Nassau County officials said Monday they are seeking temporary foster homes for about 250 cats and dogs being housed at Long Island's largest emergency shelter after their owners were displaced by superstorm Sandy.
This week, the Office of Emergency Management, which oversees the Nassau County Pet Shelter in Garden City, is reaching out to potential foster caregivers, said OEM community emergency response team director Michael Arcari. "If everything goes according to plan," he said, caregivers can start housing pets next Monday.
He anticipates the stays will last several months beyond the New Year and give owners time, "so they can be able to get their lives back in order." So far, Arcari said, about 50 pet owners have indicated they would allow their pets to leave the crowded shelter in a former Navy hangar that takes in animals daily.
The owners will be asked again this week if they still want placements, he added.
Besides planning foster care, the OEM is also helping displaced owners take advantage of a newly announced relief program, Sheltering Temporary Essential Power (STEP), that funds work on storm-damaged homes to make them habitable.
But in the meantime, the process of reunification has been slowed by no-pet restrictions at apartments Islandwide. So far, landlords have stuck to no-pet rules, shelter volunteers said, but the county and pet coalitions are pleading for compassion.
In a letter to landlord groups, the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals urges them to "temporarily reconsider such restrictions in light of this unprecedented disaster." So far, there's been no response.
But Beverly Poppell, executive director of Pet Safe, an animal coalition that supports the OEM shelter and works with pet owners, said an attorney will reach out to landlords.
The OEM's decision to begin the foster care comes as weary volunteers were told in recent days that the shelter would remain open indefinitely. "My stomach sank a little bit," Poppell said.
Since the storm, caring for animals has been exhausting for about 30 unpaid workers Poppell manages.
"We're basically running a people shelter here and an animal shelter," said Gary Rogers, spokesman for the Nassau County SPCA, referring to the long hours volunteers put in. The county has said the shelter would remain "open as long as there is a need for one," but Rogers emphasized that family and neighbors also must step up.
When asked whether euthanasia were an option, Poppell replied, "No, no." She believes if the shelter closed, the pets would be moved to municipal ones or taken in by the North Shore Animal League.
Sue Hassett, director of the North Hempstead shelter, said if the OEM shelter is shuttered, she also is willing to take pets.
Nassau County Emergency Pet Shelter:
Location: 241 Miller Ave., Garden City
Size: 250 Animals
Those interested in temporarily adopting pets can call the shelter directly at 516-272-0017.