07/12/11 6:00am
07/12/2011 6:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | The Lhasa Apso mix and pit bull mix found July 1.

The Riverhead Town Animal Shelter is searching for the owners of two dogs found in Calverton earlier this month.

A Shih Tzu/Lhasa Apso mix, estimated to be about three-years-old, and a pit bull mix, estimated to be about six-months-old, were found on Donna Drive July 1.

Neither dog had identification tags or microchips. They are described as friendly and playful.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Riverhead Animal Shelter at 369-6189.

06/22/11 12:57pm
06/22/2011 12:57 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Puppy Experience on the Main Road in Aquebogue.

Animal rights advocates and pet store owners clashed Tuesday over a proposed Suffolk County law to ban the retail sale of puppies unless pet store owners get the animals from shelters, rescue groups or local breeders.

Legislator Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), who sponsored the resolution, said the ban is needed because the majority of puppies sold in pet stores are purchased from large-scale commercial breeding operations, known as “puppy mills,” in other parts of the country.

According to the proposed bill, which was subject to a public hearing at Tuesday’s county Legislature meeting in Riverhead, puppy mills breed dogs “like livestock” and sell them as young as five weeks old, despite federal regulations banning the sale of puppies less than eight weeks old.

“This resolution has to do with the horrific conditions in which mother dogs are bred in puppy mills,” Mr. Cooper explained at the meeting, adding that he believes every pet store in the county sells puppies obtained from puppy mills.


A  woman who answered the phone at Puppy Experience in Aquebogue, the North Fork’s only pet store, said the proposed law wouldn’t affect her business because she doesn’t “sell dogs from puppy mills.” When asked where the dogs were obtained from she replied, “No comment. Thank you,” and hung up.

Other pet stores in eastern Suffolk did not return calls seeking comment.

Nearly 30 people expressed their opinions on the proposal Tuesday.

While many pet store owners admitted to purchasing their puppies from Missouri — a state Mr. Cooper said is notorious for puppy mills — they denied their breeders were unprofessional.

Huntington resident Al Selmer, who has owned a pet store for 45 years, said he purchases puppies from the Midwest because local breeders won’t do business with him.

“People that breed dogs here do not want to sell to me because they have a market of their own,” Mr. Selmer said. “What this bill will do is have more people selling dogs out of their homes.”

In addition to discouraging puppy mill sales, the law aims to promote animal shelters, rescue organizations and Suffolk County breeders. A breeder is required to register with the state if it breeds more than nine dogs a year, officials said.

Sara Davison, executive director of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons in Wainscott, said she’s pleased the ban would discourage consumers from purchasing from pet shops.

“The pitiful state that puppies are displayed in local stores plays to the heartstrings of the unsuspecting public,” Ms. Davison said. “It’s time Suffolk County joins a national trend and bans these businesses that support the puppy mill industry.”

About 2 million puppies are either purchased, sold or adopted across the country each year, Mr. Cooper said, but nearly 5 million dogs die in shelters each year.

Bambi Nicole Osborne, a spokeswoman for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the bill “falls well short” of reducing the population of unwanted animals.

“Breeders, shelters and rescues in Suffolk County do not have the capacity to provide pet owners with all breeds of dogs desired,” Ms. Osborne said. “Banning importation of dogs from outside the county will not stop pet owners from going elsewhere [for] their companion animal of choice.”

Ms. Davison added that the county doesn’t have legal authority to adopt the proposed bill because the state supersedes all regulations related to pet sales.

But Mr. Cooper said he’s confident the bill will pass and be upheld, citing recent bans in New Mexico and Texas.

In addition, Suffolk County became the first municipality in the nation to create an animal abuse registry as a way to shame abusers. In May, the Legislature unanimously approved a new law requiring pet stores, breeders and animal shelters to check the animal abuse registry before allowing the purchase or adoption of animals by prospective pet owners. Mr. Cooper sponsored both bills.

If the puppy ban is approved, the Suffolk County Department of Consumer Affairs would be responsible for enforcement. First-time violators will face a $500 penalty per puppy and a $1,000 penalty per puppy for subsequent offensives.

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05/22/11 10:35am
05/22/2011 10:35 AM

The second annual Long Island Fleece & Fiber Fair was held at Hallockville Museum Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead Saturday. Demonstrations and workshops include spinning, sheep herding by border collies, weaving, wool and fleece dyeing, sheep, llama and alpaca shearing, needle felting and more.

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BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Emma Babbino, 8, of Smithtown, enjoys petting a sheep named "TT" from the L.I. Livestock Company in Yaphank.

05/05/11 6:52am
05/05/2011 6:52 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Janice Fleming holds the now deceased mantis shrimp that she and her children Tristan, 3, and Lakota, 9, found while wading in the bay at Indian Island Park.

Janice Fleming was walking along the beach at Indian Island County Park on a sunny day last month when her 3-year-old son, Tristan, pointed to a pair of googly eyes staring up at them from the water.

Upon closer inspection, the Flemings, who hail from Flanders, realized those eyes belonged to a small and extremely unusual looking crustacean that had mandibles, pinchers and about a six-inch tail.

“I picked him right up,” Ms. Fleming said. “I put him in a little bucket and he tried to flip. I didn’t realize he was trying to pinch me.”

They assumed their new pet was a baby lobster, and Ms. Fleming’s 9-year-old daughter, Lakota, held the bucket on the drive home.
But the Fleming family, which also includes daughter Breana, 15, and dad Kevin, soon realized the creature didn’t much look like a lobster, a shrimp or any other sea creature they’d ever seen. After a Google search for “life cycle of crustaceans,” Ms. Fleming realized what they’d found: a mantis shrimp.

Neither a shrimp nor a mantis, the mantis shrimp is native to our area, though it is rarely seen because it lives in deep burrows and is nocturnal, according to Atlantis Marine World biologist Todd Gardner. The species got its name because it looks like a cross between a shrimp and a praying mantis.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A mantis shrimp at Atlantis Marine World aquarium.

“It’s not something you would see normally being at the beach swimming or fishing,” Mr. Gardner explained.

At home, the Flemings put the mantis shrimp in a plastic tank, having read that mantis shrimp can crack glass tanks with their powerful tails.

Mr. Fleming said the family would travel to the bay twice a day to circulate their little habitat with new saltwater. They also fed it mussels, snails and tiny shrimp that they pulled from the bay.

Even with all that special attention, the little guy died last Sunday after about a 10-day stay with the Flemings. Tristan seemed puzzled as to why the creature, which he had come to call “Shrimpy,” was not moving as he examined the exoskeleton.

“He was just so cool,” Mr. Fleming lamented.

Mr. Gardner said the mantis shrimp was probably sick because they don’t usually hang out near surface waters. He said Atlantis gets a call about twice a year from someone who’s found a mantis shrimp, frequently near the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays. Atlantis has its own mantis shrimp on display.

“If you go diving, sometimes you come across a whole expanse of hundreds of holes,” he said. “They’re about two inches deep. If you shine a flashlight you can see them.”

The creature can be brown, like the one the Flemings found, or brightly colored like the one at Atlantis.

As for the Flemings, they plan to stay on the lookout for another pair of bug-like eyes.

“He was just so beautiful in the water,” Ms. Fleming said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever catch another one.”

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04/16/11 5:24pm
04/16/2011 5:24 PM

Last Chance Animal Rescue Fund held an adoption day at Petco in Riverhead Saturday.

The charitable, non-profit organization, takes animals that are located in “kill” facilities and underwrites the costs of relocating them to “no kill” facilities in hopes of finding them a permanent home. The organization, which saved 850 pets in 2010, depends on donations to continue to help these animals.

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BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Ally (left), a two year-old femaleTerrier mix and Cola, a female year-old Dutch Shepherd share a pen at Last Chance Animal Rescue Fund adoption day at the Petco store in Riverhead..

04/13/11 12:09pm
04/13/2011 12:09 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Gary Magnus, wife Mimi Myers and their terrier Molly spotted a harp seal on a Greenport sandbar.

Walking their dog along the beach by their Greenport home Saturday morning, Gary Mangus and his wife Mimi Meyers came across a seal on a sandbar.

That’s far from a rare occurrence, but this one was different. The size, coloring and behavior were a dead giveaway that this was not just another common harbor seal.

Their silky terrier, Molly, was equally amazed.

“She started wading right out there, which is unusual since she’s afraid of animals, including other dogs,” said Mr Mangus. “The seal didn’t move, but it did make a barky kind of sound, but it didn’t bark and the dog didn’t either. I pulled her back because she could have been his lunch.”

The Southold Town police officer who responded to their call told them it was a harp seal weighing about 200 pounds. That’s four times as much as a harbor seal, which unless gravely ill would likely have immediately scampered back into the water.

The day before, on Friday, an adult harp seal was spotted in downtown Riverhead as well, in the Peconic River not far from the Peconic Avenue bridge, the western end of the river’s saltwater section. Julika Wocial, rescue program supervisor for Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, checked it out the and said the seal displayed normal swimming and diving behavior. It didn’t appear to be sick or otherwise in distress.

As an arctic species, the two harp seals strayed far from the icy waters of Canada or Greenland where most are usually found this time of year.

They’re far from home, but not alone.

Harp seals are showing up in record numbers all along the East Coast as far south as North Carolina, and marine biologists can only guess why, said Kim Durham, biologist and rescue program director for the Riverhead Foundation.

The group started hearing of juvenile harp seal sightings about 15 years ago. “Occasionally we’d see an adult, but in bad condition,” said Ms. Durham. “This year we’ve got a lot of adult sightings. We’ve never seen numbers like this before.”

Harp seals can be recognized by their black faces. They’re name comes from the marking on the backs of adults, which resembles a harp or a saddle.

The foundation has logged reports of about 50 harp seal sightings this year, five times as many as 2010. Seals, including the more common harbor and gray species, usually begin to appear in East End waters in January. This year harp seals have been spotted as far west as Long Beach and the Rockaways.

A loss of habitat and an overabundant population seem to be the two most likely explanations, said Ms. Durham.

Harp seals spend little time on land, preferring to haul out instead on pack ice. Some marine biologists believe shrinking levels of sea ice are forcing the seals southward, said Ms. Durham.

“At this time of year harp seals get a new coat by molting,” she said. “They’d haul out on the ice and basically soak up the sun. That helps out in the process. One theory is they now don’t have as much ice to haul out on.”

Harp seals are also found in large numbers in the Arctic and according to one school of thought non-dominant males are striking out for new territories, Ms. Durham added.

“We’re seeing a lot of males,” she said. “The youngest animals tend to migrate away if they’re not the fittest.”

She doesn’t believe the animals are suffering from a lack of food.

“There’s not a heck of a lot of proof that the animals are coming down here and eating all our fish,” she said. “The animals we’re taking in are skinny.”

Some of the seals seem to be less than healthy, “but not at death’s door,” according to Ms. Durham.

Some animals, such as the one Mr. Mangus described, may seem ill but that could be misleading.

“Harp seals are more tolerant of people than harbor or gray seals,” Ms. Durham added. “That gives people the idea that they’re in far worse condition than they really are.”

The foundation has not rescued any sick harp seals on the North Fork, nor has it found any deceased animals. The group isn’t equipped to help adult harp seals, which when fully grown can stretch from five to six feet in length and weigh up to 400 pounds.

The organization’s rehabilitation area at the Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in Riverhead serve as an animal hospital for small, young animals. The foundation currently has 13 seals in its charge, most of them pups up to 18 months old weighting no more than 60 pounds. The harbor seal the foundation will release in Hampton Bays on Saturday weighs 50 pounds.

An adult harp seal wouldn’t fit in one of 17 six-foot tanks, Mr. Durham said. The foundation has a nine-foot tank, but since that’s in an area open to the public it’s not suitable rehab space, she added. All that’s left is the foundation’s 30-foot dolphin tank.

“But if we use that, we’re pretty much out of the dolphin business,” she said. “This has been a challenge all along the East Coast.”

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03/19/11 3:03pm
03/19/2011 3:03 PM

The Riverhead Recreation Department presented the first ever ‘Pet Drama’ featuring three golden retrievers and two Belgian Tervurens Saturday at the Senior Center in Aquebogue.

The pooches are all dog obedience competitors and told throught the point of view of ‘Chiquita Banana, an 8 year-old golden retriever that belongs to the Town’s Youth Bureau coordinator Donna Lyczkowski. Ms. Lyczkowski also narrated the stories that take place in a magical place she calls Camp Copperstar.

Chiquita Banana and other members of her fur family are: daughter Lola, 5; Belgium Tervuren Simply Red; golden retriever Savannah, 2; and Red’s brother Belgium Tervuren, Hampton, 3.

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BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Golden retriever Savannah remains calm with the crowd.

03/18/11 6:00am
03/18/2011 6:00 AM

DONNA ANN LYNN PHOTO | A feral cat hides behind a Mattituck shopping center.

North Fork’s feral cat colonies rely solely on big-hearted volunteers to survive the colder months. And this winter — which saw record snowfalls — has been a particularly harsh one for the felines, according to volunteers who care for them. Several feet of snow that persisted from late December well into February buried kittens and cats in their own shelters or blocked the strays from reaching feeding stations.

To help the cats eat and keep warm, volunteers shoveled long pathways through the snow, tossed hot water over thick ice on feeding stations and scrambled to rebuild plow-damaged shelters in biting cold.

Despite their efforts, several cats and kittens died.

“It’s been brutally sad when we find dead cats and kittens,” said Rosalie Basile of Wading River, a volunteer who cares for feral colonies. “It’s especially sad when it’s a cat or a kitten you have been feeding for a long time. It’s the cold and wet combination too. If the cats can’t get dry, they will freeze like a Popsicle.”

There are two animal rescue groups in Southold and Riverhead towns. Workers from SAVES Inc. (Volunteers with Spay, Alter, Vaccinate Every Stray) say they feed about 40 colonies each day, 500 cats in all. Those with RSVP (Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets, Inc.) care for about 10 colonies every day, about 200 cats, across the North Fork. They also get support from the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton and the North Fork Animal Welfare League in Southold.

The volunteers are reluctant to identify where colonies live, fearing that people will harm them.

Aside from muscling through a persistent snowcover, volunteers have had to make more than their usual twice-daily trips this winter to feed and hydrate the cats, which for the most part live in wooden shelters or plastic tubs supplied by the organizations. During one of several snowstorms that made January the snowiest on record, a snowplow overran and destroyed one colony’s shelters and feeding stations.

No matter the season, the life of a feral cat is hard, say the volunteers. “The average life of a feral cat is five years because they are subject to all the dangers of the environment” said Ms. Basile, who works with RSVP.

The cats can contract internal and external parasites and diseases such as feline aids and leukemia, she said. They have fights with raccoons and other animals living in the wild. Extreme weather conditions will make it especially hard for them to defend themselves or hunt for food — if they’re not being fed by rescue organizations. Hawks can carry them away in the daytime while owls prey on them at night.

The volunteer groups face constant financial pressures.

If a person can prove he or she has been feeding a colony, or is trying to maintain it by providing shelter, feeding stations and medical care, the North Fork Animal Welfare league will supply food for the cats. It costs the league $1,500 to $2,000 a month.

RSVP volunteers must each supply food for the colonies. The cost depends on how many cats they feed. If a volunteer can’t afford to feed the cats, they must ask another volunteer for help. Pet stores will sometime donate food that has been returned, or packages that have been opened or damaged.

For the most part, abandoned pets start feral colonies. Unless the females cats are spayed and males neutered, their populations will skyrocket if well intentioned people feed them.

Debbie Corsair of Southampton, the volunteer coordinator at the Kent Animal Shelter, recalled the case of a woman who was feeding an abandoned cat but did not try to capture it and have it spayed. In less than a year, the cat had five female kittens that each produced about five more. The woman moved away and left the landlord with several cats living on his property. SAVES volunteers and the Kent shelter got involved. The cats were trapped, spayed and neutered.

“Without intervention there would perhaps have been another 50 cats,” Ms. Corsai said. “Picture yourself the woman’s neighbor with 50 cats running through your backyard. In no time there is dissension.”

Tom Scheibel of Brookhaven, a veterinarian for Kent for more than a decade, said people are not very well informed about to the necessity of spaying and neutering a cat. Educating the public is just as important as the work of volunteers who try to feed the animals, he said.

“Every cat you spay takes away the potential for that cat having six or seven litters during its life span,” Dr. Scheibel said.

A certain amount of animal psychology goes into caring for feral cats, which first must come to trust whoever is trying to care for them. Once that barrier is crossed, the volunteers can trap the cats and have all of them spayed and neutered. All are vaccinated for rabies. Young kittens are taken out of the wild so they can be socialized and put up for adoption.

Mary Johnson, a SAVES volunteer from Mattituck, said kittens born to feral mothers must be taken out of the wild when they are no older than four weeks, or they risk becoming too feral to tame. Aside from their work in the field, volunteers also work with rescued kittens that need exposure to human touch to socialize them and prepare them for adoption.