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Smithtown's Vecchio calls for new town animal shelter

Cats at the Smithtown Animal Shelter in Smithtown

Cats at the Smithtown Animal Shelter in Smithtown on June 13, 2014. Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio is calling for a new town animal shelter to be constructed after visiting the site. Credit: Ed Betz

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio is calling for the construction of a new town animal shelter after finding "awful, overcrowded conditions" on a recent visit and amid allegations that shelter animals lack proper veterinary care.

Vecchio asked the town board to consider building a new shelter at its facility at 410 E. Main St., in Smithtown, where it was originally constructed in the 1950s.

"It's overdue," Vecchio told the board in May. "I don't want to talk about the deficiencies in public, but there's a whole lot of them."

The shelter houses about 100 cats and 17 dogs inside its roughly 4,000-square-foot space, as well as about 20 chickens, peacocks, Pekin ducks and pheasants outside, officials said.

Vecchio said the shelter was "not adequate, in my opinion, for our needs," but emphasized that his proposal was not a result of the allegations.

Amanda Wilson, co-founder of Golden Paw Society -- a Huntington Station-based nonprofit that finds permanent homes for cats that live in town animal shelters across Long Island -- said by late April the group had pulled 48 cats and two dogs from the Smithtown Animal Shelter.

"They have fleas and ear mites," Wilson said at a town board meeting. "They also have internal parasites" that "are extremely contagious to cats, dogs and humans," she added.

Wilson also expressed concern regarding the shelter's $655,991 annual budget, which allocates $16,000 for veterinary care and supplies, but more than $600,000 for employee salaries.

However, shelter supervisor George Beatty said the internal parasite -- giardia -- was treated promptly and blasted Wilson's comments as "grandstanding." He defended the expenditures, saying that medical supplies are purchased at steep discounts and veterinary care is sufficient.

"In any organization, labor is the most intensive part," he said, adding that the shelter employs nine workers.

The Town of Babylon houses about 60 dogs and 60 cats and employs 17 staffers, said town animal shelter director Chris Elton. The shelter's annual budget is $874,689, which includes about $527,000 for salaries and $140,000 for veterinary care and some supplies.

Beatty said Smithtown staff consistently treat ear mites and that contagious parasites can easily spread in a room that is home to many of the shelter's felines.

Reports from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets' Division of Animal Industry, which oversees annual inspections of municipal shelters, show that the Smithtown shelter met care standards from 2010 -- the earliest date of retained records -- to August 2013, when the most recent report was done.

The reports include nearly 20 observations -- such as "housing area and equipment is sanitized regularly" and "veterinary care is provided when necessary" -- next to which an inspector marks "yes," "no" or "not applicable."Despite the compact space, Beatty said the shelter also serves residents with its trap, neuter and release program, which has neutered more than 800 cats over the last seven years. Frank DeRubeis, town planning director, said the town can't construct another building behind the shelter because it's on a landfill. "One of the key things we have to consider is while we're doing all this, the animal shelter has to continue to operate," he said, projecting a cost of about $3 million.

If plans move forward, Smithtown would join other towns updating their animal shelters, including Huntington and Babylon. Elton said the trend makes sense given that shelters were initially designed to hold animals for short periods. "Most shelters on Long Island are currently doing much more than what the shelter was designed for," he said. "The level of care that our animals get has increased exponentially."

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