Written by Christy Hinko Friday, 11 February 2011 00:00
Despite the wintry mix that dampened much of Long Island on Saturday, Feb. 5, approximately 100 activists turned out in support of the rally at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter in Wantagh, called for by the Hope for Hempstead Shelter organization.
Merrick resident and rally organizer Derek Donnelly told Anton Newspapers that he had reached out to over 500 supporters in the days before the rally, but due to the weather, he was very happy with the committed turnout. Activists came from all across Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens, and even some from New Jersey.
“People are passionate about two parts of the cause here, it’s the taxpayer getting hurt here, we are paying more money to have animals neglected and abused than people pay to have their animals taken care of; there is something really wrong with that,” said Donnelly. “There is something wrong here and it needs to be further investigated. The Town claims that they are investigating themselves, you cannot investigate yourself, that’s like if you’re a police officer and you catch yourself speeding, you don’t pull over and write yourself a ticket.”
Donnelly suggested to Anton Newspapers that the State Comptroller is the only suitable investigator for the financial and operational allegations regarding the Town’s shelter.
Although a peaceful rally was expected, the Town assigned five public safety officers to maintain order and ensure regular patrons could access the shelter. The animal shelter remained open for regular business and several families made their way in to check out adoptable pets during the rally.
Activists, some with children and pets in tow, carried homemade posters that read “Shelter Reform Now!” and “Truth Will Prevail.” Some chanted, “Kate must go!”
“This shelter needs the volunteer program, why is it taking so long?” asked one Island Park resident who fosters dogs. “These dogs are desperate for human contact, they are able to be rehabilitated and you don’t need to be a trainer to know, people who love animals like these volunteers know,” she said.
Several activists including one of the three banned volunteer workers Diane Madden, and Franklin Square resident Felix Procacci and several others who spoke with Anton Newspapers echoed much of the same sentiments regarding the animals at the shelter; they simply want the Town to get the volunteer program into action without delay.
Madden said, “Our goal has always been the same, getting back into that building to save lives. We’ve saved over 1,100 lives a year, between the cats and dogs, many of them would have never made it out of here.”
Lisa Wollos of Merrick has helped another of the banned volunteers, Lucille DeFina take care of rescued cats. She said, “I am mostly concerned about the animals here; and then there’s this thing about how much these people are making with their political appointments, it’s terrible; I feel terrible.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 8, Madden, DeFina and Frances Lucivero-Pelletier filed a lawsuit against the Town of Hempstead and eight of its employees for being banned without explanation from the Town’s Animal Shelter as volunteers.
Donnelly concluded the rally with a calling to activists for further action in participating in a letter writing campaign and turning out for another rally that had been planned for Tuesday, Feb. 7 at the Town of Hempstead Town Hall meeting in Hempstead.
The Town of Hempstead responded with the following:
“It is unfortunate that there are some people who have politicized an important issue in order to advance their own agendas. At least one candidate who has announced her intention to run for town board and other individuals who are suing the town have hurled baseless and mean-spirited allegations against one of the finest animal shelters anywhere. Despite these allegations, there has not been a single credible source that has determined animal abuse at the shelter; not the district attorney, not New York State, not the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
“Hempstead Town runs the finest municipal shelter anywhere. Recently, our professionals rescued horribly abused cats and dogs from two “houses of horrors.” The incidents underscored the passion that our animal care team has for furnishing top quality care and loving comfort to our furry friends.
“Independent rescuers, Rescue Ink, have lauded the work of Hempstead’s Animal Shelter. Additionally, a December 2010 review by New York State gave the shelter top marks on animal care.
“Finally, we will continue to spend money where it counts most in the area of animal care. Specifically, we spend $220,000 a year on animal health care while another major Long Island town expends a mere $18,000. Similarly, Hempstead provides $175,000 in animal food while another large area shelter expends a paltry $5,000. We refuse to skimp on the care of our four-legged friends at the town’s animal care facility.
“We encourage residents to visit the shelter and consider adopting a dog or cat today.”