Can feral cats save Kent Animal Shelter?

COURTESY DRAWING  |  A rendering from 2013 of what the new Kent Animal Shelter will look like.
A rendering from 2013 of what the new Kent Animal Shelter will look like. (Credit: courtesy drawing)

Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton has saved many dogs and cats over the years at its River Road facility.

But now, Riverhead Town officials have devised a plan wherein cats may be what saves Kent.

Specifically, feral cats. 

Kent executive director Pam Green wrote in an op-ed piece in the News-Review in March that Kent could “find ourselves facing an uncertain future”  if it doesn’t get a new building, saying its current facility is inadequate.

The shelter currently has plans before the New York State Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning & Policy Commission to build that new facility, and this is considered to be the last major approval needed by the non-profit animal shelter. However, the shelter is seeking an exemption from the commission to allow it to build in the Pine Barrens core, where development is strictly limited.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter says he believes there are enough votes on the five-member commission, which he is a member of, to approve it.

Despite this, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society says his organization will file a lawsuit challenging any approvals given to Kent by the Pine Barrens Commission.

“Nobody is against the puppies,” said Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper in an interview. “This is about protecting the integrity of the Pine Barrens law.”

(The Pine Barrens Society is a non-profit environmental group not connected to the Pine Barrens commission.)

Under the Pine Barrens law, there are only two ways to justify building in the Pine Barrens core, according to deputy Riverhead Town Attorney Dan McCormick, who spoke to the Town Board at Thursday’s work session.

One way is to claim that there currently is no beneficial use of the property, such that development is necessary, he said. But that argument won’t fly in this case, since there already is a use on the property — Kent Animal Shelter — which has been there since 1968, Mr. McCormick said.

The other argument is that the proposed use represents a “compelling public need” for the town, Mr. McCormick said.

And that’s where Kent’s application does meet the criteria, he said.

The argument is feral cats often get toxoplasmosis, which can spread to other animals and humans, and presents a danger to pregnant women, Mr. McCormick said. Kent’s treatment of feral cats represents a compelling need, he said.

“This affects the residents of the Town of Riverhead because every treated cat is one less danger,” Mr. McCormick said at Thursday’s Town Board work session.

Mr. Amper disagreed.

“Even if they build this facility, there will still be feral cats,” he said in an interview. “They won’t eliminate all feral cats.”

He believes Riverhead Town should try to find a new location for Kent.

Mr. Walter and Mr. McCormick said Thursday that Kent is one of only three shelters on the East End that caters to feral cats.

Mr. Amper said granting the exemption in this case for Kent could set a bad precedent.

Chuck Bowman, the vice president of Kent’s board of directors, said earlier this month that the Pine Barrens commission is “the last hurdle” facing the application.

“I think all the [environmental] professionals who have been involved in reviewing this application are well aware that it’s actually very beneficial,” Mr. Bowman said.

“We are now going to have a high-tech sanitary system and everything is going to be moved back from the river. There will be buffer areas, and all of the animals are going to be housed indoors in a state-of-the-art facility. The facility that is there now, even though it provides a huge benefit to the town, is antiquated and is falling apart. We have to build a new structure.

He said the River Road facility is right on the edge of Pine Barrens core area.

The proposal has approvals from Suffolk County for the sewage treatment system, from New York State for a freshwater wetlands permit and for a variance from the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, and from the Riverhead Town ZBA, which approved Kent’s variance requests at the May 14 meeting, Mr. McCormick said.

The commission’s next meeting is June 17 at 2 p.m. at Riverhead Town Hall.

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