Gillen proposes privatizing animal shelter


Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen is considering the privatization of at least some of the operations and services at the town animal shelter in Wantagh, which has been plagued by controversy for years.

As she looks to implement changes in the “day-to-day operation” of the shelter, Gillen said, in a recent memo to town board members, that privatization could be “one approach to address shelter concerns/issues."

Requests for Qualifications and Proposals were issued on Monday, seeking an outside organization to run the shelter, a new or additional behavioral consultant to work there and a group to provide off-site veterinary services for shelter pets.

In a letter to members of the town board on March 9, Gillen also wrote that her office was reviewing, with shelter staff, all policy and procedure documents to update where necessary for best practices. Updates would include modifying the Trap Neuter Release program and adding security cameras in the kennels, trailers, medical van and other locations at the shelter where employees and volunteers interact with shelter pets.

Gillen also said all shelter staff and volunteers will be required to participate in annual training on handling and respectful treatment of animals – and proper record keeping practices. She proposed transferring the jurisdiction of the town shelter from the Department of General Services to the Department of Public Safety, for special oversight. And she wants to change the name of the shelter division from "Animal Shelter and Control Division" to "Division of Animal Services."

“While these recommendations will not resolve all of the issues at the shelter, it is important to begin the process of moving forward with corrective measures,” Gillen said.

Gillen, has called the shelter "a lightning rod for controversy," and said residents have flooded her inbox with grievances against the shelter and that the shelter is contending with multiple lawsuits. On Feb. 1, she asked Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman to conduct a financial audit of the shelter. Accepting the request, Schnirman said his auditors will look at shelter hiring practices, and determine if too much money is being spent on people who are not qualified to do the job to which they are assigned.

Gillen’s spokesman, Mike Fricchione, said on Monday that the supervisor’s office has not yet seen any information from Schnirman’s audit, and that the privatization proposal should be considered separately from the audit.

“When we invited in the comptroller, [Gillen] said that we were looking at all options, including the privatization of all functions,” Fricchione said. “This has been a priority since before [Schnirman] came in.”

Members of the town board responded to Gillen's letter on Monday, saying the members shared her commitment to the welfare of the animals in the town, and to improving performance of the shelter. The board, however, asked for a financial impact study of privatizing the $4 million shelter operation in order to consider the cost to taxpayers for the proposed changes. In the letter, board members urged Gillen to consider utilizing the towns "highly capable CSEA workforce."