by Robert Kimmel
Months of uncertainty over the future ownership of the vacated Westchester Pets Alive animal shelter in Elmsford ended in December with an unexpected turn of events. Pets Alive in Middletown, New York announced it was turning the facility back to the Town of Greenburgh. There had been expectations that it would transfer the shelter directly to one of the several animal rescue organizations from whom it received proposals in October.
Soon after the announcement, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner said that he would arrange to have the property deeded to Paws Crossed, a recently formed non-profit group which includes many of the staff and volunteers who had worked at Pets Alive Westchester.
“I think that they are very energetic and enthusiastic; a hard-working and passionate group, “ he told The Hudson Independent. “I think that they will do a really great job.”
“I will ask the town attorney and Town Board to work with Pet’s Alive and Paws Crossed so we could immediately transfer the property to Paws Crossed when the town takes over the property,” Feiner said. “We want to transfer the property upon receiving the deed since the town doesn’t want to incur expenses associated with maintaining the shelter.”
Noting that he was “pleased with the result,” he added that “The Elmsford Animal shelter is a very special place –with hundreds of volunteers and passionate animal rights advocates.”
Pets Alive Inc. cited mounting expenses and major structural problems prior to shutting down the no-kill shelter at 100 Warehouse Lane South in September. There were indications it was prepared to sell the property for commercial use; however, Feiner intervened, noting that when the five-acre property was sold to the Central Westchester Humane Society by the town in 1995 for $10, there was a requirement that it be used only for an animal shelter or for municipal purposes. Pets Alive had taken over its operation in 2010 from the Humane Society.
When making the recent announcement, Pets Alive Inc. Acting President and Board Chairman, Dr. Joseph D’Abbraccio, in referring to Greenburgh, stated that, “The town knows its constituency and could more easily work with another animal rescue organization to get the appropriate building permits and meet the other needs to restart operations as an animal shelter.”
A legal agreement would need to be drafted, at which point, Pets Alive Westchester would file an application with the New York State Attorney General’s office to get approval to dispose of the property, he said. While Pets Alive, Inc. in Middletown and Pets Alive Westchester had operated separately, both were overseen by the same board of directors.
Without any word from Pets Alive early in December in regard to the proposals it had received, Feiner said he was “… prepared to initiate a lawsuit to take back the property if they don’t proceed and turn over the property to another shelter.”
“We have a long road ahead of us,
but we have witnessed what the
professionalism, empathy, and yes,
tenacity this Westchester community has for a true no kill shelter can do!”
“I’m a little surprised but very happy,” exclaimed Jennifer Angelucci, President of Paws Crossed, when she learned of Pets Alive’s decision. Angelucci, who had managed the Westchester Pets Alive facility, said, “We are all very excited about how things turned out. We will check our options and do our due diligence.”
As for help, Angelucci noted that many of the staff who were working there before are “…willing to come back and work pro-bono for six months to a year while we get started, so that will be a huge help and then we have a group of 50-plus volunteers that are willing to help. So we a really great support base behind us to help whenever we need it. We don’t need to worry about the staffing. We have been doing some fund raising, already received a grant, and we’ll be starting a capital campaign when things get a little more final for us,” she added.
“We’ll get our engineers in there to check the building and be sure everything is okay and start planning to move forward,” Angelucci noted. “We are aware that only parts of the building are usable. We might section off parts of the building, putting up temporary office space, possibly in a trailer. We are not opposed to using just part of the building, while other parts are being repaired, slowly in phases.”
“We have a long road ahead of us, but we have witnessed what the professionalism, empathy, and yes, tenacity this Westchester community has for what a true no kill shelter can do!” Paws Crossed Animal Rescue Chairman Julie Williams said. More than 1,500 signatures had been added to an online petition calling for Pets Alive to turn over the Elmsford property to a new organization to operate it.
When Pets Alive Inc. transferred some 60 dogs and cats to its Middletown shelter and left the Elmsford location, the building was declared unusable by the Greenburgh Town Building Inspector because of structural problems, mainly at a loading dock and at part of its entrance area. Repair was estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
However, at subsequent meetings with Feiner and Crossed Paws representatives, the Inspector, John Lucido, indicated that while there were issues with weak fill under and around the loading dock, it could be fixed. Lucido said that while repairs were being made to that and other areas, other parts of the location could be used with the guidance of an engineer.
Pets Alive Middletown explained that it is continuing to support “about 60 cats and dogs that are part of the Pets Alive Westchester Forever Foster Program,…and all of the animals evacuated from the Elmsford Shelter not yet adopted.”