Tag Archive | "animal shelter"

Town Close to Signing Animal Shelter Deal

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Southampton Town is close to sealing a deal with the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation to hand over the shelter’s reins. Assistant town attorney Joe Burke is in the midst of preparing the contract and will present the highlights of the agreement to the town board on Friday, November 13, in the form of a report. This week, Burke reported that the town and the foundation have agreed on the financial terms of the contract. The town will contribute $200,000 in 2010 for the care of the town’s abandoned dogs and cats. In the following two years, the town will pay $250,000 and $300,000, respectively. The contract is for three years.
Animal control, a mandated service of the municipality, will remain a separate entity of the town. According to Burke, the animal control unit, which is comprised of four staff members, will be relocated to the animal shelter facilities in Hampton Bays.
According to the vice president of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, Dorothy Frankel, the organization hopes to maintain most of the current animal shelter staff with the exception of animal shelter assistant supervisor Christine Russell. Susan Kelly, assistant to the foundation’s chair Susan Allen, said she could not comment on the specifics of staffing.
Russell believed the foundation had eliminated her position as assistant supervisor. Animal shelter and animal control division supervisor Don Bambrick will move into the Hampton Bays location and act as supervisor of the shelter’s operations.
In their proposal, the foundation encouraged existing staff to apply for their positions and promised to provide wages and benefits comparable or better than those provided by the town.
“The idea is to make this a fluid transition,” reported Frankel.
In addition to five kennel attendants and two animal shelter education specialists, the foundation will hire additional staff. According to the proposal, the animal shelter will have a veterinary technician — a position equivalent to a nurse for human patients — a volunteer coordinator and a full-time receptionist.
Supervisor Linda Kabot said the $200,000 will come from mortgage tax revenue. Kabot will raise the amount of expected revenue from the tax from $5.25 million to $5.5 million. The difference will be used to cover the contribution to the foundation. Kabot added the Suffolk County Clerk’s office which tracks real estate sales in the area has already signed off on the measure.
At the beginning of 2010, the foundation is expected to take over care for the nearly 140 cats and 40 dogs currently housed at the animal shelter.

Petition Backs Private Bid for Animal Shelter

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Toko and Myrna at Long Beach summer '07 IMG_0106

Two years ago, Sag Harbor residents Paul and Myrna Davis adopted a golden retriever border collie mix from the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons. Before it found its way to ARF, however, the pooch was originally taken to the Southampton Town Animal Shelter, after it was found tethered to a post in Riverhead.

“If she hadn’t been found and [placed] at the town shelter, I don’t know what would have happened to her,” said Myrna of her five-year-old dog named Princess Toko. This week, Davis was one of nearly 450 people who signed a recent petition to help keep the town animal shelter open.

Almost two weeks ago, the Southampton Town Board revealed a preliminary 2010 budget with no money allocated for the shelter. For months, the town board has been mulling over privatization of the service in order to cut costs. The town spends nearly $1 million annually to operate and maintain the shelter. According to the petition, generated by local veterinarians, activists and members of the town’s Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, the shelter currently houses and cares for the medical needs of around 150 cats and 40 dogs. By law, the town is only required to maintain an animal control division. An animal shelter isn’t a mandated town service.

“That government area can be delivered by the private sector,” town supervisor Linda Kabot elaborated during an interview. “The first step [for the town] is to get out of the business. There can be amendments made to this budget for a [financial] partnership with an outside group.”

The Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, a not-for-profit organization backed by Southampton philanthropist and avid animal lover Susan Allen, has stepped forth with a proposal which appears to be one of the few viable options for keeping the shelter open. The foundation would comply with criteria already established by the town in a request for proposals, or “RFP,” released over a month ago but it has also made a few recommendations to create cost efficiencies and increase quality.

A veterinary technician, the equivalent to a nurse for animals, would be reinstated to check on the cats and dogs and prep them for surgery. The foundation also hopes to team up with Stony Brook Southampton for educational programs at the university. The shelter’s hours would be extended and the facility’s store would be reopened. Last, but not least, the foundation may explore installing solar technology to power the shelter’s facilities and reduce energy expenses. According to the proposal, the foundation encourages all of the current animal shelter employees to apply for their current positions, and the foundation has said it will maintain the same level of benefits.

The foundation does request a financial commitment of $500,000 per year from the town over the duration of the three year contract. In addition, Don Bambrick, the current Animal Shelter and Animal Control Division Supervisor, will work with the shelter, but remain a town employee. Town councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst noted that Bambrick’s salary and benefits costs the town roughly $150,000 per year. Allen will meet with Throne-Holst, Kabot and the town attorney’s today to discuss and negotiate the foundation’s proposal. Throne-Holst believed the town may ask to contribute far less upfront, but said the town’s contribution “could grow as the [town's] revenue starts to recover.”

Over the years, Allen has made several generous donations to the shelter, including over $1 million in 1999 when the shelter was first built. She is also the principal financial backer of the foundation. The foundation’s proposal said the organization has already received nearly $1.5 million in promised funding. This funding will be allocated to the foundation once the town approves the contract.

Hundreds of local residents have signed a petition urging the town to accept the foundation’s offer. As of press time, the final tally on the “Save the Southampton Animal Shelter” petition was 445 signatures.

“There is strong enough support from the community at large to guarantee support for a privatization solution in order to maintain the shelter,” wrote several residents and veterinarians in the opening letter of the petition. “It is hoped that the town, working directly with Susan Allen, can come to an agreement that results in increased welfare for the animals.”

Allen declined to be interviewed, but her assistant Susan Kelly wrote in an email that Allen’s “only interest is for the well being of the animals.” Kelly went on to write, “In these difficult economic times, more people than ever are surrendering their animals, or worse, abandoning them.”

Sag Harbor veterinarian Dr. Barry Browning added that a private organization most likely won’t make a profit from operating the shelter. He pointed out that ARF is mainly funded through private donations.

“It won’t make money. At best, it would break even. Basically, it would be an altruistic organization for animals,” noted Dr. Browning. He worries that if the town fails to privatize and is forced to close the doors of the shelter, lost dogs and cats will end up in shelters outside of Southampton Town where the animals run the risk of being euthanized.

Throne-Holst added that assistant animal shelter supervisor Christine Russell and Bambrick have formulated a “rescue plan” if the town fails to privatize the shelter.

“We discussed a real bear bones [approach] to still keep the doors open,” said Throne-Holst. The shelter would still provide housing, food and medical care for the animals, she explained, but the hours of operation would be reduced and a number of full time staffers would be replaced with part-time employees. Throne-Holst added, though, that she was still open to a private partnership.

If both privatization and the “rescue plan” fail to come to fruition, Kabot said the town will work to have other organizations or residents adopt the shelter’s animals. Others say there isn’t enough room in neighboring shelters to care for additional pets.

The Southampton Town Board is slated to discuss proposals for the animal shelter at the next work session on Friday, October 16, at 11:30 a.m.

“Hopefully, this week the council will meet and come to a solution that respects the community’s care for animals and feels lucky a private person stepped up to the plate to eliminate the financial and administrative burdens of running an animal shelter,” remarked Dorothy Frankel, who helped author the petition and will serve as vice president of the foundation. “It seems like a win-win to me.”

Town May Privatize Animal Shelter

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Facing a formidable budget year, the Southampton Town Board is exploring privatizing the town’s animal shelter and adoption center as one way to potentially save money. Under the preliminary proposal, a private contractor would be hired by the town to run the animal shelter at its current location in Hampton Bays. However, the town would still oversee animal control. East Hampton Town functions in a similar way and only offers animal control services.

The private contractor, in the Southampton Town proposal, would be responsible for providing housing and medical care for found or rescued animals, organizing adoptions, euthanizing animals who cannot be adopted or are diseased, offering inexpensive rabies vaccination clinics, and operating a volunteer program. The proposal also stipulates that the private contractor must keep the shelter open to the public at least six days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm. Currently, the animal shelter is open seven days a week.

Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst asked that the contractor be required to provide scheduled reports to the town pertaining to adoptions rates. She added that they follow the internal policies, such as the volunteer policies, already crafted and followed by the town, although it is specifically stated in the proposal that the private contractor will adhere to the town’s current euthanasia policy. Throne-Holst also worried about securing jobs for current animal shelter employees through this transition to privatization.

“I think we have to discuss some sort of protection for the people who are working there,” remarked Throne-Holst.

“Not all of our government functions are provided through the government … Southampton Youth Services is privatized … We have expanded the staff at the shelter. Now there is a concern that if we move to a privatized model, they will no longer be gainfully employed,” noted supervisor Linda Kabot as she addressed the audience.

However, Throne-Holst countered that the animal shelter staff is down to “bare bone” levels and said a provision could be added to a private contractor’s proposal to the town which would require some kind of employment security.

“All I am suggesting is that an applicant’s proposal can show how they might pursue some form of civil service protection … I think this speaks to the concerns of the staff we have right now and it is something I feel strongly about,” argued Throne-Holst. “Say we do take the shelter back [from a private contractor], what are the implications from the people working there with this interruption in status.”

According to Kabot, the town will be able to authorize the proposal, or contract, during the next town meeting on Tuesday, August 25. In early September, the town will begin accepting proposals from private contractors.

Patricia Lynch

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The journalist, animal rights advocate and former volunteer at the Southampton Town Animal Shelter, on winning her first amendment case against the town, civil rights for volunteers and taking the heat as a journalist.

 

On December 2, for the second time in two years, a court sided with you over the Town of Southampton in a first amendment rights case that sets a precedent giving volunteers the same constitutional rights as paid employees. How did this case come to be? What transpired in 2004 that led to your initial suit against the town?

In February of 2004, I had been writing a column called Shelter Stories for The Southampton Press and had been doing a radio show for WLNG in Sag Harbor, both which I did in order to try and get shelter animals adopted. Volunteering at the Southampton Town Animal Shelter, and walking the dogs on a regular basis, I saw that adoptable dogs were being euthanized, and witnessed improper care, which I reported and expected would be changed. I never reported these things in my column or on my radio show, which was an important distinction later on in the court case, but I reported these things in “letters to the editor.” They ended up being read by a lot of people. I started writing in 2002 and immediately began to have a following. I also saw a lot destructive letters from people I did not even know of a defamatory nature. I responded to the issues, but I did try to not make things personal, even when I believed the letters may have been planted or written by someone who worked at the shelter … Eventually, Donald Bambrick, who was the supervisor and still retains that title, made the decision to get rid of me. Instead of calling me, or writing a letter – giving me any notice – I went in one day, on a week day, walked the dogs and the next thing I knew four uniformed officers, one wearing a taser gun, said “You are no longer welcome here,” and escorted me off the premises. I had no warning or expectation this would happen. I left peacefully, although I made it clear I understood I had broken no rules. A lot of people were watching. It was a humiliating experience.

So I got in touch with Steven Morrelli, a lawyer in Carle Place and he informed me this was a first amendment rights issue, that I was allowed to express my opinions as long as I was not defaming anyone.

 

What happened in court?

In February of 2007, in United States District Court in Central Islip, on Valentine’s Day, I received a verdict in my favor – a unanimous jury verdict. The town actually polled the jury. They awarded me $251,000, $1000 more than we were seeking, to make the point they would have awarded us more. The judge did reduce it to $50,000 plus legal fees because it was a municipality being affected, not based on the merits of the case. He made it clear that volunteers do not hang up their civil rights when they walk in the door, as long as rules aren’t broken, and I did not break any rules. He was making a statement about the rights of volunteers and so did the jury. It was a really trying experience for me, and I think they knew that. I had my column taken away, my radio show ended, my ability to help the animals was taken away and I was even smeared in the “letters to the editor.” It was genuinely upsetting, and I truly was not doing any of this for any other reason than I felt I could help the animals. All and all, it was a bittersweet victory.

 

The original ruling, and the town’s loss of its appeal last week, upholds the precedent that volunteers should be afforded the same rights as paid employees. When you filed the suit, did you realize how wide reaching the court’s decision could be in terms of ensuring the rights of volunteers?

Yes, I did. We realized nationwide there was no protection for volunteers. We knew it would be a significant ruling, and so did, I think, the judge and jury. And then, to my surprise, after the original ruling, a town board member said I would never see a dime and they decided to appeal the ruling. They submitted papers to the appellate court, and Morrelli asked that it get there quickly for health reasons, and on December 2, we got the ruling in our favor.

 

To your knowledge, does the town have the ability to try for another appeal, or is this struggle truly over?

I don’t believe the town can appeal this decision.

 

The root of the dispute that led to your dismissal as a volunteer for the town’s animal shelter was a disagreement regarding the management of the shelter and its euthanasia policy. Do you believe things have gotten better at the shelter since 2004?

From what we are seeing now, it may be a return to the bad, old days. They are reducing extremely valuable staff, including a vet technician that is integral to the shelter. She is a very qualified person … They also just euthanized a dog that RSVP [Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets – a non profit, organization with a no kill mandate] wanted to save – an eight month old pit bull puppy whose owner was arrested and who nipped at the boot of a cop. The cop wasn’t hurt and did not file charges, and RSVP said they would take the dog and work with him. His name was Jigger and I felt terrible something could not have been done about that.

In the beginning, it did appear as if things were improving there and there were a lot of positive signs, but now things might be going back to the way things were.

 

Is there any relief now that this issue seems to be put to rest? Any closure?

There is closure in the sense that legally there appears there is nothing that can happen. I have not seen any money. There is not closure in that there are still people who don’t know what to make of this whole thing. When a municipality goes as far as they did, some people think maybe there is something wrong with this woman. But I only did any of this for the animals. As a journalist, I am used to the heat; but I always had NBC right behind me. But here I was in a town where a lot of people did not know me except through what happened.

 

What is next for Pat Lynch?

What is next is for me to get back to work, in the world of journalism. That is what I would love to do. I really miss it. I worked for Gannett [News Service] and all three major networks, so I have a lot of experience. It would be nice to get back to something that serious. 

 

Shelter Has an Opportunity

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This week we learned that the Town of Southampton Animal Shelter has lost three of its employees, because their positions were eliminated from the 2009 budget.

Southampton, like many towns this year, had to be creative in its attempts to cut costs and freeze spending for the town as a whole, and in doing so, they decided to get rid of one of the most important positions — one the entire shelter depends on — the veterinary technician.

Is $44,000 a year too much to pay for shelter dogs’ health? The treatments a vet tech can provide in house greatly reduce the costs and the risk of larger health issues for animals. If a dog or cat has to be treated elsewhere – we understand the town will pay almost six times more for the treatment.

Although we think it’s important to have the appropriate staff on hand to treat shelter animals, we were a little surprised to learn that the shelter costs the town something in the neighborhood of $1 million a year to run — this is more, councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst noted, than the town spends on their human services department. There isn’t near enough revenue coming into the shelter to offset the $1 million budget.

There has to be a compromise. But we don’t feel it makes sense to omit a job that will save the town $44,000 a year while adding to the financial burden of outsourcing medical care for animals. We feel strongly that efforts should be made to structure the shelter so that income might offset some of the expense.

We like the idea of the shelter providing a doggie daycare and boarding services. Not only would services like this bring in extra income, but they might entice a family that has been reluctant to adopt an animal in the past because of the cost of boarding pets when they travel. Maybe there could even be a special fee set for boarders who have adopted their animals from the shelter.

Doggie daycare is another good proposition – one that could greatly increase the town’s revenue. There simply aren’t many options like this for dog owners who would like to have their pets supervised and socialized during the day.

Maybe it’s time for the shelter to think like any successful business by recognizing a need and filling it. There’s no reason the shelter couldn’t and shouldn’t be transformed into an income-producing venture.