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Animal advocate tapped to head Smithtown shelter

Susan M. Hansen, newly appointed Smithtown Animal Shelter

Susan M. Hansen, newly appointed Smithtown Animal Shelter Director, handles a kitten with a volunteer at a home in Shirley, Sunday, July 19, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The Smithtown Animal Shelter, which has been beset by criticism over the past year, may have a fresh start with a new shelter supervisor.

Smithtown Town Board members voted 5-0 July 14 to amend a union deal to reduce the position's salary and appointed Susan M. Hansen, 59, of Rocky Point, to the post at $83,000 annually.

Hansen's appointment is subject to a 26-week probationary period, and her start date will be set pending the results of a drug screening and other medical tests.

"Her interview was so excellent," said Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick, who chose Hansen from the six top scorers on the Suffolk County Civil Service list. "The things she has done in the past knocked everybody outside of the water."

Nowick, the board's shelter liaison, said she was impressed by Hansen's work with animal rescue groups -- including Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets, based on the East End, where she has volunteered for the past decade, and Hansen's own nonprofit organization, A Better Shelter Inc., which works to improve shelters Islandwide.

Hansen is a grant analyst for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works -- a skill Nowick said could be put to good use for future wish-list items, such as having a surgical room and veterinarian on staff. "Where a municipality can't do that because of the expense, grants are very important."

Hansen said she is looking forward to working with members of the Smithtown Animal Shelter Advisory Council to develop policies to improve the shelter, which Nowick said houses about 15 dogs and 80 cats.

"I intend to make drastic changes," Hansen said. "I'm a very conscientious person about cleanliness and having a welcoming shelter environment."

Among her top objectives are reducing the shelter cat population through adoptions and establishing relationships with animal rescue groups.

Over the past year, animal advocates alleged that former shelter director George Beatty -- who retired in June with a salary of $119,629 -- failed to enforce cleanliness and allowed cats to suffer from infections. He has denied those claims.

Diane Madden, an appointed advisory council member, said she credited changes to advocates "who exposed the conduct at the shelter and the suffering of the animals."

Madden said she liked Hansen's euthanasia policy -- that only suffering, terminally ill animals and those with extreme aggression that cannot be rehabilitated or safely released should be euthanized. Hansen is "no-kill minded, rescue-friendly, community-embracing," Madden said.

Hansen said she spent her career as a computer programmer and worked briefly as a math teacher but has always volunteered to help animals -- such as at Brookhaven and Riverhead town shelters.

"I enjoy them for their innocence and their beauty," she said. "And when they're in need, I feel compelled to help."

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