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Nov 11, 2009 1:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays students rally for animal shelter

Nov 11, 2009 1:40 PM

When seventh-graders in Kathleen Colihan’s public speaking class at Hampton Bays Middle School started their unit on animal shelters last month, they had no idea their own Southampton Town Animal Shelter was in trouble.

But when they found out that was the case, they leaped into action, designing posters, soliciting donations and preparing orations for a school panel discussion that was held last Wednesday, November 4. At the forum, held in an upstairs hallway at the school, Ms. Colihan’s class of about 20 students formed panels and made brief speeches arguing in support of the town funding the Hampton Bays shelter and keeping it open.

The Southampton Town Animal Shelter has an uncertain future after the town’s 2010 budget allocated no funding for the facility, which employs nine people and costs about $1 million a year to run. Over the past few weeks, the town has been working on closing a deal with a private foundation that is looking to take over and run the facility.

“Animals need homes. They should not be treated badly because of Southampton Town’s financial difficulties,” said Rebecca Harris, 12, addressing a crowd of more than 40 of her peers.

The students also fired questions at Christine Russell, the shelter’s assistant supervisor, who visited the school with her Sheltie-Pomeranian mix, Cherokee. Ms. Russell told the students that the shelter’s future is looking brighter, referring to negotiations with the nonprofit called the Southampton Town Shelter Foundation.

The town is now in negotiations with the nonprofit, led by philanthropist Susan Allen, to split the shelter’s operating costs. The shelter is now home to about 130 cats and about 30 dogs, Ms. Russell said.

When Ian Fleury, 12, asked what would happen if no one takes over the shelter, Ms. Russell replied: “That’s not going to happen.”

That was welcome news for most of the students.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen to all the animals,” said Nick Carlisle, 12. “I feel happier that it’s staying open instead of closing.”

Ms. Colihan’s students prepared their statements and questions on index cards during about three weeks of practice and research on animal shelters around the country. Some of them devoted their speeches to a burgeoning national problem—people who abandon their pets when their homes are foreclosed. The animals have come to be known as “foreclosure pets.”

“I think that’s wrong because people are leaving them behind,” said Mishelle Gonzalez, 12. “It’s not their fault. They’re silent victims.”

As Cherokee, who was herself rescued from a shelter, skittered freely on the floor with audience members, Ms. Russell fielded questions about the day-to-day business of the shelter workers and the prospects for would-be volunteers. Kids under 18 can volunteer as long as a parent comes with them, she said, and they would be asked to spend time with the animals to socialize them.

This week, Ms. Colihan’s students, in league with the students of another animal-loving English teacher, Jennifer Mulvey, began papering the school in handmade posters supporting the shelter and calling for donations. The classes are collecting dog and cat food, towels, blankets and brushes to donate to the town shelter.

“The kids blew me away with their concern and intelligence and articulation,” said Ms. Russell. “We might have gotten a couple volunteers out of this, which is great.”

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Good job, kids!
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Nov 7, 09 1:50 PM
2 members liked this comment
A Million Dollars for an animal shelter? In this economy? We can all appreciate the feeling the children express, but lets spend the money educating the children instead.
By considered opinion (2), southampton on Nov 9, 09 2:42 PM
Agreed.....or how about a million dollars to feed hungry children in the Town of Southampton....
By MaryMac (43), Riverhead on Nov 12, 09 8:40 AM
Then can the 130 cats and 30 dogs come live with you? Or should they just be released?
By cpk21 (16), Hampton Bays on Nov 12, 09 11:27 AM