A feasibility study has concluded that North Hempstead’s existing dog-only animal shelter does not have enough space to add a cat shelter, and recommends officials look elsewhere for a feline program.
The $34,500 study said it would cost $378,000 to build additional space to accommodate 33 cats at the 10,000-square-foot town-operated shelter in Port Washington. The report was conducted by Melville-based Nelson & Pope, the same company that designed the town’s first dog park that opened in 2019.
"The town would then have to either look to other [properties] owned by the town or other arrangements such as partnering with nonprofits, which other municipalities do, or other ideas we have not thought of yet," said Steven Pollack, the town’s finance director.
The conclusion came as no surprise to some animal advocates who have pushed officials in the past two decades to establish a feline shelter and build a more robust trap-neuter-return program.
"As much as they say they will do something, nothing was done," said Jack Hausman, president of the Great Neck-based nonprofit Humane Urban Group. "We thought we had a chance because [Supervisor Judi] Bosworth came in. They had done absolutely nothing, no more than the 20 years we’ve been working on it."
Other than Shelter Island, North Hempstead is the only one of Long Island’s 13 towns that doesn’t have dedicated space to house and adopt cats. Since 2002, the town has offered TNR services, which have evolved to include a monthly TNR mobile clinic and a trapper whom residents can call for help.
Town spokesman Gordon Tepper said the town has to prioritize during challenging times.
"We are in the middle of a pandemic. The town has limited resources," Tepper said. "The top priority is protecting the safety and well-being of our residents."
The one time that the town came close to having something concrete was in 2005.
That winter, town officials, including then-Supervisor Jon Kaiman, attended a groundbreaking ceremony to add a cat shelter wing to the animal shelter on Marion Avenue. But three years later, the company North Hempstead hired sued, claiming unpaid work, and the town settled the case.
Fast forward to today, the coronavirus pandemic has only made matters worse, advocates said.
Since COVID-19 hit, Linda Stuurman, president of the nonprofit Last Hope Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Wantagh, said her organization has received more calls from people asking for assistance to place their pets. Situations vary: Some owners died; some had to move or downsize to save money, and the pets were left behind.
"The need is more than ever because of the situation some people are finding themselves in," Stuurman said. "The problem is not going away, and it’s not getting better."
As municipal governments face revenue losses because of the pandemic, local rescuers feel even less hopeful about the prospect of a cat shelter.
"Last year, COVID wasn’t an issue," said Robin Fishman, a volunteer with Humane Urban Group. "They were spending money on a dog park. Money is an issue now. What I have is basically disbelief that anything will change. I’m 100% not optimistic."
2004: The town hired Kenstar Construction to build a shelter extension for cats.
2005: Construction broke ground.
2008: Kenstar sued.
2009: The town settled the case for about $130,000.
September 2019: The town commissioned Melville-based Nelson & Pope to conduct a feasibility study.
September 2020: The study was submitted.