Animal Shelter Imperiled / Rescuers cite declining gifts

The doomed cats and dogs of Long Island have had a home at

Little Shelter Animal Rescue ever since Anna Hunninghouse was unable to banish

the image of their suffering back in 1927.

But the nonprofit, mostly volunteer-run Huntington shelter is nearly broke

and in danger of closing now, because of dwindling donations since the Sept. 11

terrorist attacks.

So little, yellow-white, three-legged Angel - a gentle dog once left to

hobble alongside the Long Island Expressway- is again at the mercy of strangers.

Foofie - a newborn kitten abandoned on a sheet of newspaper in a rainstorm

- is adopted and well now, but if the call that saved her came today, said

shelter vice president Ruth Weiss, the response, sadly, would be "we're sorry

... "

"We're kind of hand-to-mouth right now," she said. "We're not keeping up

with current expenses."

Donations, the shelter's only income, are down 60 to 70 percent this fall,

said Weiss, who believes people are giving their money instead to the groups

helping victims of the terrorist attacks.

As a result, Little Shelter has shut down its feral cat program, which has

spayed or neutered more than 7,000 wild cats in the past four years, and cared

for 14 feral colonies in backyards and vacant lots across the island. They have

stopped taking in dogs on death row at municipal pounds. And they have stopped

accepting the cats and dogs and cartons of kittens regularly deposited at

their gates.

For now, Little Shelter is treading water: caring for their current

population of 40 or so dogs and 285 cats, trying to find them homes, and hoping

the 75-year-old institution will not be forced to shut down.

"Honestly," said Weiss, a former Revlon executive who like other shelter

executives is unpaid, "I don't want to think that far."

The shelter is a rambling cinderblock labyrinth of hallways and rooms on 6

1/2 wooded acres off Warner Road. The dogs are in kennels and the cats are

everywhere: they roam and sleep on shelves of cat beds, on top of a

refrigerator, on a pink towel draped over an office chair. A volunteer brings

them turkey on Sundays, and canned tuna on Tuesdays.

Most can be adopted but others are lifers, such as Axel, a big,

blackish-brown cat that a family adopted but then returned the other day

because they could no longer bear his medical condition.

"Good to see you old boy," said Weiss to Axel. "He has irritable bowel, but

we'll take care of him."

The shelter has about 30 paid, part-time employees, who make about $8 an

hour cleaning cages and feeding the animals. Medical bills can be expensive. It

costs $65 to spay or neuter a cat, and test it for diseases.

Some, like Angel, whose leg was amputated, need extensive medical care.

Some are given Prozac to stave off stress. With the cash shortage, the staff

recently chipped in $4,000 of their own money to rehabilitate Marshmallow, an

abandoned kitten.

"He was dumped at the door, with his brother Max," Weiss said. "He looked

like the wrath of God. Lost all his hair, was limping, legs swollen."

The shelter's fall fund-raising letters went out on Sept. 5, and the return

was dismal.

The holiday mailers went out last week. Weiss is holding her breath.

Persons interested in adoption or in donating to the shelter can write:

Little Shelter, 33 Warner Road, Huntington, N.Y. 11743; or call 631-368-8770

ext. 205.