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3 quit Smithtown animal shelter advisory panel, citing town board's inaction

The Smithtown Animal Shelter's appointed advisory council members,

The Smithtown Animal Shelter's appointed advisory council members, from left to right: Elizabeth Stein, Diane Madden, Lucille DeFina, announced their resignation at the Sept. 24, 2015 town board meeting, at the Eugene A. Cannataro Senior Citizen Center. Credit: Newsday / Lauren R. Harrison

The three appointed members of the Smithtown Animal Shelter Advisory Council have resigned, citing the town board's failure to act on their recommendations.

Animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein, Diane Madden and Lucille DeFina resigned in a Sept. 15 letter. Last week, they attended a town board meeting and explained the reasons behind their decision -- most notably, the town's failure to hire a full-time behaviorist at an anticipated annual salary of $45,000 who would train animals, develop relationships with rescue groups and establish pet-retention and foster-care programs.

"A behaviorist is necessary in order to take a shelter and make it a progressive . . . animal shelter, which we were told was the objective by the town board," said Madden, 55, of East Meadow.

The advisory council was formed in February after allegations by animal-shelter advocates of mismanagement and lack of proper veterinary care.

Stein, 60, a resident of New Hyde Park, said the advisory council for months made recommendations to Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick, the board's shelter liaison, and new shelter director Susan Hansen.

"These recommendations, which had been consistently delayed, have now been outright denied and the finger has been pointed at the town council for refusing to adequately fund the needs of these homeless animals," she said, referring to the town board. "We will not allow the community to believe that we stand behind inexcusable vacancies, programs or services."

Councilman Edward Wehrheim said it was the first time he heard the hiring request. "There was never a discussion about funding and a behaviorist," he said.

Wehrheim said the board should "cease and desist" conducting business by excluding some of its members.

DeFina, 58, of Merrick, said she was shocked that Nowick did not make the request known to the board.

"I don't understand what kind of game this is, but that's why we stepped down," she said. "We weren't going to sit here for another three, four months with no trainer."

Nowick, who along with Hansen also served on the former advisory council, thanked Stein, Madden and DeFina for their work. She said the suggestion to hire a behaviorist was not denied outright, adding, "The reason this recommendation has not been implemented is due to budgetary constraints, including and most importantly, a tax cap."

In an interview Friday, Nowick said she met during the summer with the town attorney, town comptroller and personnel director to see whether the position could be created, but was told that there was not funding for it in the budget, nor did the town plan to create new jobs at the time.

"There was no resolution to discuss and no position to discuss [with the town board], because I couldn't get past step one, which was the creation of the actual position," she said.

Hansen said at the board meeting Thursday night that the shelter is implementing several changes, such as letting dogs out of kennels three times each day, developing a volunteer training program and boosting off-site adoption events.

"It's not a panacea, but it's a beginning," she said.

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