2016-12-22 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Merry Mitzvah!” For the first time in over a decade, Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah will fall on the same day this year– on Dec. 24. The last time they coincided was in 2005, when the Jewish “festival of lights”- Hanukkah -landed on Christmas Day. This has happened a handful of times over the last hundred years- in 1918, 1921, 1959 and 2005.

Both holidays are about giving. One Hebrew definition of “mitzvah” is a “good deed.” On this rare calendar coincidence of traditions, it’s timely to celebrate local “mitzvahs” helping pets in need:

*DONATIONS- Perhaps Salvation Army bells resonate the mood, but people do seem more generous this time of year. Community groups step up their donation drives. Many schools and scout groups give supplies to animal shelters. Some girl scout troops hold bake sales to raise money so they can purchase shelter supplies. Next month an East Meadow elementary school will hold a school-wide supply drive for Last Hope. Each grade (K-6) will be collecting a specific item. For example, kindergarten will be donating canned cat food while fourth grade will gather rolls of paper towels.


“The Wizard of Tom” “The Wizard of Tom” “Kids Adopt a Shelter,” founded in 2011 by 16-year-old Long Islander Sean Martin, focuses on getting students involved with their parents to enrich supplies and materials available to individual shelters and rescues. The group has organized pet fashions shows to bring awareness to the plight of homeless pets. “Kids Adopt a Shelter” has extended its reach of compassion to pet facilities across the US.

Shelter Link (the volunteer army) at Babylon Shelter set up a “Giving Tree” campaign this year. They asked people to come to the shelter to select a paper ornament off the lobby tree containing a requested item, such as martingale collars or cat combs which the donor would then purchase to add to the gifts under the shelter tree. A longtime shelter supporter family sent Babylon the vacuum cleaner on their Amazon wish list.

For the last two years, a Nassau couple hosted a Hanukkah house party where, rather than exchange gifts with one another, they ask their guests to bring donations for dogs at Last Hope. They delivered a mound of dog food, toys and cleaning supplies. Their son happens to be a veterinarian who adopted a senior dog with multiple medical issues when Last Hope moved to Wantagh five years ago. The Hanukkah party gifts have become a way to memorialize little “Olive.”

“Blankets for Buster and his Friends,” in its fourth year, is a mission to provide every shelter dog on LI and surrounding areas with a warm blanket in honor of “Buster,” a Pit residing at the North Fork Animal Welfare League for over five years. He’s never had a home. Valerie Sanks of Rocky Point began the blanket drive in honor of Buster, saying, “One dog can change the world, a blanket at a time.” With the help of volunteers and donors, this year’s goal is to collect 10,000 blankets already being distributed to shelters on LI, Westchester and further upstate.

*Time – Clusters of volunteers are at Babylon and Hempstead shelters everyday to walk, socialize, exercise and love dogs and cats which don’t belong to anyone. These volunteers are the homeless animals’ advocates and their surrogate families. Some volunteers are retired; others visit after work. Shelter Link escorts Babylon dogs to off-site adoption events on many weekends. While they are walking the trails, the volunteers keep posting their favorite shelter pups, often “lifer Pits,” on social media in hopes someone will see the potential they see in a particular pet.

In contrast, Last Hope is completely staffed by volunteers over 600 dedicated people who clean, feed, medicate, record clinic notes, train, do home checks, walk, socialize, transport and adore the canine and feline residents. You would swear some volunteers lived at Last Hope.

*Space – Cage and kennel space has always been the most precious commodity in municipal shelters. Over the last 30 years LI shelter policy has progressed from immediate euthanasia, no matter how adoptable, as soon as a stray hold was over, to extended stays of years for many dogs. During that same period, the dog population morphed from mostly Shepherd, Lab and Collie mixes to over 90% Pits and Bully breeds. Owners wanting to surrender dogs of any breed wait months for a spot.

Town shelters in more affluent and less-populated areas are not as packed with Pits. North Hempstead and Southold have been helping Babylon free up kennel space by taking several of their Pits or complex dogs at a time. Recently Babylon dealt with two seizures of many dogs from hoarding and backyard breeder situations. These cases greatly impacted the rescued and the rescuers. Canine victims require space, extra resources and staff time. When legally signed over to the town, raid dogs can move to private rescues. Almost Home, Second Chance and Bobbi & the Strays have taken dogs from the neglectful homes. This helps both the dogs and Babylon Shelter. Shelter Link will sponsor Babylon dog adoption fees for the rest of the year.

*Home for the holidays– Certain dogs linger at the shelter for behavioral reasons. “Wizard,” a young Yorki-poo, was allegedly thrown from a car and found cowering under a bush in June. He’s been at the shelter since then. At first he was a pyranha to everyone; later he gravitated to his favorite people. Tom Bernagozzi is the small dog whisperer at Babylon Shelter. He also grooms the dogs to make them more comfortable. Tom gets to know the little guys and wins their trust. You see him walking around with his new pals under his arm. Wizard is possessive of Tom.

Several homes fell through for Wizard. Tom was hesitant to take Wizard to his home because he has small male dogs and was afraid Wizard would not share him. Last Saturday he took Wizard Home for the Holidays on a trial basis. He has an elaborate plan to mesh his dogs with the Wizard. So far, the “Wizard of Tom” is behaving. Fingers and paws crossed.

*FOR ADOPTION: “CJ” 6-647 is a fluffy, middle-aged cat found with wounds that have since healed. He’s at Babylon Shelter -631-643-9270. “Dutch,” a young Treeing Walker Coonhound, lost his mangled rear leg. He was discovered in a Kentucky ditch. He is at Last Hope (631-671-2588) and loves everyone. Merry Christmas!

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