“He was my first brother,” said Dave Bernacchi, the founder of Pets4Luv, at its home on the second floor of the Westbury Source Mall. Bernacchi pointed to a picture of an injured silvery woolly monkey named Joey, which his mother, Carol, adopted when she volunteered for the nonprofit Simian Society of America.
Bernacchi has been rescuing animals his entire life, he said, starting with squirrels and birds, which his mother taught him to bottle-feed should they fall out of a tree.
When he was older, he joined her in rescuing monkeys and, in 2008, he founded Pets-4Luv, an animal rescue and adoption center that currently houses more than 50 dogs and cats.
Bernacchi recently received an eviction notice from the new owners of the mall, and Pets-4Luv now has until January to find a new home.
Lesso Group Holdings purchased the 512,528-square-foot property in the spring of 2017, and its local branch, Lesso Home New York Market, plans to replace the mall shops with a Chinese home improvement store and entertainment complex to be completed in 2019.
Bernacchi said that the new owners initially agreed to find a different space in the mall for Pets4Luv, but last week he received the eviction notice. In a statement provided to the Herald, a Lesso representative said that the company supports Pets4Luv’s mission, but “it is unsafe for the shelter to remain on the [premises] due to heavy construction that puts both people and animals at risk.”
“We should be celebrating our 10-year anniversary,” Bernacchi said, interrupted intermittently as he spoke with the Herald by the barks of an 11-year-old dog named Chloe.
Sue Zichlin, a volunteer at Pets4Luv, explained that Chloe was found severely neglected at a home in Islip from which she was rescued in March 2016, along with a 15-year-old dog named Bagel. “They’re happy now because they get love and they get attention,” Zichlin said. “But Chloe gets scared meeting new people.”
She continued to bark, and Bernacchi raised his voice and said, “It’s OK, Chloe, it’s OK. Honest.”
This is the second time Pets4Luv has faced eviction. Its original home was the Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, but it was forced out in 2012 when the mall’s new owners wanted space to build a restaurant.
Bernacchi spent $62,000 of his own money to rent and repair the nonprofit’s space in the Source Mall, which was completed in 2013. In the interim, the animals were sent to a temporary shelter and housed in cages, which will be the case once again if Pets4Luv doesn’t find a new home by January.
Robin Weiss, a volunteer and an East Meadow resident, said that isn’t a chance she’s willing to take. Weiss gave the Herald a tour of Pets4Luv, explaining that most of the rescued animals are neglected or injured and require open space, rehabilitation and special attention. She added that some are aggressive and untrusting when they are brought to the shelter, but are rehabilitated with the care and attention that she and her fellow volunteers provide.
“They’ve come so far,” Weiss said, her voice cracking as she choked back tears. “They can’t end up living in cages.”
Bernacchi added that Pets4Luv hosts several community programs, one of which involves older adults and children reading to the animals. “That’s all gone if we don’t find a new space,” he said.
In the best-case scenario, he added, the nonprofit would find a building to rent for a low price. To raise money, it is holding a flapjack breakfast fundraiser at Applebee’s in Westbury on Sept. 23 from 8 to 10 a.m. To find out more, go to www.facebook.com/Pets4Luv.