Town responds to animal shelter issues

Mold and a sewage drain backup

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Mold issues, drains that back up with sewage near dog cages, urine-soaked blankets, and cages with feces—these were the issues brought up by Brookhaven Animal Shelter volunteers, several long-standing, in two town board meetings, six at the June 8 meeting, 20 at the May 8 meeting.

Emails and phone calls to supervisor Ed Romaine and others are not returned, volunteers said, except recently, councilman Michael Loguercio responded regarding updating the shelter website with animal posts. A Change.org petition, that attracted over 1,500 signatures, requested the return of supervisor Linda Klampfl, who has a rescue background and who founded and still heads the nonprofit Almost Home. Klampfl was moved to Town Hall in April after three years to work on policy issues, then quit May 29.

“She got a whole new front office; it was run well and was welcoming,” said volunteer Kathleen Kocher, one of three volunteers the Advance spoke to. “Linda came in on holidays so the dogs weren’t just sitting there. She walked the dogs herself. She rehabbed the dogs and got them out.”

Hocher, a 20-year volunteer; Jennifer Marcello, a two-year volunteer; and Darlene Ghents, a 13-year volunteer, recently spoke to the Advance at Hocher’s home. Issues have existed all along, but worsened, they said.

Kocher further explained the situation.  “It’s not fixable unless they take down the building,” she said. “A lot of kennel aides come in after the animals are there for 12 hours.  They move the dogs, take the hose, hose down the floors and under the rugs, walls. Sometimes they have so many dogs they can’t move all of them and it’s hard to clean the kennels. And we’re told there’s nothing they can do. The water goes down the drain and it’s not meant to hold the volume, so it backs up, making the floor slippery. Also, the hoses leak.”

Deputy commissioner of Public Safety, Dave Moran, who came on board overseeing the animal shelter in February, spoke to the Advance after addressing some of the volunteers’ concerns at a June 29 town board meeting.

Response to the mold and drain issues

Moran responded to the cleaning, mold, and drain backup issues. 

“It’s a constant dynamic down there,” he said, referring to the dogs, which can range sometimes at 100 and other times at 60.  The amount will swell after holidays like the recent July 4th weekend, where dogs get out. Then a week or so later, some owners contact the shelter and get them back.

“Those pens are cleaned top to bottom every day. But you can’t be there every second. It’s easy to see in the moment, but come back 15 minutes later. The kennel attendants do the best they can. Twice a day the dogs are walked and fed. As for the drain backup, when the building was expanded, it was over a cesspool cover. It wasn’t a problem for years, but now it is an issue. We’re hiring an engineer to examine it and are suggesting installing a pipe through the side so it can be pumped out.” For the mold issue on the ceiling, “You might come here on Monday and see it; then we’ve treated it, and three days later it’s gone.” 

A shelter tour was requested by the Advance, but was denied. “Brookhaven Town has a policy of not giving tours to the press,” was the town response. It was explained that in the past, cameras, etc., upset the animals.

Improvements pledged

While Kocher pointed out the kennel attendants overall are conscientious, as are most who work there, she said the shelter was understaffed; there were at least 90-plus dogs and 65 cats, and not enough attention paid by town administrators.

“There’s only so many dogs you can spot check,” said Marcello. “The part-timers are told to leave when their shift is over. It’s not as if you can shut your computer and leave.”

“They never seem to hire enough people,” added Ghents.

Moran said an assistant supervisor had been hired, Cathy Antos, a former Southampton Animal Control supervisor. “We’re in the process of finalizing our veterinarian, Dr. Ashley Caruana. We’re allotted seven full-time and 13 part-time kennel attendants. My position is, with 20 kennel attendants, I think there’s a lot.”

There was a $75,000 design/engineering 2023-2027 Capital Project Cost Analysis Building & Improvements request for 2023, that included the redesign of the front office and expanded storage areas needed. Offices and the veterinarian’s area were to be refreshed with new flooring, ceiling tiles, and wall covering. It was noted, if updated, it would increase the likelihood of locating a tenant for the space and offset costs for the shelter.  A $500,000 2024 request for redesign/new flooring and new ceiling was also in the 2023-2027 Capital Project Cost Analysis. 

Brookhaven’s Finance Department commented that the 2023 Adopted Capital Budget has a “grant awarded but contract not yet received” for the animal shelter for $293,000.  The town has a 50 percent match on this grant. It took, they said, almost 18 months between submitting the application and final execution of the contract, which was this March. The town has spent just over $1 million in animal shelter facility improvements since 2018, the Finance Department said.

“Last year we did a front entry project with new doors, new flooring in the lobby, new restrooms, and a sprinkler system for the building,” Moran said. “We plan on upgrading infrastructure, lighting, internet services and security cameras. We’re adding an extension, a formal isolation room. If you have to treat animals with airborne diseases like ringworm, they need to be kept in isolation so it doesn’t filter back into the building. They’re monitored day to day and would be kept in a separate room until the veterinarian determines it’s no longer a health threat.”

Moran said the town was putting money into the shelter clinic.

Besides the maintenance complaints, the volunteers brought up, the question about the switching of Linda Klampfl to Town Hall and then her quitting in frustration was raised.

At the board meeting, Moran said that the shelter lacked policy, and that it was imperative that the town cross-train employees and create teams and holding people accountable.

“To Linda’s credit, she cared for and concentrated on the dogs,” he said. “But the shelter was going way over budget, which prompted more attention and caused the supervisor’s office to review the day-to-day procedures. Organization of supplies and medicines in the shelter seemed to be a problem through several previous directors.”

The town looked into privatizing the shelter last year, Moran said.

“We put out an RFP [Request for Proposal] and there was little or no interest, so administration took a deeper dive,” he said.

“We utilize volunteers and because of union rules, they can only walk the dogs. Granted, there were some issues at the shelter,” he said. “But now we have a full-time maintenance mechanic and a maintenance schedule. Also, we needed policies like transporting dogs to a parade.”

Moran said, while volunteers work with the dogs, there were no guidelines about transporting them.

Klampfl could not be reached at press time. But a source close to Klampfl said she was told she was too involved with the dogs as well as staff; also, Klampfl was said to have no input into the budget and wasn’t given the resources needed.

Volunteers said they tried to meet with Moran. Moran said he gave them several dates and wanted to include the assistant supervisor and the veterinarian they hired in on the meeting, because, as newly onboard, “I can’t answer all their questions [by myself],” he said, agreeing that a future meeting would take place. “It’s still in the process of being set up.”

Moran did praise them. “The volunteers are an integral part of the operations of the animal shelter,” he said. “They provide the resident animals extra time out of their kennels, which is paramount to their quality of life.”

The shelter is nearly 50 years old.

The shelter was built in 1984 and is approximately 35,000 square feet. Years ago, under town supervisor Mark Lesko, there was talk of a new shelter. Islip Town has a new one; so does Babylon Town. Moran was asked why, with Brookhaven being the largest town in Suffolk County, a new one never materialized? And if that’s not feasible, why not make the shelter better than it is?

“Those are administration decisions,” he said. “I don’t think we need a new one. Our facility works and we’re in the middle of a five-year project. The best thing about our shelter is our kennels; they are super clean and have the necessary infrastructure. And there’s accessibility to go in and out if we are going to rebuild it. I think we need to do a better job around it. Our goal is to get better.”

Would more events be taking place, as in the past? “With a new assistant shelter supervisor, the answer is ‘yes,’” he said. “With our new vet, we can do more rabies clinics. The latest plan is to hire a shelter supervisor at some point.”