Needy cats and dogs on Long Island will have one fewer place to find refuge beginning Monday morning.
That's when the Pets4Luv Foundation, a nonprofit animal rescue and adoption center, expects to be evicted from the former Source Mall in Westbury, which the foundation has called home since 2013.
"Turning our backs on the animals is very difficult, and we're being forced to do that," said David Bernacchi, Pets4Luv's founder, wiping tears from his eyes on Sunday. "It's very sad."
Bernacchi and a crew of volunteers spent Sunday feverishly packing up the last of the shelter's furnishings and equipment, which will go into storage as the foundation looks for a new location.
Only three cats remained on Sunday morning, down from the approximately 100 cats and dogs the foundation cared for some seven months ago, many of them handicapped. Once the threat of eviction became real, volunteers worked around the clock to place all of the animals in adoption or foster homes, Bernacchi said.
"If we didn't have them all in homes by tomorrow, the sheriff could literally come and take them to one of the town shelters, where they would be euthanized," he said.
Bernacchi said the foundation's problems began when Lesso Mall Development Long Island Inc., a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based China Lesso Group Holdings Ltd., purchased the mall with plans to renovate it in 2017. While the company originally expressed interest in offering the foundation a new space after renovations, it reversed course without explanation in September, he said.
Wesley Rebisz, a spokesman for the company, said Lesso supports the "Foundation's mission as an organization." He said the company provided advance notice and let the foundation remain in the space without paying rent for months. "Lesso provided a clear timeline of all construction developments on premise, and advised that the shelter would be unsafe for the animals," he said.
Last year, a spokeswoman for Lesso told Newsday: "It is unsafe for the shelter to remain on the premises due to heavy construction that puts both people and animals at risk." Lesso did not comment at the time on why the shelter would not be offered a lease.
The foundation is raising money through a GoFundMe page to purchase a permanent home for its operations, Bernacchi said. It had raised more than $25,200 of a $250,000 goal as of Sunday afternoon.
While they seek out a new location, foundation volunteers said they are trying to remain optimistic.
"We have no choice but to be hopeful, there's no alternative for us," said volunteer Robin Zweiback. "The animals need this place."