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For pet owners left homeless by hurricane, a temporary home for the animals

By LIZ ROBBINS

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:05 a.m. HST, Nov 19, 2012



NEW YORK » Brendan Scott flicked his fingers though the cage to reassure Raven, his 7-year-old black cat. With his parents standing behind him, Brendan, 15, was trying not to cry.

"He's like a little brother," he said, softly, of Raven. The cat and his orange companion in the next cage, Haley, had been bouncing from home to home — as their owners had — since Hurricane Sandy ravaged the family's house in Queens.

On Sunday, Brendan and his parents, Ray and Michelle Scott, were among dozens of people who left their pets behind at another temporary home, a 20,000-square-foot emergency boarding center that opened over the weekend in a vacant warehouse in Brooklyn.

Run with affectionate precision by a team of disaster specialists from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the shelter housed 137 animals by Sunday evening and was expected to house a few hundred, if not more, before the week was out. The center can accommodate up to 700 animals, who are permitted to stay for 30 days free, with full veterinary care, until their owners can reclaim them.

"At least I know they're safe, that's what matters," Ray Scott said at the entrance. Brendan added: "I'm going to come every weekend to visit."

As the weeks of anxious uncertainty drag on for the tens of thousands of New Yorkers left homeless by the storm, pet owners have been making heart-wrenching decisions about what to do with their animals.

Jim Buonamano, 73, spent several bitter nights sleeping in his flooded, powerless home in Queens while taking care of April, a 6-year-old white German shepherd, and Bella, a 2-year-old pit bull. He contacted the city's pet hotline after the storm, and two weeks later help arrived.

On Sunday, a man and a woman from Manhattan, who simply showed up in the Rockaways with a station wagon and a desire to volunteer, had been directed to deliver April and Buonamano to the Brooklyn shelter. Then they all went back for Bella.

"I'd rather she be someplace warm, even if I don't see her for a month," said Buonamano, who is now staying with a brother. "She could use a bath since she was in flood water, too."

April's arrival highlighted the effort, involving nonprofit organizations, private shelter operators, celebrity donors, veterinarians and unaffiliated volunteers, to mitigate the suffering of both humans and animals.

"The silver lining of a disaster is that some of these animals have never seen a veterinarian, or it had been a while," said Matt Bershadker, the senior vice president of the ASPCA's anti-cruelty group, which oversees field investigations.

Veterinarians from New York and others from around the country examined every animal brought in. They were aided by animal behaviorists. Taped to the cage of a Rottweiler mix was a warning for handlers: "Very Scared."

Tim Rickey, the ASPCA's senior director of the shelter, said: "They go through much worse than humans because they don't understand it."

After nearly two weeks of negotiations, the warehouse's landlord agreed on a rent of $20,000 a month, ASPCA officials said, adding that a $500,000 donation from the celebrity chef Rachael Ray, who also has contributed supplies from her line of pet food, helped defray some costs.

Forty-four cats and dogs were delivered from a Sean Casey Animal Rescue emergency shelter in Brooklyn, on Sunday, with their transport overseen by the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, an animal welfare charity that is not affiliated with the city.

There were also 48 animals whose owners had yet to be found, brought in from shelters run by Animal Care and Control from around the city. The facilities of that organization, which has a contract with the city to pick up strays, are overcrowded. The organization has come under criticism in the past because it euthanizes some unwanted animals. No animals affected by Hurricane Sandy were on that list, said Richard Gentles, a spokesman for the organization.)

The animals who arrived without owners were to be kept in a quarantined section of the warehouse, because they could have been exposed to disease, Bershadker said.

The Mayor's Alliance, through its Wheels of Hope program, has spent several days pleading with owners to put their pets in the new ASPCA center as they leave evacuation centers.

When the Queens College evacuation center closed over the weekend, an older man staying there with his fuzzy Pomeranian, Buddy, pleaded for his pet not to be sent to the ASPCA. "He said, ‘I lost everything in this hurricane,"' Debbie Fierro of the Mayor's Alliance recalled. "‘The only thing I have is my dog."'

Sharon Hunter, 51, was even more adamant that she stay with her 2-year-old ferret, Trouble.

Hunter had ridden out the storm with Trouble and her 10-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, on the seventh floor of a New York City Housing Authority building in the Rockaways. With no heat and electricity, she agreed to leave a week later only because she could take the ferret to the Queens College emergency shelter.

After nearly two weeks, Hunter said, shelter officials enticed her away with a free hotel room in Manhattan, but only on the condition that the ferret went to the shelter in Brooklyn. Hunter said she resisted, but exhaustion and the need for privacy won out Saturday night. She ended up at the Carlton Hotel, on Madison Avenue.

Trouble was enjoying the semi-privacy of a wood-paneled office Sunday, keeping company with a parakeet and a rabbit, each in its cage.






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