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Islip Animal Shelter touts its successes

Kennel Attendant Andrea DaSilva, left, and Animal Control

Kennel Attendant Andrea DaSilva, left, and Animal Control Officer Teri Giacalone greet dogs up for adoption at the Town of Islip Animal Shelter. (Oct. 2, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

At the Islip Animal Shelter, adoption rates are climbing, euthanasia rates for dogs are falling and the campaign to re-brand the facility as an adoption center is in full swing, said shelter supervisor Joanne Daly.

Tucked in an industrial area off Sunrise Highway in Bay Shore, the shelter had a problem with low community visibility -- and poor perception, said Daly, who has worked there for 12 years.

It was viewed by the community as a pound where dangerous animals went to be euthanized. But recently, Daly said, the shelter has worked closely with the town to market itself as an adopt-a-pet center rather than a last stop for homeless animals.

"When I first came in, they would euthanize three animals in the morning and three in the afternoon," due to space limitations, Daly said.

While the staff still euthanizes dangerous and sick animals, they have had more success uniting homeless or surrendered pets with other shelters, rescues and foster families. The shelter has euthanized eight fewer dogs a month this year than last year, and is on track to put down almost 100 fewer in 2012 than in 2011.

This is occurring even though animals are being surrendered in far greater numbers this year, which Daly attributes to the weak economy. In 2011, 132 people brought in pets. So far this year, they've turned in 362 animals.

"There are still people who are falling on hard times," Daly said. "When they have to leave their homes or they can't support feeding and medical bills, they're turning them over to the shelters."

This is especially true for cats. In 2011, 29 cats were surrendered compared with 240 so far this year. The shelter has seen an influx of feral cats, which often carry diseases and must be euthanized to prevent infecting other animals.

Meanwhile, adoptions of shelter dogs -- at least 60 percent of which are pit bull mixes -- hit a record high for the year in August, with 71 finding homes.

"Our shelter is a place of hope and opportunity for many, many individuals and families," said town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia. "We have a pet for everybody -- we have a match."

The shelter has improved its social media and community presence -- it has a Facebook page featuring pictures and stories of each adoptable animal -- and has hosted public events, such as a dog wash and microchipping. An adopt-a-thon Oct. 13 is expected to draw hundreds to the shelter.

Daly hopes the event results in permanent homes for many of the shelter's pit bulls, thanks to the fame of Joey, the pit bull pup thrown from a moving car in Brentwood in August. His permanent family is to be announced then.

"If we keep on going the direction we're going, it can only get better. We're out of the dog pound era," Daly said.

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