Animal Shelter Foundation Seeks Long-Term Pact with Town

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Jerry Rosenthal, the executive director of the private, non-profit Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, asked the Southampton Town Board last week for a longer contract when its current five-year agreement to operate a no-kill shelter on Old Riverhead Road in Hampton Bays expires in 2020 “so we can continue the work we’re doing.”

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman suggested that, in return for a new agreement, “it should be on the table” for the foundation to “be responsible for maintaining the building inside and out” in exchange for an increase in town support.

The foundation’s “board would certainly consider that,” Mr. Rosenthal said.

Over the near decade since the foundation took over what had been a deficit-plagued, town-owned and operated shelter, that work has included taking in more than 11,000 animals; adopting out 6,500 and reuniting 3,300 with their owners, said Mr. Rosenthal. Animals are also sometimes shifted to other shelters, where adoption prospects might be more favorable, he later explained.

Most of the shelter’s volunteer and fund-raising support comes from the Hampton Bays and Southampton areas of town, Mr. Rosenthal said in a telephone interview this week, even though the shelter operates across the region, even taking in strays sometimes from Brookhaven, Islip and Hempstead towns. When police or the town’s animal control department pick up strays in Sag Harbor or Bridgehampton, they go to the shelter in Hampton Bays.

Addressing the town board at its December 13 work session, Mr. Rosenthal referred to the shelter’s rocky history, when “a very large budget deficit” prompted then-Town Supervisor Linda Kabot to propose dropping all town funding for the operation in 2010. “Fortunately, creative minds and generous residents banded together to form a public-private partnership,” Mr. Rosenthal said, “which has proven very successful in terms of meeting the animal welfare needs of the community and saving the town a substantial amount of money.”

“Our mission has always been to provide for the welfare of animals and reduce the number of homeless animals in our shelter,” he said. “Our vision continues to be recognized as one of the leaders in animal welfare and responsible pet ownership here on eastern Long Island.”

The shelter operates with an annual budget of about $2.7 million, which is supported by fees, grants and fund-raising, he said. Financial support from the town, not including its no-cost contract for the building, provides less than 10 percent of the budget. It has 300 active volunteers, Mr. Rosenthal told the board.

Describing the shelter’s services — in addition to taking in and adopting out abandoned and stray cats, dogs and sometimes other animals including rabbits, hamsters and even snakes — Mr. Rosenthal said it has worked with authorities in areas hit by natural disasters; it has cared for more than 33,000 animals through its on-site and mobile veterinary clinics; and it offers wellness services including spaying and neutering and dental cleaning.

He said the high cost of veterinary services has driven some pet owners to give up their animals. In providing a low-cost clinic and wellness services, the shelter’s goal has been “to help the community keep animals in their homes,” he said. There are two paid vets on staff, he told the board.

Recent initiatives include a program called “Advocats,” through which feral cats are trapped, neutered and released, which Mr. Rosenthal said has “proven to be the most humane way of dealing with the community cat problem.”

“Free of charge to the residents of Southampton” town, he said, “approximately 3,000 cats have gone through this; this year, we’re finally seeing a drop in the number of kittens coming in so it’s working.”

Another initiative is “human education,” he said, through which 500 students in local schools over the past year have been taught empathy, kindness and the concept of animal advocacy, he said.

The shelter offers dog training program that is open to the public. As an open shelter, “We get a lot of strong dogs,” Mr. Rosenthal said, “that are not appropriate for the typical family environment.” But such dogs, which “a lot of shelters might give up on … we’ve found they can be service dogs,” he said. Some, he added, have been accepted by Canines for Warriors, an operation in Florida that provides service dogs for veterans with PTSD. Two of the dogs headed to Florida — they appeared to be golden retriever mixes — were brought into the board room for the board to meet. They were praised as “well behaved.”

“We’re also working with other government agencies” to place such dogs in search and rescue services, Mr. Rosenthal said. “We’re trying to think outside the box to find appropriate homes for them.”

With a need to renovate and expand the shelter facility, Mr. Rosenthal explained later, the foundation’s board “is undertaking a long-term strategic plan to chart the shelter’s course for the future.” He told the town board “our partnership has been successful but as we expand and look to enhance the facility, that takes a commitment of capital. Having a short-term agreement” with the town “does not lend itself to raising the necessary funding from private donors or grant organizations.”

The shelter is now seeking a 20- or 30-year lease “so we can continue the work we’re doing.”

Supervisor Schneiderman, after suggesting a new arrangement in which the foundation would be responsible for building maintenance, said the operation is “really well organized and it seems like it has tremendous community support.”

The shelter is open for adoptions seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mr. Rosenthal told the board. He urged the public to check the shelter’s website to see all the animals currently available for adoption.

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