An alleged dispute between a former Town of Hempstead employee and its leadership culminated in a protest on Saturday over the supposed abuse of a feral cat colony located at the Oceanside Sanitation Transfer Station on Long Beach Road. The protest drew a crowd of more than 50 people who stood outside the entrance of the station with signs criticizing Town Supervisor Anthony Santino for what they saw as personal vendetta against the employee.
Retired town employee and East Rockaway resident Stanley Lombardo said he cared for the colony of roughly 40 feral cats for about a decade until, on the week of June 5, a personal falling out between himself and Santino led to him being barred from entering the grounds of the facility to feed and provide water to the cats. Local animal-rights activists have since rallied to his side.
The town, however, countered that it has continued to care for the animals, and that the Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has inspected the site and found no problems with the treatment of the colony. “The colony enjoys a spacious shelter, daily feeding and water,” town spokesman Mike Deery said in a statement. “What’s more, litter is furnished and routinely changed. Cats at this site have been subject to a humane TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) program to control over-population.” He added that the location is a dangerous worksite, and that non-employees entering the area could be injured or killed by moving heavy machinery, presenting a serious liability issue for the town.
Responding to a Herald inquiry on the matter, Gary Rogers of the county SPCA confirmed that the cats had been continually cared for since Lombardo’s expulsion from the site, and that an SPCA detective entered the area unannounced on June 23, the day before the protest, to observe conditions at the colony. He said the detective had found no problems with the accommodations set up for the cats, and that, looking at the evidence, the Nassau County District Attorney’s office concurred that no abuse was occurring at the facility. “If the cats were not being fed, it is an absolute right we have to enter and stop an act of cruelty,” he said of the society’s policy. He added that it will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Donna Gibson, a United States Army veteran and Oceanside resident who helped organize the Saturday protest said she had entered the site on June 18 to care for the colony, and had observed that the shelters set up by Lombardo for the cats had been removed. Additionally, she said she did not see water set out for the animals, and was asked to leave upon revealing to town personnel that she was there to care for the colony. She added that she had voted for Santino, but thought it “atrocious” that he would use the cats as leverage to get back at Lombardo.
However, at a June 20 town council meeting, Santino explained to the activists who came to speak on the topic that no such thing was occurring and that a current town employee was caring for the animals on his own time and at no taxpayer expense. “Nothing has changed,” he said. “It is just a different employee doing it. We cannot have people, who are not town employees, with unfettered access to a facility like the Oceanside landfill facility.” He added that the cat shelters had been moved roughly 100 yards, possibly explaining why Gibson had not seen them on her visit.
Santino also presented photo evidence of food and water set out for the cats at the site, and repeatedly assured the activists that the animals were being cared for. He did, however, appear to become testy as the activists continued to make emotional overtures requesting that they or Lombardo see the cats. He reiterated his stance that there was little he could do to allow any of them onto the site, as it would be a liability for the town.
JoAnn Winkhart a representative for the Humane Society of the United States and West Hempstead native, who was present at both the meeting and the protest said she felt Santino’s answers were “insufficient” and “indirect,” and took issue with the fact that the current town employee purported to be caring for the colony was not named, as well as the lack of photo evidence of live cats present at the site. “I don’t believe for a minute that these cats are being taken care of.”
Feral cats are cats that have been born of stray domesticated cats, and are unaccustomed to human interaction. Lombardo said his colony had a mixture of both stray and feral cats, and that in keeping with proper colony maintenance, he would trap, neuter and return every new cat introduced to the colony. He said within the last year the colony only produced two kittens, which he considered an accomplishment, as colonies are intended to slowly die off from old-age. The activists said they would be returning to protest the following Saturday.
With tears welling in his eyes, Lombardo described the relationship he had formed with the cats in the colony and noted that some could possibly be adopted and reintroduced to humans. “They have names and personalities,” he said of the animals and added that he had given them monikers such as Salem and Snowball. Some, he said, had come to know him and became friendly despite their general lack of human interaction. “It was a safe space for them,” he said. “Now it’s not a safe space.”
He did not offer specific details about his dispute with Santino except that it had been brewing for a some time. Lombardo, who retired from the town earlier this year, said not allowing him on the site was cleverly disguised act of retribution, “They finally found a way to get to me,” he said.