As the stock market climbs up and back down again, some in the Town of Southampton are concerned with what is happening to our four-legged friends – those that are unable to take care of themselves.
Last week at a Southampton Town Board meeting, people who care for cats and dogs within the town, worried that as the unemployment rates go up – so do the number of animals finding their way to the town’s shelter. When the town announced its finalized budget for 2009 – the Town of Southampton Animal Shelter learned that three positions at the shelter will not be filled for next year. Those included a veterinary technician position and two kennel attendants.
Controversy arose over the elimination of the veterinary technician position from next year’s budget. Members of the shelter and the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons (ARF) came to the meeting to speak on behalf of the position.
Although ARF is a privately funded organization, executive director Sara Davison was the first to speak during the public portion of last Tuesday’s meeting about the elimination of the position.
“I would like to question such radical changes in staffing after one year of data,” Davison told the board.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, the board’s liaison for the animal shelter, said on Tuesday that she will be meeting with representatives of the shelter about the eliminated positions and to consider new revenue sources for the facility, including possibly doggie daycare or grooming at the Hampton Bays location.
In an interview on Monday, Davison added that she is also disappointed to learn that the Town of Southampton will not be providing her Wainscott facility with a $10,000 grant to help pay for food and care for animals there as it has done in the past. Davison said the grant amount represents one quarter of the cost to run the Operation Cat Program in Southampton. That program has helped to capture, spay and neuter 10,000 feral cats in its 10 years of existence.
Zoe Kamitses, an ARF board member, said that ARF spends almost $40,000 a year on Southampton Town animal control and even with the $10,000 ARF received in the past, “it is hardly a break-even situation.”
“This is the year people should give — whether it’s money or just their time,” Kamitses said on Tuesday. “This is the year we will have a hard time making it.”
Kamitses said that both ARF and the town shelter rely heavily on volunteers and added she understands now that many people are losing their jobs and cannot afford to give, but she hopes more volunteers will come forward to donate their time.
Davison agrees that now is a difficult time for people to give and believes that with the increase in unemployment, more animals will end up in shelters.
“It’s definitely a cause for concern,” Davison said, “It’s been building for some time, and with the extreme downturn of the economy in October, there is a little bit of a lag with the increase of pet abandonment.”
Davison said the total number of adoptions at ARF through the end of November is 650 and the total adoptions for the entire year in 2007 was 579.
“I have already received a lot of calls about people who are not going to be able to keep their dogs,” said Davison who added that it’s usually not a decision that people take lightly. “I’m afraid it’s only going to increase.”
Davison explained that one reason people give up their animals is because they can no longer afford to take care of them. The second reason, she says, is that people have to relocate in search of work or more affordable places to live.
“In this area, even the middle class is feeling the pressure,” she said, adding that those in winter rentals are looking to move into a different house come summer and may not be able to keep their pets because of a landlord.
“This is not conducive to pet ownership,” she said.
Davison said that although the problem exists nation wide, with tens of millions of animals euthanized each year, the northeast has witnessed a decrease in those numbers.
But now, according to Kamitses without the funds to pay for spaying and neutering those numbers may go back up again.
“We barely see a [stray] kitten now in Montauk or Southampton,” she said citing the success of the Operation Cat Program, which relies on private donations as well as grants from both East Hampton and Southampton. In East Hampton, ARF’s $7,500 grant has also been eliminated from the 2009 budget.
Kamitses said that if spaying or neutering of stray cats stops, it will be detrimental to the community.
“A pet provides wonderful love to a home,” Davison said, “Anyone thinking about coming to the shelter now, so they have a pet as a companion during these difficult times should come.”
On Monday, Davison explained that a litter of pit bull puppies came to the shelter –there is still one brindle puppy left, looking for a loving home.
She added that for those who can’t afford a pet or afford to give a monetary donation can still help simply by visiting the adoption center to take dogs for walks or sit and pet the dogs and cats at the facility. ARF will also accept food, blankets, newspapers, towels or any other household items for the animals. Davison said she would also like to invite volunteers to come in to help with grooming, bathing or other tasks that could help with the upkeep of the animals.
“Donations don’t have to be monetary,” said Davison who added that money still is important for ARF. “We can’t stop medicating animals now, just because we are in a recession.”