Nassau emergency shelter set to close seeks pets' owners

The Nassau OEM's pet shelter in Garden City The Nassau OEM's pet shelter in Garden City is closing with some pets that have been surrendered by displaced homeowners, including these cats on the 2nd floor of the shelter. (March 6, 2013) Photo Credit: Uli Seit

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At its busiest, the repurposed Navy hangar housed some 225 caged cats and dogs.

That was in November. These days, it's mostly quiet inside Nassau County's emergency pet shelter, which sprang up after superstorm Sandy struck Oct. 29 to accommodate scores of displaced pet owners who could not take their animals with them. Hundreds of pets have come and gone home. About 50 were adopted. Six dogs flew off last week to meet new caregivers in California.

But with the shelter set to close this week, nearly 30 cats and dogs remain. Volunteers are scrambling to track down owners to give them an ultimatum: pick up your pet, permit a temporary adoption or surrender ownership altogether.

So far, communication with displaced homeowners has proved "difficult, if not impossible," said Beverly Poppell, vice president of Wantagh-based Pet Safe Coalition, one of the organizations caring for the pets since November.

"We have called, we have texted," Poppell said. Some pet owners, she said, simply can't be found.

The push to complete arrangements, she said, has put a strain on the volunteers, some of whom have been living at the site for several months. Some are locals, but some have come from out of state and even from Canada.

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"We're tired, dog tired," Poppell said. "We need to hear back."

The shelter, opened by the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management three days after the storm adjacent to Nassau Community College in Garden City, was intended to be temporary. But weeks went by and pets remained unclaimed.

Of the pets still in their care, shelter officials said Thursday four have been "freed" for adoption, and 12 will either return home or be placed in temporary foster care. The future for the other 11 cats and dogs remains uncertain.

The shelter sent letters last month to pet owners, saying Monday is the cutoff for decisions on their pets. Failing a response, the Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will assume ownership of the pets. None of them, officials stressed, will be euthanized.

Gary Rogers, a spokesman for the county SPCA, said volunteers have gone door-to-door looking for pet owners. "They're not there anymore," he said. "They've moved on in life and left their pets behind."

Another obstacle for the shelter has been space shortages at nearby municipal shelters, Poppell and Rogers said. And Rogers said interest expressed early on by prospective adopters has waned. Many of the animals that remain, he said, are older or have special needs. One cat -- dubbed "Oily Oreo" -- was soaked in petroleum and still requires daily extensive bathing. The work is daunting.

"We're literally begging people to come and help," he said.

Sue Hassett, who directs North Hempstead's animal shelter and has helped the emergency site, said the shelter's volunteers are prepared for a sad reality: "Some of these owners are never going to have their pet back." But, she added, "A phone call would be nice."

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UNCLAIMED PETS REMAIN

Emergency shelter opened: Nov. 1
Total pets housed: 515
Pets remaining, as of Thursday: 27
To adopt a pet, call 516-272-0017

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