FORMER HI TOR BOARD MEMBER LASHES OUT AT COUNTY FOR LACK OF SHELTER FUNDING

Community View by Judy Stone, former Hi Tor Animal Care Center Board Member

Shame on Rockland County – our many elected town and county representatives and the community as a whole. For nearly 40 years, issues of animal care, control and welfare have been ignored. Animal care, control and welfare are issues that affect all residents in Rockland. Beyond humanitarian concerns for the welfare of homeless animals are concerns for public health and safety. Stray animals may present dangers to the public or personal pets and may cause an increase in car accidents. Feral cats are a known vector for rabies.

That 2,500 animals need care and shelter each year in a county with just over 100,000 households seems a very large number and indicates a neglect of issues that will become increasingly problematic as this ‘can’ continues to be ‘kicked down the road.’ The abysmal conditions at Hi Tor have long been documented. When the shelter was initially constructed in the early 1970s, it was predicted that additional shelter accommodations would be necessary by the mid 1980s as the human population of Rockland grew. Over a decade ago, a county commissioned study determined that the shelter was woefully inadequate. Two years ago, the county’s own assessment determined that it was beyond repair.

Nothing has changed as a result of these reports. Repairs to the facility have been minimal at best. I doubt that the work environment for the limited staff would be tolerated by employees of any other service or business.

Postings on Hi Tor’s Facebook and observations by visitors indicate that the shelter is overwhelmed with stray or surrendered animals. Some fortunate animals, mostly dogs, are reclaimed by their responsible owners. The vast majority are not reclaimed and may be offered for adoption. Many animals linger in cages or kennels for many months awaiting new homes.

Is Rockland County a community of irresponsible pet owners who abandon their pets to the streets once they become inconvenient? Are the many unclaimed stray dogs the product of backyard breeders? Or is Rockland simply a suitable place to drop them off from other communities? The feral cat population is explosive and beyond the ability of dedicated volunteers to control and manage.

Hi Tor , Rockland’s only shelter accepting all animals brought in by the public, animal control, police or owners, is embarrassingly under-funded at approximately 6 percent of the national average for animal care and control funding. [Editor’s note – claim is the author’s]

Hi Tor regularly solicits contributions of basic daily care supplies and relies on the generosity of donations to supplement the meager contractual funds for operational expenses. As a community, do we want numerous stray animals creating problems in our neighborhoods? There is no way to determine how many unlicensed dogs are vaccinated.

Rockland County needs but one adequate, sufficiently funded animal shelter. Certainly, if each municipality provided a shelter, the costs would be many multiples of current contract funding or funding for one facility. Over two years ago, a Capital Campaign for a new facility was launched by Donald Franchino and a group of dedicated volunteers with the approval of the 2012 Hi-Tor Board of Directors, an effort since thwarted.

The immediate and generous support of the public was amazing, however. Commitments for major donations, construction and materials were offered. The missing component was an appropriate parcel of land. I am astounded that given the initiative of this group, none of our many elected representatives or town supervisors offered a location to support this endeavor. I would venture that few, if any, of these representatives have recently toured Hi-Tor to experience the intolerable conditions the staff and animals endure.

As I drive through Rockland, I observe many efforts at ‘beautifying’ the towns – decorative rock walls, vintage street lights, clock towers, little used pocket parks and hanging flower baskets. Apparently these decorative amenities are of greater priority for our tax dollars than ensuring public health and safety, the humanitarian care of sheltered animals and a satisfactory work environment for employees and volunteers. Approximately $11 annually from each household would adequately fund a new facility.

What will it take for our elected representatives to address these problems? Must the shelter collapse upon itself? Must we experience a dramatic rise in rabies or dangerous dog attacks? What will it take to get their attention and action?

Election campaign season is beginning. Perhaps this is a good time to ask our representatives what they are actively doing to secure an appropriate facility for stray or homeless animals and to address other issues that I have identified. Lip service to the problems can be reserved for campaign fund raising events.

Judy Stone

New City