2013-07-10 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
After the raid came a media blitz, treatment triage at Babylon
Shelter, a month-long placement frenzy and then an adoption that changed my dog-owning life forever. Exactly one year later we held a family reunion with a luau theme in the shelter yard with all but one of the surviving 26 dogs attending. Several TV stations featured our gala party.
Before retelling this amazing story, it must be noted that the shelter was a different world then. Except for intake vaccines, there was no medical care or spay/neuter prior to adoption; no extended stays for dogs/cats; no screening of potential adopters and a director who was not rescue friendly. The Greene Avenue raid, though a horrific situation, became a catalyst for improvement.
On the morning of July 10, 2003, a woman came to the shelter trying to turn in several dying Yorkies. The director refused to take the sick dogs, and Bonnie, a kennel attendant (now retired), followed her out to the parking lot. The friend who drove her mentioned that there were dead dogs in the house. Bonnie called Suffolk SPCA. They went to the house but the woman wouldn’t let them in. Bonnie also called me. I drove to the address and saw an American Eskimo and Yorkies in the front window. I called the SPCA and said the magic words (“dying Yorkies”) which may have set the wheels in motion.
The SPCA went back to the house with a veterinarian. The woman was gone. Only a dazed tenant who claimed there were only one or two dogs in the house was there. We waited until about 10 p.m. when the SPCA got a signed warrant, and then the shelter and SPCA gathered dogs and cats running about in the debris-strewn home. There were dead dogs, and dying Cavalier mix puppies shown on camera on the 11 o’clock news. The most critical went to the veterinarian’s clinic in Valley Stream; the rest to the shelter. It was impossible to tell who the mother dogs were for the various litters.
The next morning people were lined up at the shelter for the Yorkies, Cavaliers and the purebred English Toy Spaniel they had seen on TV. The dogs weren’t signed over yet so those interested were entered on adoption lists. I started squawking that these dogs had been through so much, all were small and highly adoptable so we needed to screen homes rather than hand them over to just anyone first come, first served.
The filthy dogs needed to be assessed. More TV crews descended on the shelter. I remember tripping over camera wires taking dogs to the tub. My friend Antoinette has a framed NY Daily News photo of her washing one of the Cavalier mix puppies. The dogs consisted of purebreds and mixes of the breeds previously listed, plus Shih tzus and a Lhasa. The largest dog was the American Eskimo I had seen at the window, and all the puppies, alive and dead, were Blenheim Cavalier mixes.
The owner disappeared between the time of the first SPCA visit and the seizure. She lived in the house with her young daughter and ailing mother. Her husband must have died because I was told there was a weird statement about his lack of insurance written on one of the bathroom walls. It seems the family left on vacation for two weeks and supposedly the pet sitter didn’t show. (Yeah, right!)
The friend who had driven the owner to the shelter was the person she had been visiting, someone she hadn’t seen in years. That driver was shocked to see the horrific hoarder scene when bringing the owner home. Several days after the seizure the owner was discovered hiding out in the Bronx. She signed the pets over as part of a plea deal.
By some miracle I was allowed to be in charge of placements. I screened those on the lists, using the code name “Sandy” (seems an ironic choice now). If people called the shelter asking for “Sandy” that meant they had been pre-approved to meet me and look at the dogs. We met some incredible people such as the Amagansett author who adopted “Duffy,” one of the Yorkies. He later lived in Mexico and Paris with her; or dear Karen from Queens, a dedicated young animal rescue person who died of aggressive lung cancer a year later. “Kallie,” her Yorkie mix, became her companion during her illness, and then the cherished pet of her mom and deaf sister in New Jersey.
Two weeks later, the SPCA brought their mobile hospital to the shelter parking lot to spay/neuter most of the dogs. There was a mass adoption and another press conference right after Spay Day. Some dogs remained several more weeks while more adopters were found and applications finalized.
The day after the initial raid a neighbor went into the house and discovered another Yorkie and a Cavalier/ English Toy mix puppy hiding in the sofa and in a dresser drawer. A month before the raid, I had lost my second Afghan in less than a year. It was the first time we were dog-less, actually Afghan-less, in over two decades. That last puppy, “Charlotte,” became the love of our lives and boss of the next two Afghans to enter our home.
Meanwhile Charlotte’s younger sister, “Minnie,” from the NY Daily News photo, was adopted directly from the animal hospital. My wonderful friend because of this SPCA event, Iris from North Shore Towers, saw the news broadcast and kept calling her Valley Stream vet telling him she HAD to have that dog. “Minnie” is a snowbird who spends much of her time on Sanibel Island.
We all have dates that were turning points in our lives and remain etched in our memories. July 10, 2003 was such a date for me and for these neglected dogs given the chance to have lives full of love.