North Hempstead advocacy group seeks cat shelter

Local activists are seeking a cat shelter in North Hempstead. There is none there now.

By Amber Bianchi 

Stuart Kroll, citizen leader of a local effort to create a Town of North Hempstead cat shelter, spoke recently of a 35-year-old paramedic who died unexpectedly at home among his cats. Without a local shelter, Kroll said, the cats were left on the street.

“The town could do nothing for a guy who served the town,” Kroll said. 

North Hempstead residents say they have struggled for years to bring a cat shelter to their town. Kroll and Roberto Bonelli have spoken out at more than 20 town meetings, organized rallies and flooded the town’s call line for hours. To date, however, North Hempstead officials have not moved to create a cat shelter, though there is a town animal shelter that serves dogs.

Bonelli got into helping wild cats, called feral cats, while living in Queens. He joined the effort to aid feral cats when he spotted a kitten on the side of the road while walking home. The defenseless creature was dragging and shredding her paw on the ground. Bonelli picked up the kitten, which came to be known as Cherry, and brought her to an organization called KittyKind.

KittyKind took Cherry to a veterinarian, who recommended the leg be amputated. “She was just on the streets, and nobody did nothing,” Bonelli said. 

Bonelli paid for Cherry’s amputation, and she was sent to a foster home that became her forever home. 

Bonelli is now certified in TNR (trap, neuter and release), helping to maintain and contain Long Island’s feral cat population. Marcelle Sheehan, of Great Neck, lets Bonelli place traps at her home to capture and neuter felines. Bonelli traps the cats and brings them to a veterinarian, who neuters them, vaccinates them for rabies and tips their ears to indicate they are feral. Once recovered from surgery, the cats are given to a caretaker, who returns them to the streets or surrenders them to a shelter. Young kittens might be put up for adoption.

“One of the issues is that household cats who are let outside will knock up feral cats,” Kroll said. Thus, the need for trapping and neutering.

Roberto Bonelli setting up traps to capture the feral cats and neuter them. // Photo by Amber Bianchi/ Long Island Advocate

Voters 4 Voiceless posted a petition on to push North Hempstead elected officials to fund an animal shelter for cats. On Feb. 6, activists from the group gathered in front of North Hempstead Town Hall, with signs and banners in hand. They said they hoped to apply pressure to Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena to create a cat shelter.

Kroll regularly speaks at such events, but Desena has not responded to his pleas. The supervisor declined to comment for this article. 

The Town of North Hempstead has six council districts. According to Kroll, only Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte, of the Sixth District, has responded to the activists.

Budgets dedicated to the Town of North Hempstead animal shelter. //Canva Graphic by Amber Bianchi/ Long Island Advocate

In 2023, the Town of North Hempstead’s total yearly operating budget was $89.2 million, with $869,800 dedicated to its animal shelter, which handles dogs. In the Town of Hempstead, the total budget was $504 million, with $5.6 million for its animal shelter, which serves dogs and cats. In North Hempstead, the allotment for the shelter represents less than 1 percent of the total budget, and in Hempstead, it’s 1.1 percent.

A trap set up to capture feral cats. // Photo by Amber Bianchi / Long Island Advocate

The Town of North Hempstead does host spay/neuter clinics once a month. As well, according to a news release, North Hempstead has a voucher program in partnership with the Port Washington Animal Hospital to supplement its spay and neuter program for feral cats. “These vouchers, which are paid for by the town, would allow a resident to bring a feral cat in need of this surgery to the Port Washington Animal Hospital,” the release states. “This service is intended to supplement the town’s [free] TNR program,” in addition to a free spay/neuter clinic. 

Marcus said North Hempstead could provide feral cat training for residents, greater resources for cat rescuers and monthly cat veterinary clinics.

Animals, Bonelli said, deserve respect. “I don’t care if it’s a rat, it’s a living creature,” he noted. “Give it enough time, you can appreciate what its qualities are, and it will give you affection to the best of its ability.”