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Smithtown shelter director criticized at disciplinary hearing

Smithtown Animal Shelter director Sue Hansen, shown here

Smithtown Animal Shelter director Sue Hansen, shown here in November, was suspended and now faces misdemeanor charges over her operation of the facility. Credit: Ed Betz

Testimony began Thursday in the disciplinary hearing for suspended Smithtown Animal Shelter director Sue Hansen.

Hansen faces eight counts of misconduct or incompetence related to her roughly 18-month tenure running the municipal shelter, which primarily houses dogs and cats awaiting adoption. Her lawyer, Paul L. Dashevsky, said the charges are false.

In six hours of opening testimony during which only witnesses for the town were heard, the lawyer for the town, Scott Middleton, sought to portray Hansen as an indifferent administrator who let the aging shelter grow filthy, failed to guide employees and volunteers and sometimes put them in danger.

On one occasion, a witness said, a pit bull-mix named Muzzie, because he was wearing a muzzle when they first encountered him, was allowed to roam and bit a volunteer.

Months passed before a broken fire alarm system was fixed, and sometimes the shelter ran out of food, witnesses said. The town removed spoiled food and animal bedding weighing about a third of a ton earlier this year, a witness said.

Hansen’s attorney presented an alternate picture of his client as a dedicated leader who struggled to overcome years of Town neglect of the shelter while introducing innovations like expanded hours and a meet-and-greet room intended to encourage more animal adoptions.

Hansen, hired to run the shelter in 2015, pushed to renovate or rebuild the facility, parts of which have been in use since 1963. The previous director retired under fire from animal advocates critical of shelter conditions.

After initially praising Hansen for her leadership, the town board suspended her earlier this year and banned her from shelter grounds. When she visited in violation of that order, Suffolk County police charged her with criminal trespass third degree, a misdemeanor.

Dashevsky will call witnesses next week. The hearing is scheduled to resume May 5 at 9 a.m at Town Hall.

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