A 2009 study by the Humane Society of the United States found that the average community spends $8 per capital annually on animal care and control. However, Hi-Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona says it receives just 64 cents per capita for animal care and control.
This statistic was a main reason workers and volunteers at Hi-Tor gathered for a Shelter Summit Wednesday afternoon outside the shelter on Firemen’s Memorial Drive. Various government officials and representatives, including Town of Clarkstown Supervisor Alexander Gromack and Town of Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence.
Hi-Tor is the only animal shelter in the county and receives around 2,500 animals per year, mainly dogs and cats but also bunnies, guinea pigs, and birds, among others. The shelter currently has an 84 percent live release rate for dogs, meaning that 84 percent of the dogs that come to the shelter are adopted, reclaimed, or transferred to another facility.
Currently the shelter has contracts for varying amounts from all five towns in Rockland, but Vivian Kiggins, executive director of the shelter, noted that among the five towns the shelter gets less than $200,000 a year even though it has a budget of around $500,000 per year. Thus for the last several years it is been operating on a deficit and reaching into the reserves, even though it needs a new roof, has leaky pipes, and has an antiquated electric system, among other issues.
“The future of Rockland’s sheltered animals is in jeopardy,” said Jeffrey Keahon, first vice president of the Board of Directors for the shelter.
The summit opened with Roberta Bangs, president of the Board of Directors for the shelter, reading Hi-Tor’s mission and vision statements. The vision statement included a quote from Mohandas Gandhi that reads, “The greatness of nation can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.”
“I can’t help but wonder what kind of judgment would be made of us in Rockland County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, based on how we treat our animals,” Bangs then added.
Next to speak was Keahon, who spoke about the history of the shelter. In particular he said that the shelter in Pomona was first built in 1973, when Rockland had a population of around 220,000, but today that population has risen 35 percent to 311,000. Yet, he noted , the shelter is still the same size as it was when it was first built.
Keahon then discussed a 2001 study of the county by the National Animal Control Association. The study made around 25-30 recommendations, according to Keahon, and all have been implemented except what the study called the most necessary one: the repairing and renovation of the shelter.
Later on Keahon returned to the podium to discuss possible solutions to this problem. These include possibly having Rockland County take full control of the center and increasing each town’s contract with the shelter. He noted that the shelter was at a “crossroads” and could not continue on the path it is now on.
Kiggins also spoke about the changes that have come to the shelter in recent years, a common theme during the event. She first came to Hi-Tor in 2009, when the shelter had a reputation of euthanizing more animals than it should. Indeed one of the later speakers, the Board of Directors' second vice president Sharon Needleman, relayed a story during her speech about a conversation she overheard at a ShopRite store a few years ago. A woman had just found a stray dog that she could not keep, and she asked her friend what she should do with it. The friend told her that whatever she does, she should not bring the dog to Hi-Tor because, “’they kill everything.”’
Kiggins, however, has been attempting to change this reputation. She realizes that before she arrived the primary way the shelter controlled the animal population was through euthanasia, but now she makes sure that those animals that are chosen to be put down are not done so arbitrarily.
“We’re in a society now where euthanizing healthy, adoptable animals is not acceptable,” Kiggins said, to great applause from the room.
After the presentation there was a short Q&A session, where one of the main questions was what the town officials in attendance would do to solve this problem. St. Lawrence spoke about his idea for a possible swapping of some of the land currently being used to build a new baseball stadium in Ramapo next to the shelter, an idea that drew loud applause from the crowd. That land is currently considered parkland and thus cannot be built upon, but if a swap occurred the operators of the shelter could use the nearby parcel to create a second building that would provide more space for the animals.
“We think they are great for the town, and we’re glad to be supportive of them, and I wish we could be more supportive by helping them get a new shelter built right here,” St. Lawrence said before his speech at the summit.
The small space is particularly an issue during disease outbreaks, Kiggins and Keahon noted during the summit. A second building would allow for sick animals to be isolated so they cannot infect the others or the human workers.
Gromack then went up to the podium and discussed how a partnership is needed to get the shelter fixed. In particular he stated that the town supervisors must work together and meet with the county leaders, particularly the county executive, to have a roundtable discussion about the issue. St. Lawrence agreed and promised the crowd he would call County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef Thursday morning to set up the meeting.
“We don’t need five shelters or six shelters,” Gromack stated. “We need one modern shelter that we can all form a partnership to support.”