Banned animal rescuers sue Hempstead

A terrier mixed breed at the Hempstead animal

A terrier mixed breed at the Hempstead animal shelter in Wantagh hopes for a new home. The DA is investigating the shelter for animal abuse by employees. (Nov. 15, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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Three animal rescuers banned from the Hempstead Town animal shelter in October filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Wednesday alleging they were retaliated against for speaking out about abuse at the agency and that town officials have spread lies about them.

The women - Diane Madden, Lucille DeFina and Frances Lucivero-Pelletier - seek unspecified compensation for damages and to be allowed back inside the shelter, where for many years they had helped find new homes for animals facing the prospect of euthanasia.

The women claim they were barred from the shelter because they've been vocal about mistreatment of animals there and the need to improve conditions. Also, they allege town officials have defamed them by suggesting they were barred for diverting dogs from the shelter and selling them for a profit, a charge they deny.

"To play these games with these people's lives and their reputations while these animals suffer is just outrageous to me," said Steve Morelli, a Garden City attorney representing the women.

Hempstead spokesman Mike Deery said town officials know the lawsuit has been filed, have not reviewed it, and will not comment on pending litigation.

In late October, the town banned the rescuers from the shelter as a result of an ongoing internal probe of the agency. At the time, the town brought findings from the probe to the Nassau County district attorney's office, which also has an ongoing inquiry.

Town officials have said repeatedly that their investigation and that of the district attorney involve administrative issues at the shelter, not animal abuse. Morelli said the district attorney's office, which has declined to comment on its inquiry, hasn't spoken to his clients.

Tuesday, the Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it, too, was looking into the shelter after hearing complaints about possible animal mistreatment.

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