Families reunite with pets at Nassau shelter

The Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, with help from Pet Safe Coalition and North Shore Animal League America, created the Nassau County Emergency Pet Shelter to house and care for the pets displaced by superstorm Sandy. Videojournalist: Ed Betz (Nov. 23, 2012)

Mikey and Eve Lennox kept kissing and hugging Thursday like long-lost relatives, she kneeling on the floor of a Garden City shelter and he on his hind legs licking her face.

"I miss him. He's the closest thing to me," said Lennox, surviving in a camper, away from her cockapoo companion and her flooded Massapequa home.

People and pets divided by superstorm Sandy upheld their definitions of family on Thanksgiving Day at Nassau County's pet shelter in Mitchel Field, once an unused gymnasium but now an emergency home to almost 300 pets. For a few moments, they relieved each other's stress, walked together, gave licks or massages and cooed in different languages.

It's a haven for people whose relatives or emergency hosts can't house their pets. At the shelter, animal lovers and groups -- from the Pet Safe Coalition to the North Shore Animal League -- minister to the homeless creatures.

Denise Lobascio, who had left a turkey in the oven at her brother's Merrick home, took her four children to the shelter to see cat Oreo and pit bull Casey. "It's Thanksgiving Day," she said. "It's a day for family.

Sitting in a stairway, son Vincent Gross, 16, cradled Casey on his lap, knowing visiting time was almost over. "She's thinking 'Please take me,' " he said.

They adopted Casey just weeks before Sandy. With their East Rockaway home wrecked, Casey has to stay put.

"Next time we come back," Lobascio told Casey, "we're going to take you with us."

Thursday's partings were bittersweet. Humans cried, knowing their pets were safe on a day when they should have been underfoot, begging for turkey scraps. Some dogs turned to stare at their humans practically the entire way back to their cages. Cats stretched out paws as if to say "stay."

Rolf Siljander, 76, cried plenty after breaking a promise to his rescued dogs, a corgi mix and Jack Russell terrier mix. In welcoming them to Massapequa, he had told them they'd never see a shelter again.

"I can't take this," he said after he and daughter Dana Siljander, 41, walked the two dogs.

"It's like having to put your kids in the shelter," said Dana Siljander, whose father is staying in her Massapequa home.

At the shelter, the gym floor was lined with rows of cages of dogs, who barked when it was walk time.

Upstairs was the quieter cat room, where Jodi Terrana and son Alfonso, 3, peeked into cage after cage, looking for their 8-year-old cat Cujo.

"He was lost the night of the storm," said Terrana, whose family raced out of South Bellmore as Sandy approached. Cujo ran out in the confusion.

"It's heart-wrenching when you realize that a bit of something that's breathing is missing," Terrana said. "He's way too smart to be d-e-a-d," she said, spelling the word in front of her son.

Out in the fields and roads around the shelter, Stephen Angel of Long Beach didn't seem to want to leave pit bull Blue. He walked her for two hours around Mitchel Field.

Blue always slept by Angel's wife, Dolores, acting like a warm pillow for her bad back.

But three weeks ago, the dog rose above his canine status in the family, Angel said. Blue, who could race after sea gulls until he was a speck in the distance, stayed by Dolores after she tripped outside. He licked her tears, Angel recounted.

"It gives me a feeling of security knowing that this is the type of dog who's totally committed to his family," he said. "When I knew that, I fell head over heels in love with the dog."

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