustain and institute programs will evaporate.

President Obama has asked us to roll up our sleeves and pitch in. If shelter animals are your calling, give of your time. Call to see where you might be needed. Walk a dog; socialize a terrified kitten. Learn how to sit on the floor and cradle a wounded soul. Collect donations or supplies. Come for the right reasons. Don't bring power trips, witch hunts or hidden agendas. Visit to help the animals; not to crusade or criticize. Instead emulate the humility and integrity of the homeless horde waiting there for you.

For Adoption: Thanks to TLC at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon "Sasha's" grim life is already improving. This young brindle Pit mix in Cage 25, found emaciated, must have recently had a litter. At first so weak, she'd barely budge from her blanket. Now Sasha greets all visitors with a full body wag. Surprisingly "Rambo" the friendly tabby in C-9 is a girl. Male: Pointer/Pit Cage 1. Female: "Yum Yum"- senior gray sweetheart cat C-1; an older Pug.

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