Hempstead, NY: Why Rescue Access to Shelters Should be Required

shelter catThree animal rescuers banned from volunteering at the Town of Hempstead, New York animal shelter are proceeding with a federal lawsuit before U.S. District Court Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson.

Diane Madden, Lucille Defina and Frances Lucivero-Pelletier have filed an action against the Town of Hempstead and several town officials and shelter employees.

The Complaint begins with the adage "No good deed goes unpunished". The rescuers say after years of volunteering their time and resources to find homes and provide veterinary and other care for animals at the shelter, they were summarily banned from the premises. Why? Because, according to the Complaint, they reported the neglect and abuse of animals that was occurring at the shelter. 

They discussed as well needed changes in the operation of the shelter such as ways to increase adoptions, a trap neuter return program for feral cats, better evaluations for animals so that they would not be mistakenly labeled unadoptable.

The plaintiffs also questioned the allocation of the shelter’s astonishing $7.1 million annual budget: Staff are each paid $100,000 annually for what are patronage jobs; yet the animals go without sufficient veterinary care, an animal behaviorist or trained staff.  

The plaintiffs say after they reported the neglect and abuse of shelter animals and raised concerns about allocation of funding, the staff falsely accused them of "stealing" and "selling dogs" and initiated an "investigation" that resulted in their banishment from the shelter. There were threats of criminal charges.

The plaintiffs have brought this action for violation of their rights of access and to be free from retaliation under the First Amendment; under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 for violation of their 14th amendment right to equal protection under the law, and for defamation. They seek primarily an injunction mandating access to the shelter and also damages and their costs and attorney’s fees. Their attorney is Steven A. Morelli. A copy of the Complaint is attached below for downloading.

Since this lawsuit was filed in October, 2010, the Nassau County District Attorney and Nassau County SPCA have launched investigations into the shelter.

The highly paid acting director, Pat Horan, was re-assigned after release of a youtube video that showed shelter staff including Horan and town employees present while a private hospital employee handled a kitten. The video shows some present making obscene gestures, and someone is heard chanting "Kill the kitty". The video went viral.


For more on a New York bill sponsored by Assembly Member Amy Paulin and Sen. Greg Ball, that would require animal shelters to allow rescuers access to save animals from euthanasia.