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Calls for change at the Oyster Bay Animal Shelter

Advocates challenge town history of euthanasia

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Oyster Bay animal lovers  considered 2018 a terrible year for dogs at the town’s animal shelter in Syosset. Twenty-one of the 261 dogs at the Oyster Bay Animal Shelter that year were euthanized, according to Lori Prisand, an animal rights activist from Plainview. After meeting with the Town Council last March, Prisand and other advocates persuaded Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino to place a moratorium on euthanasia at the shelter.

Throughout the spring and summer, Prisand and another animal lover, Kate Cifarelli, worked closely with shelter officials to ensure that the moratorium stayed in effect, but a dog was euthanized last October after 11 days in the shelter. That reignited Prisand’s and Cifarelli’s efforts to bring permanent change to the facility, and they demanded that town officials acknowledge its problems at a Town Council meeting on Tuesday.

Saladino announced at the meeting that the town had sent out a request for proposals for an animal behavioralist who could better evaluate the animals and reduce the number that are euthanized. While Cifarelli was pleased, she said that was not enough to fix the systemic problems at the shelter.

“While the trainer who evaluated the dog and had him euthanized [last October] is gone, the supervisors who signed off on it are just as guilty,” she said. “The euthanized dogs were called ‘unadoptable.’ That shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

According to documents Cifarelli acquired from the shelter, dogs there were given a single evaluation when they entered. Shelter staff evaluated their level of aggression with tests that included grabbing their snouts and ears, forcing them to sit and lie down, yelling at them and threatening them with brandished objects. Cifarelli said that a dog named Thor had growled in response to such a threat in 2018, and was euthanized days later.

Barbara Meli, an advocate for the Companion Animal Protection Act, which advocates against euthanizing animals at shelters, said that it would be a “miracle” for an abandoned dog to pass the shelter’s tests. Meli, a lifelong advocate of animal rights and a frequent adopter of shelter dogs, explained that a stray or abandoned animal would be too fearful and under too much stress to act normally at a shelter. She shared stories about how she bonded with dogs  that had been labeled “aggressive,” saying the town should rehabilitate ate dogs rather than euthanize them.

“These dogs come in with issues,” Meli said. “It would take my rescues three years to pass these tests. If you have tests like these and trainers who do that . . . you might as well kill the dogs right away when they come in rather than have them suffer through this.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Saladino assured the animal rights activists that change would be made at the shelter while the town looks for a new behavioralist to rethink its methods. Although he had yet to decide on whether to establish another moratorium on euthanasia, Saladino said he would meet with each of the members of the Town Council to see if that would be possible. He said he was worried about the town’s liability if it failed to euthanize a violent, ill or gravely injured dog.

He added that the shelter has made some positive changes. Trainers now keep detailed records of on how much time the dogs are played with and walked. The facility is also looking into allowing the dogs to socialize with others to help ease their stress. It now requires proper documentation of a surrendered dog’s history and temperament before accepting it, and it no longer accepts dogs whose owners ask the town to euthanize them because of their violent temperaments. Town Councilman Steve Labriola, who has championed legislation focused on proper treatment  of dogs in the past, said he would be examining at the situation closely and seeking outside input for possible reforms.

“We want what you want,” Labriola told the animal rights advocates. “We need a shelter that we can be proud of in Oyster Bay.” 

While Cifarelli and Prisand agreed that the town should be able to euthanize a dog that is suffering, they urged the council to pass a moratorium on euthanizing dogs that are labeled “violent” or “unadoptable” as soon as possible. They also asked that the town allow people to volunteer at the shelter, so that those who love animals can do their part to help the facility’s canine inhabitants.

“The town needs to make changes to the shelter,” Prisand said. “They should be training and rehabilitating the dogs, not taking their lives.”