June 04, 2009 | 12:48 PM

Little Shelter Animal Rescue and Adoption Center was founded in 1927 by Anna Hunninghouse when she saw the dog catcher rounding up dogs, tying them to a tree and shooting them after four days if they weren't claimed.

She was appalled and, in four years, raised the money she needed to buy the buildings and six-acre grounds for the Huntington shelter.

"It took her four years because animal care wasn't a priority of the people of the town," Little Shelter's communications and events manager, Jodi Record, said, "but she did it and I think she would be very proud of what Little Shelter has become."

Today, although Little Shelter has expanded and many Long Islanders are keenly aware of the need for humane treatment of animals, the Huntington sanctuary and at least three other no-kill shelters are facing new hurdles in the economic downturn.

Both Little Shelter and the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton report a 50 percent drop in donations since last year; and Save-A-Pet in Port Jefferson Station, a 30 percent drop since last spring, President Dori Scofield said.

Bideawee, with locations in Wantagh, West Hampton and Manhattan, reported a 42 percent drop-off since last year, with its fiscal year beginning in October.

Since then, it has cut back on expenses but, on March 8, had to close its adoption center in Wantagh. President Nancy Taylor said that, in order to grow and survive in this economy, "we had to take pretty definitive action."

The disappearance of such safe havens can be devastating for animals as well as other rescue and adoption centers, in Jodi Record's opinion.

"It puts more pressure on the other shelters on Long Island because there is that one less place for the animals to be taken in," she said.

Little Shelter, while not looking to close, has also had to tighten spending. They could not recently hire new staff, Record said. To the contrary, the nonprofit — which is approaching its 82nd anniversary — has laid off some workers while relying more on volunteers. In the meantime, the center is seeking out more donated items and re-evaluating how money is spent and saved.

"We're fighting and we're getting through," Record said. "When you survive off donations, you take every day as it comes. … We want to continue to grow and help as many animals as we can and keep saving lives."

The Shelter opened a sanctuary in Lisle, New York, just outside of Binghamton in 2000. It's a sanctuary for dogs who could not be adopted into a home. There are 12 dogs there now; the goal is to one day to have a cat haven built to house the cats.

Little Shelter also runs an animal soup kitchen to help out impoverished or displaced pet owners. "With the economy, more and more people are turning to us to help. It's not just spaying and neutering but also food and other medical issues."

Pam Green, director of the Kent Animal Shelter, said, "We're seeing a lot of animals coming in to us from people who are losing their homes — foreclosures."

When that happens, she explained, the pet owners sometimes move to an apartment or live with relatives and, due to a lack of space or other limitations, must give up their animals.

Kevin Molloy, communications director for the Town of Brookhaven, said the town shelter is seeing an increase in the number of dogs turned into the shelter. Also, since the first quarter of this year there has been a 25 percent reduction in the number of dogs being reclaimed who have been lost.

Other pet owners, Record said, have lost their jobs and simply cannot afford to care for their animals any longer.

Little Shelter has responded to the economic pressure on animal rescue and adoption centers by holding lots of fundraisers. Laurel Bar at 8 Laurel Road in East Northport will be holding a fundraiser on Saturday starting at 5 pm.

Kent Animal Shelter is relying more on online donations, and those are working well, according to Green.

Volunteers at Kent also plan on setting up a table at the mid-June Strawberry Festival in Mattituck, where there will be vendors, craft vendors and all types of strawberry dishes.

Save-A-Pet recently opened a retail store in Port Jefferson. The store sells items like dog collars and pet food. Dogs and cats from the shelter spend the day there and are on sale, then return to the shelter at night. While shelters tend to be associated with big dogs, Scofield said, lots of smaller dogs are also now available.

Save-A-Pet also does fundraisers. All the proceeds of its Hounds on the Sound 3k dog walk in Port Jefferson this Sunday go to its animals. The organization's next big event is a motorcycle run planned for July 12, Scofield said.

Along with their calls for monetary contributions, all three shelters are emphasizing their need for donated time.

At Little Shelter, volunteers walk the dogs, socialize the cats and help with cleaning, feeding, fundraising and administrative work. They might start a fundraising event, such as a car wash or food drive, or organize a fundraiser at a venue if they are experienced. "This is a very difficult time for all kinds of charities, not just animal welfare charities. We're not alone," Taylor said.