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2013-03-06 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

“When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud… “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.” Lyrics by Bob Dylan

Four months ago, Nassau County offered “shelter from the storm” at Mitchel Field to the pets of people displaced by Superstorm Sandy. This has turned into one of the longest pet emergency deployments ever. Now it’s time the Nassau shelter shut its doors. Few know about the incredible people who have put their own lives on hold as they continue to care for dog and cat waifs stranded there. They aren’t leaving until all remaining pets go to a home or rescue.

At least 515 pets, even guinea pigs and turtles, found sanctuary at Mitchel Field (MF). Presently three dozen pets still have nowhere to go, so a small band of dedicated volunteers has been scrambling to find them loving, alternative homes. Response from fellow Long Islanders has been spotty. Most offers of placement have come from out of state.

Sandy victim, “Toto,” leaves shelter at Mitchel Field with Pet Safe volunteer Ann for his new home in Ohio. Sandy victim, “Toto,” leaves shelter at Mitchel Field with Pet Safe volunteer Ann for his new home in Ohio. Brief History of the Nassau Emergency Pet Shelter: (See “Pets” Beacon 11/21/12 online for a more detailed account.) As Sandy raged, it became apparent that the two Nassau pet set-ups were not big enough to absorb the tidal wave of pet flood victims. The County quickly refurbished a moth-balled, brick gym at MF so Pet Safe Coalition could transfer their rescues from Wantagh, the County could move over 100 pets already at the athletic complex in Nassau Community College and hundreds more could seek refuge.

This effort began as a collaboration of the County Office of Emergency Management, Pet Safe Coalition, Nassau SPCA, HSUS and North Shore Animal League (which provided medical care and was supposed to oversee foster and adoptive homes for those left behind). North Shore pulled out on Feb. 1. Most of their workers were salaried. Only volunteers from other groups remain.

Remarkable Volunteers at MF: The initial post-Sandy response brought in trained Pet Safe Coalition volunteers from far away, including folks from Canada, California, Georgia and Washington State, who bunked in the old gym or inside trailers in the parking lot. At the height of the influx, about 25 volunteers a day helped at MF.

These out-of-towners have been invaluable finding homes for pets too. “Fluffy” cat flew to Florida, two senior felines to California, all adopted by MF volunteers. Betty from Georgia intervened on behalf of a homeless woman who’d been living in her car before she, as a volunteer, and her Cairn took up residence at MF. Betty reclaimed the cat the homeless woman was forced to surrender to a town shelter. “Huey,” the cat has been at MF; and, if housing isn’t found for the trio together, Betty will bring Huey home to Georgia. She also came back to LI so a displaced woman relocating to Oklahoma could take her two cats in the plane cabin. Betty became the flight escort for one of the cats.

Since Feb.1, a handful of unsung local heroes have been holding down the fort at MF. East Meadow native Liz from Pet Safe Coalition is the acting shelter director. She has been staying at MF 24/7 since Halloween. Liz, along with dog volunteers, Ron and Tracy, a husband/wife duo whose own home was destroyed by Sandy, sleep on cots most every night.

Since the building is a renovated gym, the human boarders have the luxury of a locker room shower. The racquetball court with its Hansel and Gretel doorway has been transformed into a cavernous dining hall with plenty of peanut butter, courtesy of Long Island Cares.

Beverly and Ann from Team Pet Safe are also constants at MF. They coordinated the “Toto Transport” last Saturday, driving an older Yorkie, surrendered by his owner, to a Pennsylvania rendezvous so he could meet his new Ohio family. “Toto” now lives with a Cockapoo and cats on 17 acres. ‘Tis a far cry from one hundred days straight in a crate at echoing MF, even though he was showered by love from the volunteers. Ann, a vet assistant, adopted “Pork Chop,” a big mush of a Pit left behind, and Beverly is his godmother. Ron and Tracy adopted “Star,” a MF Boxer mix.

Volunteers from HUG (Humane Urban Group) have been commanding the cat quarters each day. This is a labor of love, sprinkled with lots of kitty litter. After HUG assisted with neutering and vet care, Jane and Robin have been networking to keep pet families together when possible, and to re-home when reunion is impossible. One family needed intervention for 14 cats- triplets with a slight movement disorder went to a lovely sanctuary; several went to CT, along with “Helen,” a cat with no eyes, and the rest will hopefully be going back home, except for “Prince” who loves people but not his many siblings.

Pets Left Behind: Gary of Nassau SPCA foresaw the problem of prolonged, temporary pet housing with so many owners in lodging limbo. He worked with agencies to get families into the STEP program so they could return home with their pets too. He’s been visiting addresses to see if homes are occupied. Liz calls each owner to update their situation. Feb. 17 became the legal closing date of the MF shelter. A letter went to each owner giving 20 days to reclaim their pet before the dog or cat goes into the custody of Nassau SPCA for adoption. Some never responded. The March 11 deadline is looming.

Few Long Islanders or local rescues are answering pleas for help even though the shelter (516-272- 0017 or is open everyday. It’s around the bend from the Cradle of Aviation museum. Photos of pets in need are on the “Hurricane Sandy Lost & Found” Facebook page. Owners remain hopeful, yet some foster arrangements may become permanent. Meanwhile, six of the dogs are scheduled to fly to a California rescue, possibly this week. Think about it: Our “Katrina dogs” are going elsewhere. Here are a few pets that would appreciate help from families or rescues closer to home:

Needing Foster Care, Possibly Long-term: “Mugsy”- 12-yr.-old female Pug, a sweetie; “Oreo”- senior cat with allergies would do best with a veterinary-savvy caretaker; and “Precious” a seven-yr-old Pointer mix.

Needing Adoption: “Misha”- Sharpei mix; “Farrah”- Pit mix; “Kaylee”- “Sharpei/Lab”- all young and active; “Ashes” black male cat; tabbies-“Eli” & “Luciano”- all get along with other cats and also the handsome tuxedo “Prince.”

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