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2012-11-21 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

Nassau County’s emergency pet plan evolved as Sandy unleashed her wrath. Rescuers realized that pets, too, would need more than an overnight haven. Hundreds would require long-term shelter and care.

Sadly, Sandy redefined “evacuation” for all Long Islanders living near the shore. Folks thought that they and their pets would wait out the hurricane inland, and be home by Tuesday. Instead, the storm left many with no home at all.

When the original Nassau pet shelter, Mitchell Field Athletic Complex (MFAC), swelled from 35 animals Sunday pre-storm to 110 Monday during the fury, organizers put Plan B in motion immediately, by preparing a mothballed, brick fortress at Mitchell Field. I toured the amazing facility Fri., Nov. 15 with Gary Rogers, spokesperson for Nassau SPCA who explained: “The move worked so well because the County Executive’s office overextended itself to refurbish an abandoned gymnasium while a joint effort was organized by Nassau County Office of Emergency Management (NCOEM), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), North Shore Animal League (NSAL), the Pet Safe Coalition and Nassau County SPCA worked as a team to run this shelter that presently houses 260 dogs and cats, and has already sheltered over 500 animals including turtles, rabbits, birds and ferrets. The groups are combining their skills and resources to provide sanctuary as long as necessary for displaced Nassau pets, but also some from Suffolk; others Rockaway residents. We have room for 491 dogs and cats. Right now there are 117 cats here.”


Nassau Pet Emergency Shelter at Mitchell Field Nassau Pet Emergency Shelter at Mitchell Field Help stretches beyond County lines. On Nov. 14 Rogers met a blind woman at her Mastic Beach home to rescue her five cats that had been trapped inside after five feet of water receded. The blind woman and her guide dog have been staying with her hospitalized husband. The cats are safe at Mitchell Field now.

Gimme shelter: As soon as the MFAC seemed insufficient, the County went to work painting the walls, and fixing heat/ electric in the old Mitchell Field gym. They had everything spic and span for pet transfer from MFAC on Thurs., Nov. 1. Storm fencing for dog walking space; portable outdoor lighting; a dumpster in place. Permanent fencing and a dog run are planned for later. Out-of-state volunteers are staying in a trailer outside.

Gimme supplies: Brian Shapiro, NYS director of HSUS, reached out to PetSmart Charities to outfit the whole project. Two tractor trailers arrived with hundreds of new crates, cages, pallets of food, litter, litter boxes and cat beds which Rogers conservatively estimates to be worth $180,000. The non-perishables will stay with the County forever. A mezzanine room is filled with blankets and additional donated goods from the public.

Gimme medical care: NSAL is providing a vet and tech 24/7, plus all the veterinary care. The NSAL adoption van is parked outside as an isolation clinic for kennel cough and other ill pets. A diabetic dog was transported to their main hospital. Meanwhile, vets are monitoring two pregnant dogs and a cat nursing kit- tens at Mitchell Field.

Intake: The emergency shelter is extremely well organized. Thankfully, a handful of volunteers have animal response experience in disasters. Rogers helped at 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew and reminds us that rescuers must anticipate all scenarios that can go wrong.

Intake must be monitored carefully. Owners must show driver’s licenses. Pets entering are photographed with their family and all data entered in the computer. They wear paper ID collars; crates are tagged and trays with feeding, medical and walking schedules rest on top. Some family dogs are crated together for reassurance. Unless owners can provide vaccine records, new dogs get rabies, distemper and bordetella shots while cats receive rabies and distemper inoculations. The vet makes rounds everyday and administers needed meds. A census and head count happens three times each day. When a pet checks out, the tray goes on top of the crate as a visual cue.

Chow time: Owners can bring their own food; otherwise twice each day, dogs are eating Science Diet Sensitive Stomach to combat stress while cats are dining on Purina Cat Chow with canned embellishments, all in paper bowls which saves dish sanitizing. Cages are cleaned with a disinfectant and a bleach solution.

Set-up: Each day about 25 volunteers are divided into four teams- the cat room upstairs plus three dog pods on the gym floor. The Canasta Club is a designated section for aggressive dogs, and cats that may lash out have red-tagged cages. There are a team leader and floor manager for the dogs and cats, as well as a rotating shelter manager. Pets are fed in the AM and PM with lights-out, down time in between to create a calming effect. Dogs are walked three times a day. Their handlers change rubber gloves after each dog is walked through entrances/ exits carefully marked to prevent canine confrontations.

Owners may sign out their dogs for walks. Visits are bittersweet for the loss is relived over and over, like the tragedy of a man who lost his houseboat in Seaford Harbor. Each time he sees his dog; he hugs him and cries once more.

Rescue round-up: Rogers said: “After 9/11 we learned how important it was to search for pets inadvertently left behind in the red zone when owners went to work on that fateful morn.” As the Long Beach Fire Department did a house-to-house assessment, they would call Nassau OEM or HSUS to pick up stranded pets and bring them to Mitchell Field. Groomers bathed those who had lingered in salt water and shaved others matted after surviving the tidal surge. I watched a recently shaved, senior pooch walk out of the shelter proudly in his fancy, new sweater.

Beyond Sandy: The deluge of displaced pets may continue for a long time, especially when families overstay their welcome with relatives, and then have trouble finding pet-friendly temporary housing. Nassau SPCA sent out a press release asking landlords to reconsider “no pet” policies in the wake of this crisis. Certain pets at the emergency shelter, perhaps the Mastic Beach cat quintet, may never have a home again. A bona fide foster or adoption program directly from the evacuation facility may be necessary in months to come. For the time being, more volunteers are needed at Mitchell Field to help feed, clean, walk and socialize the everchanging pet population. If you can spare a few hours or more, please call the shelter at: 516-272-0017 or email: emergencypetshelter@gmail.com.

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