Pets Alive Considering Alternatives to Elmsford Shelter in Westchester

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| by Robert Kimmel |

Mounting objections that followed Pets Alive’s July announcement that it would close its no-kill animal shelter in Elmsford within three months are causing the organization to explore other options to maintain operations in Westchester, or possibly even cede the land to the Town of Greenburgh.

Town Supervisor Paul Feiner has pressed Pets Alive Board Chairman John Sibley to hold off moving pets from the local facility to its Middletown, NY site where it intended to consolidate its activities. Sibley had notified Feiner late last month that, “Within the next seven days we hope to transfer the first five dogs.”

While Feiner expressed hope that Pets Alive “…would work together with the town, volunteers and community to save the shelter,” he wrote Sibley that if “… it is not interested in continuing to operate the shelter in Elmsford, please convey the land back to the town. We would issue an RFP and find another suitable shelter operator to run the facility.”

“We are certainly open to that and I hope we can talk more about it at the next meeting,” Sibley responded, adding “we’re investigating a lot of options right now and need a little time to sort through them, but we’ll make sure the dialogue continues.”

“More than one organization has offered to take over the operations if invited to do so,” Feiner wrote. He informed Sibley that another pets advocacy group, “…had expressed interest in renting some of the property at the shelter. He added that could, “generate some good revenue for the shelter and help turn around the finances of the Westchester operation.” Expenditures at Pets Alive Westchester last year exceeded its revenue sources by $130,000.

Sibley replied that he was contacting that organization, “and we’ll make ourselves available to meet as soon as possible.”

Citing structural problems in its Elmsford building and the climbing maintenance costs coupled with declining revenue, Pets Alive, apparently intended to sell the five-acre site at 100 Warehouse Lane South, which it took over from the Elmsford Animal Shelter in 2010.

However, Feiner told a crowd packed into an “emergency” Town Hall meeting he called earlier last month that Pets Alive could not sell the property to a commercial enterprise. The property originally was donated by the County to the Elmsford Shelter in 2010. As a county legislator in the 1980’s, and early 1990’s, Feiner had a major part in keeping the Elmsford shelter operating and supporting the construction of the existing building.

He informed the gathering that Greenburgh Town Councilman Francis Sheehan and Town Attorney Tim Lewis discovered a “…deed restriction stating that ‘the grantee, its successors and assigns shall use the said premises solely and exclusively for park, recreational, or general municipal purposes, or an animal shelter in Perpetuity.” Both Sheehan and Lewis were on hand to reiterate the meaning of the deed and explain its enforcement.

There was no shortage of volunteers associated with other non-profits and animal rights advocates that offered ideas and help. They included Susan Katz of the Hudson Valley Pet Food Pantry in White Plains, Courtney Bellow of Special Needs Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation, and representatives of an ad hoc group, “Save Our Westchester Shelter,” which claims 400 supporters.

The next day, Feiner, accompanied by Sheehan and Lewis, met with the Pets Alive leadership, including Sibley. Feiner was optimistic following that session. He told The Hudson Independent that, “The meeting was very positive, very encouraging. We talked about working together, cooperating with different options.”

The 40,000-square-foot building housing Pets Alive Westchester is a troubling factor for the organization. It was closed for several months last year because of structural problems. Sibley wrote that in addition to the maintenance costs, it is simply too large for the needs of the community.” For dogs, for example,” he added, “it has more kennel space than the entire NYC shelter system.”

At the end of July, there were 57 dogs, including puppies, and 46 grown cats and kittens at the shelter at Pets Alive Westchester, according to Mary Ann Bopp, the organization’s Development Director.

A planned meeting late in July between Feiner, and Greenburgh officials with the Pets Alive leadership to discuss further the possible options for Pets Alive was postponed, because more time was needed by the non-profit to consider those alternatives, according to Bopp. “We are continuing to explore options as to how we can have a presence in Westchester County, but in a smaller type facility” she said. “We are not just closing the door and saying goodbye to Westchester County. We value the support we have in Westchester.”

Bopp explained that the special adoption program Pets Alive is offering for animals at both its locations, eliminating its regular fee for a donation, to help accommodate its potential move, was drawing more interest for its dogs and cats. “We know that all the animals will not be adopted by the time we have to physically close and so those animals would be transferred to our Middletown facility and we also can’t do that overnight –there is a stress factor in moving the animals, and we want to make sure that they are moved appropriately and safely.”

At its Middletown, Rockland County facility, about 180 cats and 110 were being harbored. That location also serves as a farm, with goats, pigs and two horses.

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