A Middle Island nonprofit operated an illegal shelter with almost 150 dogs and cats, said Brookhaven Town officials, who shut down the facility and cited it for several hazards, including blocked exits, nonworking fire alarms and mold.
Friends of Freddie, located for three years in a shopping center on Middle Country Road, ran out of time after being notified in late December of numerous violations and was ordered Wednesday to move out its 121 dogs and 26 cats by 5 p.m. Friday.
Streams of volunteers and animal lovers stopped by Thursday to help, and by 7 p.m., about 50 animals remained, said founder Barbara Sanelli.
“We haven’t had a chance to breathe,” she said.
Fire marshals Wednesday put the group on “fire watch” — round-the-clock staffing by the nonprofit to make sure no fire breaks out. Town officials called it a “precaution” after 14 dogs and a cat died in a March 3 fire in a nearby commercial building that authorities said was being renovated without permits.
The nonprofit and Aldrich Management, an East Meadow firm that manages the property, were issued several citations, including not having a certificate of occupancy, faulty alarms and sprinklers, emergency lighting problems and exits blocked by makeshift fencing, said town officials, who also condemned the premises.
“We gave them an opportunity to meet with the fire marshal’s office, to come in and secure all their necessary permits and that process was not moving fast enough or at all but yet more animals kept showing up,” said David J. Moran, deputy town attorney.
An Aldrich official could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
Earlier this year, about 50 animals lived in the shelter, but over the months, the town had gotten complaints about overcrowding, Moran said. When authorities arrived Wednesday, “it stank to high heaven,” he said.
Sanelli said the dogs and cats were well taken care of and that the fire suppression systems worked.
She said she tried to tackle the permit process herself but gave up and hired an architect and just needed more time.
“He’s been working on the plans, but I guess we weren’t working fast enough,” Sanelli said.
Sanelli, a familiar figure to Suffolk’s animal rescue community, said she suspects the recent complaints came from people who had accused her of buying dogs from a puppy mill when she owned a pet store in Selden.
She said she started rescuing animals several years ago and stopped getting dogs from puppy mills about a year ago. Her animals come from hoarders, kill shelters and owners who don’t want their pets anymore, Santelli said, adding she also brings in dogs used as bait in dog fights.
Dogs and cats who don’t find foster homes by the deadline will be boarded, she said.
“Our projection is no one will have to go to a town shelter or another rescue,” Sanelli said. “Except for one rescue, everybody wants the puppies and that’s an easy fix.”