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Appeals court weighs animal rescue group's bid to rehab pit bull from town shelter

Ruby, a pit bull at the Oyster Bay

Ruby, a pit bull at the Oyster Bay animal shelter who is the subject of litigation between the town and an animal rescue group.   Credit: Court filing in New York State Supreme Court

An appeals court is considering a bid by the head of an animal rescue group to take custody of a pit bull that Oyster Bay officials said has a history of aggression.

Meredith Festa, the president of a Rocky Point animal rescue group, sued Oyster Bay in June to try to stop the town from killing the dog named Ruby, who has been in the town shelter for more than two years. Town officials allege that the three-year-old animal has attacked both people and other animals and can't be safely adopted.

On Sept. 28, the Appellate Court issued a stay on euthanizing the dog while it considers the appeal to a lower-court ruling dismissing the group's suit.

The appeals court denied an Oyster Bay request to require Festa to post a nearly $31,000 bond to cover the cost of caring for Ruby while the appeal is litigated.

In a brief filed in October, Festa’s lawyers, Richard Rosenthal of Huntington Station and Kate Cifarelli of Oyster Bay, compared the town’s euthanization program to Nazi Germany and argued the town was violating state agricultural laws.

The lawyers contend the lower court improperly ruled Festa, who is the president of Paws Unite People, a Rocky Point organization that tries to rehabilitate shelter animals, didn’t have standing to intervene on Ruby’s behalf.

Oyster Bay spokesman Brian Nevin said the town has until the end of December to file a response to the appeal.

"It’s outrageous that anyone is allowed to waste taxpayer money in court fighting for the release of a dangerous pit bull that puts the public in danger," Nevin said in an email. "The court system previously dismissed this meritless lawsuit, and we hope they’ll do so again at the Appellate Division."

Festas' attorneys argued in their brief that the town is "denying [Festa], and have denied other reputable and credible 501(c) (3) rescue organizations, the opportunity to take custody of Ruby for the purposes of safe housing, sheltering, training, rehabilitation and possible adoption," the brief argued.

Festa’s lawyers said in their brief that state law allows for animals to be euthanized due to certain injuries or conditions or upon judicial order.

"Yet, Ruby is not maimed, diseased, disabled, or infirm, nor has she been deemed dangerous pursuant to a judicial proceeding," the brief said.

To gain standing to save Ruby, Festa attempted to use a provision of state law that allows a trust to be established for the benefit of a pet. The lower court rejected this argument but Festa’s attorneys have asked the Appellate Court to revisit the matter, arguing that the law did not require her to be the dog's owner to establish a trust for its care.

Last year the town temporarily halted euthanizing animals at its shelter while it revised its policies in response to complaints from animal activists.

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