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Oct 21, 2009 12:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Despite cuts, town animal shelter to cost money next year

Oct 21, 2009 12:57 PM

Southampton Town officials and representatives of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation met last week to discuss the foundation’s bid to take over operation and management of the shelter next year.

The meeting ended with the foundation agreeing to rework its bid to reflect town requests that the foundation kick in more dollars to run the shelter during the first year of the proposed three-year contract, Assistant Town Attorney Joseph Burke said.

The foundation is chaired by Southampton philanthropist Susan Allen, who contributed more than $1.4 million to help build the shelter in 1999.

“It was a positive meeting,” Mr. Burke said. “I think both parties left the meeting with high hopes of making this happen, making this work.”

It cost about $1 million to operate the shelter this year. Funding for the animal shelter was cut from the proposed town budget for 2010, which also proposes 44 layoffs—including all nine shelter employees—and cuts to town services. 
Whether the town can and will follow through with that remains to be seen while the negotiations continue. The plan to privatize the shelter, and lower costs to the town, has been spearheaded by Supervisor Linda Kabot.

Compared to neighboring towns, Southampton’s animal shelter cost is second only to Brookhaven, which spent $1.94 million on its shelter this year. Riverhead operated its own shelter at a cost of about $300,000 this year, but is also considering privatizing. Southold owns an animal shelter that is run by the not-for-profit North Fork Animal Welfare League. Shelter Island and East Hampton do not operate animal shelters.

“Right now it’s all about the dollars and cents,” Mr. Burke said. “Hopefully, [Ms. Allen] will be coming back with a revised proposal with a lower cost to the town.”

The current bid calls for the foundation and the town to each pay $1.5 million over three years to finance the shelter. The proposal also calls for all nine full-time shelter employees to have the opportunity to continue working at the shelter, with the exception of Assistant Shelter Supervisor Christine Russell, who is not being asked to stay on.

Susan Kelly, a foundation spokeswoman and aide to Ms. Allen, said two new full-time positions—a veterinary technician and volunteer coordinator—also would be created. A veterinary technician position was eliminated from the shelter’s budget last year.

“The foundation wants to make sure the animals receive the best care possible,” Ms. Kelly said. “The veterinary technician was there before, and most shelters have a veterinary technician, and she should be reinstated.”

Though the shelter employees will lose their health benefits and pensions once they leave the employ of the town, Ms. Allen will be offering a similar benefits package to shelter workers as the town’s, Ms. Kelly said.

Other changes are also planned at the shelter.

Ms. Kabot said animal control officers will take on duties of shelter employees, including animal training and aggression testing. Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who is running against Ms. Kabot for the supervisor seat this November, has objected to folding animal control into the animal shelter because of the additional workload for the control officers. She did not return a call seeking comment this week.

At the shelter on Tuesday, employees were busy treating and feeding animals and volunteer dog walkers came and went throughout the morning.

While numerous employees expressed hope that the shelter will continue to have high standards in animal care under different management, one employee, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, expressed concern that the foundation would not prevent dangerous dogs from being adopted.

Under current policy, the shelter performs an aggression test on dogs kept at the shelter after four days. An animal behaviorist performs a series of tests that lasts about 15 minutes, and the tests are videotaped for shelter records. The results of the tests are later reviewed by a behavior assessment committee, which determines if a dog is safe for adoption.

The employee feared the foundation would not institute the same level of review over potentially dangerous dogs.

“If that happens, then these dogs could be sent out into the community and be living next door to kids,” the employee said, adding, “The foundation can do whatever they want to do with the dogs.”

Mr. Burke, who said the issue was not discussed with the foundation last week, said the foundation’s current bid does not address how the shelter will assess dangerous dogs.

“I guess it would really be the foundation’s purview as to what dogs they would be adopting,” Mr. Burke said. “I think it would be totally up to them.”

He added that the town does not want dangerous dogs to be adopted and that the town will seek to have the foundation continue current policies at the shelter.

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It is wonderful that compassionate Southampton citizens stepped up immediately when the Supervisor eliminated the Animal Shelter from the Town budget. It makes one proud to be a Southampton resident.

However, their generosity is not needed, and allowing the Shelter to absorb such a masively disproportionate share of the budget cut will make it the victim-of-choice when future economic crises tax the public purse.

Simply, compassionate animal control, paid for by tax dollars, and ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Oct 21, 09 12:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
The animal shelter is a very complicated issue, and I don't pretend to understand it all. Highhatsize makes a persuasive case, but he doesn't mention the alternative of privatization of the shelter, which is also under consideration. While privatization doesn't seem to make any sense for waste management (a proposition to which even Chris Nuzzi has finally agreed), it may be a viable option for the animal shelter. You may hear candidates tomorrow say that they want to look at privatization, and ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Oct 22, 09 12:35 AM