Criminal Probe, Abuse Allegations Swirl Around Animal Shelter

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBCNewYork
    A shelter dog in Hempstead.

    The allegations of abuse reduced women to tears.

    "If these animals could speak, they would beg for help," said one animal advocate who spoke before Hempstead's town board Tuesday.

    At issue were conditions inside Hempstead's town-run animal shelter in Wantagh. A parade of animal lovers, advocates and rescue volunteers called life in the shelter "deplorable and despicable."

    "I've seen dogs abused. I've seen dogs kicked into kennels," said Joy Morezzi, a self-described animal lover who claimed to visit the shelter each week.

    There were claims of dogs hung by leashes; emaciated, sick dogs laying in their own blood and feces; even allegations of euthanasia without cause.

    "I knew of dogs killed for simply being afraid," said one-time volunteer Diane Madden.

    Throughout the hours of testimony, audience members gasped and dabbed tears from their eyes.

    The allegations came as supporters demanded that Hempstead's town board reinstate Madden and two other rescue volunteers who have been banned from the shelter, without explanation.

    When asked why they were being kept out, Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray revealed that the shelter is under investigation by the Nassau District Attorney's office. 

    Murray, however, refused to say whether the banned volunteers were the focus of the probe.  All she would confirm is that the investigation is administrative in nature and not the result of abuse allegations.

    "Quite frankly, this is the first I've heard of these (abuse) allegations," Murray told reporters.  "I am in the shelter quite often and have never seen anything like that. But we take the allegations seriously and will investigate them."

    The Nassau County DA's office confirmed the investigation but refused further comment.

    "There's nothing we have done that would warrant investigation," said banned volunteer Frances Lucivero.

    Speaker after speaker hailed the three volunteers for their efforts in adopting out dogs and cats from the shelter. 

    When asked why they didn't come forward with the abuse allegations before this hearing, the volunteers and rescue workers said they feared retribution from shelter workers. 

    "We just wanted to stay inside and keep helping the animals," said Madden.

    "We take the allegations on face value," said Supervisor Murray, who refused to speculate on whether the allegations were motivated by the effort to reinstate the volunteers.