Council rejects Queens animal shelters

Council rejects Queens animal shelters
By Rebecca Henely

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) criticized a bill passed by his fellow Council members and championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that increases funding and the hours of operation for animal receiving centers but gets rid of a requirement for full-service shelters in Queens and the Bronx.

“We will probably see it rain cats and dogs in Queens before we ever see a shelter,” Vallone said.

The law provides more than $10 million in funding to Animal Care and Control, the nonprofit group which runs the city’s animal shelters. The operating hours of receiving centers, which take in animals so they can be put through the shelter system, have also been increased from eight hours a day once or twice a week to 12 hours a day seven days a week.

“This bill paves the way for a significant increase in public funding for the city’s animal shelters, which will greatly expand and improve care for homeless animals,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said in a statement.

In exchange, the city will no longer be required to build two full-service shelters, one for Queens and one for the Bronx, in accordance with a law passed in 2000. Vallone Jr.’s father, former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., oversaw the passage of the previous law.

The new law was passed Sept. 21, with 46 votes in favor. Four Queens councilmen — Vallone Jr., Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) — were the only ones to vote against it. Bloomberg signed the bill Tuesday.

Vallone Jr. said that while he was in favor of the increased funding and hours, a receiving center was no substitute for a shelter. He said he had heard a story about one family who lost their dog and after they eventually tracked it to a Manhattan shelter six hours later, they found the dog had been killed, with the shelter claiming it was sick. Vallone Jr. said he believed the situation could have been avoided if Queens had had a shelter.

The councilman said that since 2009, the nonprofit Stray from the Heart has sued the city Department of Health for not complying with the 2000 law and claimed Bloomberg pushed the new law to avoid an unfavorable court ruling. Stray from the Heart won its suit in New York Supreme Court, but lost a Health Department appeal that said the nonprofit did not have the standing to bring the claim to court. Vallone Jr. said the nonprofit was working to appeal the decision.

“The mayor wanted it done so there would not be a court ruling that the city was in contempt of the law and the City Council did it for him,” Vallone Jr. said.

The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Vallone Jr.’s claim.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.