Guest Column: Kent Animal Shelter itself faces homelessness

COURTESY DRAWING  |  A rendering from 2013 of what the new Kent Animal Shelter will look like.
COURTESY DRAWING | A rendering from 2013 of what the new Kent Animal Shelter will look like.

Like the pets we’ve helped all these years, we now find ourselves facing an uncertain future. No one wants to live in a cold house constructed of cement that’s falling apart, not even animals.

Over 55,000 animals have been spayed or neutered and over 40,000 have been rescued and placed in new homes since Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton was built in 1968. How ironic, is it then, that the organization that made that happen may soon face its own untimely demise?

It’s the very thing that we have fought against for our homeless animals for the past 47 years.

Our opponents are the “watchdogs” of the Pine Barrens, 55,000 acres of preserved land. We salute them for keeping pristine Long Island’s last wilderness and protecting its aquifer, which is vital to our residents. The core of the Pine Barrens includes the Peconic River, Long Island’s largest river and also one of its most historic and ecologically diverse bodies of water. Kent Animal Shelter sits on a two-acre sliver of property along the river in Calverton. Let’s focus for a minute on that beautiful waterway that is home to diverse wildlife and a delight to fishermen and recreationists alike.

Here’s the caveat: The cement block building that is a beacon of hope and a haven for homeless animals sits about 20 yards from the river. The geese are not happy about it, the swans and ducks don’t like it much, and Mother Nature is definitely not happy. And for certain, neither is the Peconic River.

We have the fix but our opponents, no pun intended, are not seeing the forest for the trees. If the river could speak, it would be screaming “Get that cement block building off my back,” and rightfully so. The present septic system is, let’s say, less than kind to the river. The fix involves installing a brand-new, state-of-the-art septic system that will significantly lessen the nitrogen and phosphorus loading into the river to the tune of six single-family homes! And there is another bonus for this liquid jewel of Long Island. We plan to return the 300 yards of shoreline to its natural state.

Why can’t we rebuild? It’s not the money. Although it won’t be easy, Kent Animal Shelter will raise enough money for the project. We have permits to rebuild from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Suffolk County Department of Health, but we must get approval from the Central Pine Barrens Commission. For that, we’re going to need an exception — and the standards are high.

The Pine Barrens Society nonprofit group says that this exception would create a precedent. But think about it. The property has not one native pine tree on it, and it has a very unique use, unlike any other located in the Pine Barrens. There is no other beneficial use of the property. Just ask yourself, who else would knowingly locate somewhere there are so many restrictions? And, really, there are no other properties where Kent could rebuild. Unfortunately, there is no zoning for animal shelters, and the cost of purchasing a much larger parcel that would be required for the shelter to continue operating under the present plan would be prohibitive.

While giving a second chance to the thousands of homeless animals that come to us in need, changing the lives of the people and families that take them into their hearts and homes, we provide another vital service to the community. Our clinic sterilizes over 750 feral cats every year, preventing the births of thousands of unwanted litters. This seven-minute procedure prevents your neighborhood from being overrun with homeless cats and the unwanted human and animal issues that are associated with that. Is there another organization that provides this vital service anywhere on the North Fork of Long Island? No. Is there another facility in Riverhead or the surrounding communities, for that matter, that can help find a new home for your cat or dog when your family is in a crisis situation? Or take animals slated for euthanasia out of high-kill shelters? No.

It just makes sense to let the facility be rebuilt on a football field away from the Peconic River, rendering a great benefit to the environment, the community and the well-being of homeless animals. Although we’re not lawyers, architects or politicians, we’re working to defend our existence. Join the fight to let Kent Animal Shelter rebuild today for a cleaner environment, a better community and the health and safety of homeless animals.