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Amid pandemic, LI animal shelters are far from empty

Pixie, a 2-year-old at Last Hope Animal Rescue

Pixie, a 2-year-old at Last Hope Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Wantagh, loves being petted and can't get enough of your attention. Credit: Last Hope Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation / Linda Stuurman

As the outbreak stretches on, officials on Long Island say there are plenty of animals available at municipal shelters, after an initial rush nationwide showcased rows of empty cages, perhaps at some private shelters.

“We still have animals at shelters that need homes; if people could offer homes even for a little while, it would help,” said Gary Rogers, board president of the Nassau SPCA.

There are about 27 cats and dogs at the Town of North Hempstead animal shelter, a spokesman said. And springtime is kitten season for all shelters.

“We have two dogs, five cats — and a lot of kittens,” said Dori Scofield, founder of the Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station. Her group has 25 kittens in foster homes that soon will be vaccinated, neutered or spayed, and ready for new homes.

Though shelters usually must separate bonded pairs to get them adopted, that won't be the case for two dogs — Crumbs and Manchitas — rescued by Scofield after they likely were hit by cars and left for dead in Mexico where she was vacationing.
“They love each other so much,” she said of the duo, both outfitted with wheelchairs.

The Islip Animal Shelter and Adopt-a-Pet center reports no reduction in pet adoptions as a result of the pandemic.

And Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said, “With people at home due to the pandemic, it is a great time to introduce a new pet into the family. … I would invite anyone looking to adopt a loving cat or dog into their family to contact our animal shelter.”  

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While there have been rosy headlines about Americans bringing home shelter pets because they have some extra time and wish to ease the anxiety and boredom of quarantines, there are some downsides. 

Consider Mia, a healthy and affectionate German shepherd mix at Wantagh’s Last Hope Inc. Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation. The young dog arrived from a crowded Texas shelter shortly before the pandemic shut those South-to-North rescues, said Linda Stuurman, who chairs the group’s board. Some of those Southern shelters become high-kill when they hit capacity.

“The whole intake system has broken down,” Stuurman said. 

The shattered economy that has forced shelters to cancel vital fundraisers also has prompted concerns that some newly jobless people will relinquish their pets, fearing they no longer can afford food or veterinary care.

Both Bethpage’s Island Harvest and Long Island Cares, the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Hauppauge, stock pet food, and a number of rescue organizations aim to help with medical bills, experts said.

Will recently adopted animals be returned to shelters after quarantines end? 

“What happens when this is all over, when it’s back to school, back to work?” asked Suffolk SPCA chief Roy Gross.. “I just pray people will do the right thing and not abandon animals [but] bring them back to the shelter.”

With most private and public shelters closed to the public during the pandemic, experts advised people who wish to foster or adopt to contact Long Island’s SPCAs for advice and help. 

After the outbreak, pet owners might need to prepare for a bit of separation anxiety, experts said. Both Rogers and Gross — whose animal-cruelty investigations have continued — noted complaints about barking dogs have diminished markedly, presumably because they are inside with their owners.

For some animals, quarantines also might be growing stale. Rogers, referring to his own cat and dog, wondered if they were thinking: “Can you leave today so we don’t have to play with you? We like to take a nap during the day.”

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