Hempstead residents seek tougher protocols at town animal shelter

Lesley Simmons of Point Lookout spoke at the Sept. 19 Town of Hempstead Board meeting how her cat, Spirit, was euthanized without reason by a South Shore veterinary center that the town contracted with until recently. // Photo by Ethan Albin/Long Island Advocate

By Lily Anzalone, Ethan Albin, Michelle Rabinovich and Dylan Aleixo

Town of Hempstead residents are calling for a lost-and-found database at the town’s animal shelter in Wantagh, as well as an enforced five-day waiting period to hold animals within their care, to ensure that no pets are unnecessarily euthanized in the future.

At the Town Board’s Sept. 19 meeting, residents said pets that were found on the street and taken to the Hempstead shelter were sent within a day’s time to a South Shore veterinary center for euthanizing, against commonly accepted protocols that require a five-day waiting period.  

The Advocate is not identifying the local business because the residents’ claims about the particulars of their cases could not be independently verified.

Shelters are obligated to hold animals before they assume ownership of them and put them up for adoption or euthanize them to give possible owners an opportunity to find them. Waiting periods range from two to 10 days across the United States, according to the New York State Bar Association. In New York City, the mandate is three days, and elsewhere in the state, it’s five days. With weekends factored in, that often means the holding period is seven days across most of New York, according to a 2018 bar association memorandum.

When asked for comment by The Advocate, Hempstead Town spokesman Greg Blower said, “The grief of losing a beloved pet is painful, and we sympathize greatly with the families and animal lovers affected by this unfortunate circumstance.

“An internal investigation,” he said, “is being conducted to ensure the proper protocols and procedures are being followed by both animal shelter workers and contracted vendors.”

Blower further noted that the town ended its contract with the veterinary center, and the town is withholding its payments.

Town of Hempstead residents said at the Sept. 19 board meeting that they were seeking guarantees that no pets would be euthanized without a five-day waiting period. // Photo by Dylan Aleixo/Long Island Advocate

“I need to have a guarantee from the Town of Hempstead that my tax dollars are not
paying for people to kill animals,” Lisa Gunn of Point Lookout told the Town Board. “I’m devastated, and they’re not even my pets.”

Point Lookout resident Lesley Simmons was the first to come forward about the shelter on Sept. 19. Her cat, Spirit, age 17, was found outside and brought to the veterinary center, where he was euthanized. Spirit had broken his hind legs six months prior and was in recovery at the time of his death. He was found in the backyard of one of Simmons’ neighbors by an out-of-state visitor on April 16. The visitor called the Town of Hempstead, and Spirit was taken to the veterinary center in question within an hour.

According to Simmons, when Spirit was admitted to the center, his visit was not recorded. Spirit’s collar was disposed of by the veterinary staff, and the cat was put through multiple tests, including an EKG and X-rays.   

“Everything came back relatively normal,” Simmons said, “but they deemed him in ‘poor condition’ and recommended euthanasia.”

Simmons said the total veterinary bill was $1,300, and euthanizing the cat cost $200. Hempstead Town was billed for the testing and euthanizing over the course of 60 days, as well as for multiple other animals that were put down by the veterinary center. 

“I need to have a guarantee from the Town of Hempstead that my tax dollars are not
paying for people to kill animals. I’m devastated, and they’re not even my pets.”

Lisa Gunn, Point Lookout

Another cat, Toast, was euthanized at the center on Sept. 2. His owners, Joan and Scott Craig of Wantagh, spoke at the board meeting about what happened at the shelter. Toast was found by a neighbor, who brought him to the town animal shelter. Officials there did not take the cat’s photograph or post him to a lost-and-found page, deeming him ill, according to the Craigs. He was sent a nearby animal hospital, given a round of tests and diagnosed with dehydration. The hospital then sent him to the veterinary center in question, which monitored him for two hours before euthanizing him at 6 p.m.

“None of this would have happened if policies and procedures were followed by the staff and they had held him properly for the five days,” Joan said. “This could have never happened if they had a proper lost-and-found system that utilized today’s technology and social media.”

When reached for comment on the case, an employee of the veterinary center, who identified himself as Kenny, said, “I am aware of a case where I think one [pet] was brought in through the Town of Hempstead that was believed to be a stray.”

The center only euthanizes animals “when medically appropriate to prevent suffering,” according to the employee, who added, “We do humane euthanasia. If there [are] no other treatments or alternatives possible, euthanasia is always the last resort, so whatever we would be able to treat, we will.”

Before the Sept. 19 meeting, residents gathered for a vigil to honor the pets who were euthanized while under Town of Hempstead protection. // Dylan Aleixo/Long Island Advocate

A small vigil was hosted outside of Hempstead Town Hall before the Sept. 19 board meeting to honor the lives of a few animals who were euthanized. Owners made signs asking the board members to end the town’s contract with the veterinary center. Vigil attendees brought the signs into the meeting and propped them against the lectern while speaking to the board.

“No collar does not mean there is no home. No microchip does not mean there is no
home,” said Joanne Cave of Hempstead.