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NEW SHELTER FOR NORTH HEMPSTEAD: Haven at last for unwanted cats

Cats have been felines non gratae at North Hempstead's

municipal animal shelter for at least nine years. And the lack of options has

feline lovers hissing.

But the town board gave an indication the no-cat stance could change when,

in a March vote, it authorized itself to seek bids for completion of an

extension to the animal shelter that would enable the town to accept cats.

In an interview this month, Supervisor Jon Kaiman said the town will seek

bids for the project "sometime soon" and have a cat program in place by 2010.

In the meantime, residents are mulling the fate of unwanted felines in North

Hempstead.

Though the practice is not required by law, most of Long Island's town

shelters accept cats. North Hempstead is one of the few that does not.

The practice of not welcoming cats into the dog-only shelter hinged on an

ethical dilemma, town officials said.

"We don't want to become the euthanasia center for cats," Kaiman said.

"That's usually the primary function of cat shelters, and that would be

disturbing to us."

While Dr. Gay Senk, a veterinarian who oversees the Farmingdale-based Long

Island Cat Program, said it is "quite rare and unacceptable" for a municipal

shelter not to accept cats, she added that dealing with stray and unwanted cats

is a touchy situation.

Shelters provide potential havens, but many end up euthanizing animals due

to lack of space, Senk said. "It's a real complex dilemma."

Officials say they don't remember cats ever being formally accepted at the

North Hempstead Town shelter on Marino Avenue in Port Washington, even though a

Newsday story in 2000 said the shelter stopped accepting felines altogether

after advocates complained the animals were being euthanized instead of put up

for adoption.

Then, in his 2004 state of the town address, Kaiman said the animal shelter

would "begin accepting cats sometime this year." A few months later, the town

board voted to hire Bohemia-based Kenstar Construction to build a shelter

extension.

The project never got far off the ground. Kenstar Construction sued the

town last year - before the project's completion - alleging the town had not

paid for the work. The town board last month authorized a settlement of the

case for about $130,000, Kaiman said.

Today, five years after the plan for the shelter extension was launched,

the only sign of it is a concrete foundation with weeds growing through it.

Kaiman said he hopes construction will resume this summer and be done in

about four months. The remaining cost of the 20-by-40-foot shelter has not been

determined, said town spokesman Collin Nash.

Meanwhile, feline advocates and some local residents say the absence of a

shelter has left a damaging void.

Linda Stuurman of Last Hope Inc. in Syosset said her nonprofit, which

rehabilitates cats and adopts them out, has been picking up the slack where

North Hempstead services are lacking, adding that a cat shelter in the town is

"long overdue." Last Hope is currently in a dispute with the town regarding

payment for some feral cat services last year, Stuurman said.

"Who's suffering while this is being all hashed out?" she said. "The

animals."

One resident who has advocated on behalf of feral cat programs, Linda

Marasco, 54, of Mineola said she wished the town had provided an "interim"

shelter unit.

Town officials insist they have offered alternatives. In a statement, Nash

pointed to the town's investment in spay and neuter programs "as an alternative

to taking cats into the town shelter."

Specifically, the town has contracted with private and nonprofit

organizations since 2002 to run feral cat clinics in the town to trap, spay or

neuter, inoculate and release cats to their original colonies, officials said.

One admirer of the town's efforts is Nancy Vogt, president of the Long

Beach nonprofit Long Island Cat Kittens Solution, who lauded North Hempstead

for instituting the clinics. She said some municipalities opt against feral cat

programs for fear they would be perceived as compounding the problem of

overpopulation by advocating the feeding of the animals.

"You really have to give North Hempstead a kudo for at least trying," she

said.

But Kathy Trukafka, a Last Hope volunteer, said she found the program

lacking.

In January, Trukafka said she discovered a feral cat colony, including two

severely injured felines, near an apartment building in Mineola and alerted the

town. Trukafka said she waited weeks for direction from the town about what to

do about the colony but received no guidance.

"As far as they're concerned," she said, "these ... animals are waiting."

Eventually, Last Hope rehabilitated two injured cats at a cost of about

$700, Stuurman said. One cat has been adopted out, and the second is going into

an adoption program, she said.

Nash said because the cats were found in the Village of Mineola they were

outside the town's jurisdiction.

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