Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
Jan. 18, 2022

Rescuing Animals for 130 Years at a Local SPCA

Rescuing Animals for 130 Years at a Local SPCA
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Gina Carbonari is a retired U.S. Marine with a new mission. As executive director of the 130-year-old Ulster County SPCA, she's ensuring that the  homeless, abused, and neglected animals there are cared for, sheltered, and readied for adoption. Join us on a tour and meet some of the cats, dogs, and smaller critters safeguarded in Kingston, NY, as they await their new families.

Recordist: Keith Kortright
Sponsors: Hanford Mills Museum and the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway

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There's a lot more that comes to doing this job and you just like hanging out with animals, because that's really not what we do all day. Although a lot of people do think that it is the best part of the job though. A retired US Marine, Gina Carbonari has a new mission these days as executive director of the Ulster County SPCA, where homeless, abused and neglected animals are cared for, sheltered, and readied for adoption. I first met Gina after adopting a timid terrier rescued from a hurricane in 2017. Gina helped us to train this overly protective pup, so that if anyone else came into our home, she'd be less likely to take them down. So far, so good. The Ulster County SPCA in Kingston, New York has been caring for homeless animals since 1891. Gina gave us a tour, and for audio purposes brought us to a quiet, albeit well populated room of cats directly across from the welcome desk. Their cat rooms are all free roam, you can see we have lots of cats that are just lounging around here. This is pretty much what they do all day long, is sleep and lounge and hang out. We have some that prefer to be perched up higher, we have some that are perfectly comfortable being on the floor, some that want to hide in the cubbies. We also have our outdoor Catios. So they have indoor-outdoor access all day, they can come and go as they like. That space out there is completely fenced in so that nobody can escape from the windows inside you can see the cats and what they're doing, but folks, especially like when they're pulling into the parking lot, and they can immediately start to interact and engage with some of the cats and the cats enjoy that too. We do have some, as you can see that are in different types of housing. So some of these in the larger catios that are inside, they have either a medical issue, or they might be on some type of medication, that they aren't allowed to be able to free roam, or sometimes they just really don't get along free roaming with the other cats; they can tolerate other cats in their space, but to actually interact with them, they really don't enjoy that. So it's much safer for them and all the other cats if they just stay contained, but still in the same space. And then our ones that are in the smaller enclosures. Those are ones that are acclimating into the room. So we give them anywhere from three to seven days, depending on the individual cat, to just kind of be in the room, get to know the different personalities, the smells, the sights, the sounds of what's going to be in the space. And then once they're comfortable enough, then they have the option to come out. So we'll just open the crate and they come out when they like to. This is a really comfortable space. If I were a cat, I wouldn't be unnecessarily in a rush to get to someone's home. Yeah. It's, there's no smell, you have obviously really great ventilation and everything's just really clean and well lit and they've got toys, and they've got little beds and things to play with. I often joke that you know, if I was a cat, this is where I'd want to be. They get so much attention from our volunteers and our staff. Definitely you can tell right away when you walk in that the cats themselves are very comfortable and relaxed, and that's ultimately what our goal is for all of our animals here is to make sure that the space that they're in that they are comfortable there and they're not stressed. What happens at nighttime? Are the animals alone or is there someone keeping an eye on them? No, they are alone, but we shut down and they're very much on routine. Animals enjoy routine. So they know when we come in, they know when we're leaving, they know when it's time, it gets to be the end of the day and everything just starts to settle and quiet again. Cats and dogs; little bit opposite. So the dog side gets very quiet. Everyone's on their beds. Everyone's asleep. I'm usually here very late in the evenings. So I'll do one last round before I leave and I just tiptoe through and every single dog is just out cold snore and sleeping on their beds, and they don't even notice it. Don't make a sound. The cats, you know, cats are cats. They're a little more nocturnal. And I can walk past and I can look and I can see all the cats are out on the floor now so you can see right now we've got a few of them who were perched up high we've got a lot of them that are outside. But at nighttime, everybody's awake. Everybody's kind of hanging out and it's like they have their own little coffee clutches going on. Once one group's over here, one group's over here. I don't know what they're talking about, but they're having a good time, and they all seem to definitely enjoy when everybody's gone in the evening. Go peach, sorry for for folks listening. We got completely distracted by peach getting on the big cat wheel and taking himself for a little walk there. He and about five other cats are the only ones that use this. You can see we have lots and lots of black cats here. Peach was part of a group of 32 cats that came out of a one bedroom apartment where they told us that they had anywhere from 10 to 15 cats and we just kept trapping and pulling cats out. They were under socialized. So for him to even be walking this close to us, is kind of a testament to what we do here with our staff and volunteers working so closely with the animals to get them socialized and comfortable with people. And yeah, he's gonna take himself for a walk on the big cat wheel. And it's not just cats and dogs; you have rabbits, you have, I think, at the moment, a mouse named Steve in residence. Yes, yes, yep. Steve is our last one from our boarding case that we had about, oh, a little over two years ago. Steve's pretty ancient right now; we had over 200 mice that came in, in one case, and he is he is the last man standing right now. It's going to be sad when Steve passes. They're called Fancy Mice. So they are actually bred to be pets. And they were just so much fun. They had such personality, they were almost like tiny dogs, because they were very interested. You would come around, same thing, they got on the routine of they knew when you were coming in, they knew when you were feeding them, they knew when you were cleaning up their space, and they enjoyed the interaction, and you just put your hand and they'd climb up on you, they wanted to have that kind of interaction. So it really was very nice. I think it was eye opening for a lot of our volunteers and our staff of really understanding that our relationships that we have with animals; it's not just dogs and cats. All animals are sentient beings. All animals are thinking, feeling, understanding what's happening around them wanting to engage, wanting to be social. It's not just a human, dog, cat, and maybe horse kind of thing, because the horse people will definitely tell you that horses are very in tuned; any animal is still striving towards the same things that we all are. I asked Gina how she got started at the SPCA, and what's changed since she's taken the lead there. I started here about three and a half years ago as the executive director, and before that I was a member of the board for about three years. So I've been with the organization almost seven years now. What's changed here since you've taken the helm? How are things going? Well, things are going well right now. We are an essential services organization, so we did not close at all during COVID. Everybody must wear a mask when they come in our facility because we are essential services, and we can't take a risk. Even with pretty much everyone being vaccinated, we can't take a chance of having that spread through because it will quickly shut us down; we don't have a very large staff. So the changes that we've made just since COVID really are a lot of changes to operations and just how we do things. But still with the same mindset towards this is what our mission is. These are what our goals are. And we still have to accomplish that, which is finding homes for these animals, making sure we provide safe haven for the animals, doing everything that we can to keep animals in their homes. I would say from the point that I arrived here as the executive director, one of our main shifts, and has been a large shift in animal welfare in general, is really focusing more on how do we keep these animals in their homes, rather than a thought of, we should just be gathering all these animals and bringing them into the shelter. I think the biggest challenge in that though is always in funding for programs. Because everything costs money. Everything that we do has a dollar that's attached to it. So when you have those kinds of programs, it can be difficult to find enough funding for them because a lot of what is needed in the community in order to keep those pets in their homes are programs such as low cost, veterinary care. Our food pantry, which has seen a huge uptick in usage, especially since COVID. A lot more folks who are looking for how can we help them with veterinary care with surgeries with things that sometimes even exceed what our capabilities are and therefore do require next level care, but they need assistance with funding that. So those are really the changes that we've seen the most of shifting our mindset to keeping animals at homes. But then also, how do we actually do that? And I imagined some of those changes will be useful, even post pandemic that probably they'll stick around? Absolutely. The shifts for probably the last five years or so, in animal welfare has been towards keeping animals in homes. We don't want to see shelters filled. There's always going to be some sort of need for a safe haven for animals that are stray, that are lost, that are true abuse cases or neglect case. There's always going to be a need to provide that housing. But at the same time, those that don't need it, trying to make sure that we find ways where we can assist people to keep their pets in their homes because our mindset towards our animals is that they are integrated as a part of our family. Yet when we're having difficulties, especially financial difficulties, sometimes the first option that people have in order to survive, is they have to let their pets go. So we really want to continue on the path that animal welfare is on right now of finding ways to be able to help them to not have to relinquish their family member, but rather, how can we help them so that they can stay in their homes? So someone comes in and wants to surrender their animal to this shelter. Through that interview, do you come to realize sometimes that it is only because of financial reasons? And then at that point, you can help them in certain ways to find alternatives? Absolutely. That's always our first question of, okay, you're calling to surrender an animal? Tell us what's going on. And if it is a situation of I just can't afford this animal, okay, so what specifically do you need to be able to keep your family member in the home? Do you need food? Come to the food pantry. Do you need vaccinations? Come to our vaccination clinic. If you need veterinary care, you have a significant injury, you know, we still have folks who will call us and say, 'I've already been to the vet, I cannot afford this $5,000 surgery, and the only way for me to save my pets life is to surrender it to you.' Okay, well hang on, maybe we ourselves can do that surgery, and it would be at a much lower cost than going to a private veterinarian. Maybe there's a way that we can assist with funding, if it's a specialty one, maybe we can call that organization and apply a discount somehow, for them working through us. There's a lot of different ways, then we can help. Behaviorally, sometimes it's an issue of I can't take this animal's behavior anymore. I love them, but they're making me nuts. Okay, let's talk about. You know, that's a lot of times I'm having those conversations of here's things that you can do, even if you're just going to manage the behavior, because you don't have the time to truly train your dog. But you just want to fix this problem that they're having. Well, let's talk about that problem. You don't need to go through six weeks of obedience training, we just need to figure out the problem and give you a solution to it. So these are all the different kinds of conversations that we start having with folks to try to find a way for us to be able to keep the pet at home. There are some circumstances where absolutely there's there's nothing that you can do. There's nothing you can say, 'I can't keep this animal, I need to surrender.' Okay, then let's make you an appointment. So that we're prepared for the animal to come in, you have time to get all the records. And we go ahead and we accept the animal at that point. Can you give a sense of how many animals come in and out of the shelter in a given year? We have anywhere from around 1500 to 2000 animals that will come through. Right now, we have about 240 animals. They're not all here in this building, because we also have foster's; and that's really how we're able to expand our capacity is by having a good foster system as well. In addition to the cost of feeding and caring for the animals, you have staff plus volunteers, so. Yes. How many people on the staff and how many people are volunteering here? We have 25 folks on staff right now. We have probably anywhere from 50 to 75 active volunteers. So our volunteers do a variety of different things. They may come in and just simply sit with the cats and socialize, they may walk our dogs, they may come in and help with cleaning litter pans, you can see the stack of litter bins that have been washed today, doing dishes; we have a lot of folks who just come in and help us with our events. We do a lot of fundraising events, so we need folks who do registration and who help with setting things up and breaking things down. There's pretty much anything and everything you can imagine for a volunteer to do here. But we do have to have staff. There certainly a lot of professional skills that are necessary to be able to do animal welfare the right way. We have rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas, ferrets come in, mice; we have farm animals that come in from our humane law cases, so right now we have goats and chickens and turkeys. You know, you have to have a really broad understanding how to properly handle all these different types of species, and then, you know, we have to have professionals who do marketing for us to be able to highlight the animals and the personalities and get them into homes. You have to have office personnel. You have to have bookkeeping staff. You have to have our humane law department. We have to have a veterinary staff. So it really is a lot of folks who all come together with the same desire to work in a place like this. The folks who work here are not just people who like animals, which is a big misconception, but we're actually animal welfare professionals. There's a lot more that comes to doing this job then you just like hanging out with animals, because that's really not what we do all day. It is the best part of the job though. Hmm. Now the name of this organization is the Ulster County SPCA, but it's a private nonprofit. So is there any connection between either the ASPCA or Ulster County? Right, so there is absolutely no affiliation between either one with us. It's a confusing point for a lot of folks because of our name. So Ulster County SPCA is simply the name that they chose 130 years ago when our organization was founded. But we are not a part of the county government. We are not a part of the ASPCA. The ASPCA is its own private organization. It too is not associated with any government, but also is not associated to any other SPCA, anyplace in the country. The ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States have done great marketing. Most people have confused those two organizations as being somewhat like national headquarters for every other Humane Society and SPCA in the country, and that's just not the case. So when you're sending your donation check to those organizations, it's just going to those two private organizations, both of whom are doing great things. But if you want it to go local, then you need to find out your local SPCA or Humane Society and focus on them, because there's no trickling down of that funding. And so where does the funding come from? Donations; we survive off of mostly donations. Certainly, we do some grant writing, but over 80% of our funding comes just from donations. And I will say that we certainly have wonderful donors who write us very big checks. We also have donors who literally send $2 in the mail, in an envelope. When you see that it's really incredibly heartwarming, because you know that that's as much as they can do, but they care enough that they want to do that. We have a few folks who, every couple of months, an envelope will come in, and it'll just have a couple of dollars in it. But I appreciate those $2 just as much as I appreciate that $20,000 check, because you know that it's heartfelt. Every every donor that we have absolutely loves the animals and they do everything to make sure these animals are taken care of. After the break, a visit with some of the canines in residence, maybe you'd like to adopt one, plus Gina's war rabbits, and more. But first, a word from our sponsors. This episode is sponsored by Hanford Mills Museum in Delaware County's East Meredith. The museum's ice harvest festival is Saturday February 5th, with a community ice harvest on the millpond, ice sculpting by the SUNY Delhi hospitality center ice team, blacksmithing demonstrations, and local vendors. Kids twelve and under get in free. Visit hanfordmills.org or call 607-278-5744 for updates on ice conditions and event details. Hanford Mills Museum opens for the season May 15th, with guided tours of its water powered sawmill, grist mill, and woodworking shop. Kaatscast is also sponsored by the 52 mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway following New York State Route 28 through the heart of the Central Catskills. For maps, itineraries, and links to area restaurants, shops, and accommodations, visit sceniccatskills.com. And now back to the Ulster County SPCA on the canine wing with Gina Carbonari. This is what we consider real life. These rooms are a little bit larger than than what is on the kennel side. It's also fully enclosed cinderblock structures and so they have lots of space to be able to come and go move around. You can play with them in these rooms. They have their beds in these rooms, their their food and water, but they also have indoor-outdoor access. So all of our kennels for the dogs no matter where they are, have indoor-outdoor access, so they can come and go choosing what they want. So we'd sometimes have some dogs like Ziva, who's down here. She prefers to be outside, so anytime today you can come pass and she's going to be a dog who's outside just choosing, even sometimes when it's really cold out and we're like 'Ziva, go inside, it's warm,' she would rather be outside. So giving animals choice is a big part of reducing stress and creating, hi chuckles, and creating an environment that they feel comfortable in. What are you doing ya big lug? Chuckles is a shepherd; probably some type of bully breed mix, maybe even Akita mix. Really sweet guy. He's got a big ole head you can see. Chuckles. He actually came to us on a transport from Louisiana. He was heartworm positive when he first came to us. But he has resolved all of that. And yeah, he's he's available for adoption. This is Maisie. Hi, Maisie. She's a little Husky mix. She came in as a stray. Unbelievable that nobody reclaimed this dog. She's an absolute love. She is so sweet and so friendly and so lovable. And yes, I know lovey. And our length of stay, we tried to make sure that that stays under 30 days. There is a whole process to and it depends on the source in which they came to the shelter. So for example, Maisie came to us as a stray she has to stay on stray hold for X amount of days, and it depends on what municipality that she was found in as to how long that stray hold is. By New York State law, if you haven't found any owner, there's no indication of an owner, there's no microchip, there's no tags, there's no way to identify somebody, then it really all has to be five days. But most municipalities go with seven days. So at the point that that time expires, then the dog is considered ours, we transfer from the municipality to us, we become the owner of the dog, then at that point, we can schedule them for all of their medical, so they still have to have spay neuter done, they have to have all their vaccinations done, they have to have a veterinary exam, they have to have a behavioral assessment. So all of that is is what can sometimes slow down the process before they even are available for adoption. So that's why we say we try to keep it to below 30 days because even if it takes maybe two weeks to get through a straight hold period, and then get through all of the medical and behavioral, then at the point, hi King, then at the point that they can be made available for adoption. It gives them maybe a week or two to actually find a home. This is King. Hi, King. I know you're a very handsome man. He's a beautiful chocolaty kind of lab-pit mix. And although he's given us a little growl right now, I don't think he knows what that microphone is. He is really a sweet dog. A short walk from the kennels and we arrive at the SPCA's small barnyard where farm animals are held until long term arrangements can be made. So this is our farm area. We don't take in any farm animals as surrenders. We only have this space so that when we have humane law cases, that we have a place and we have a place to be able to put the animals. Yes, we have very vocal geese right now. These geese can't be released into the wild because they were domesticated? Correct. Yes, yes, these are domestic geese. Everyone here is still on hold with a case. So we don't have any anyone interact with them other than specific volunteers and our staff members. Right now we also have roosters; all came from a cockfighting case. Fortunately, I think that we removed them soon enough that they haven't shown any signs of aggression. We also have some goats. We have turkeys. Historically, we've had donkeys. We've had miniature horse. We've had sheep, llama. I mean, you name it. It's it's pretty much been here. The only things that we don't take are really large farm animals like we would never have cattle here. We would never have horses here. Our barns just aren't large enough for that. Are there other rescue places that you referred them to? Yeah, so we do work a lot with Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, Catskill Animal Sanctuary. We also work with Arthur's Acres, Lollipop Farm. So there's a lot of different places that can handle those larger species. The other thing too, is that our farm animals, they always go to Sanctuary. So they can't go to any place that is going to use them as a product, certainly not for meat. They have to be pets. They're pets or they're they're at an actual sanctuary. You go through all of this to save them from abuse and neglect, why would you turn around them and make them a meal? That doesn't make any sense. So we do make sure that, that that's the environment that they're going back to. After a long day with animals, Gina goes home to attend to her own. We asked about her pets, past and present, including a very important pair of bunnies. I currently have four dogs. I did have two rabbits; the rabbits that I had came back from Iraq with me when I was in the Marine Corps. They were like an early detection system for weapons of mass destruction, kind of like the canary in the coal mine kind of thing. And then when they realized that there were none, they just let these two rabbits out of their cages. And they lived in this courtyard, they couldn't get out of the courtyard in the building that we were working in. Before I even deployed, everyone's like, 'Oh, wait till you see the rabbits over there.' I'm like, 'What are you talking about?' You know, some of the Marines had already done multiple deployments, and had gone back a second time, or third time even, and interacting with the rabbits there. We were the last unit that was going to be staying there. So when we were leaving, they either were going to be left in the courtyard, and would starve to death, or we'd have to trap them and release them, in which case, they'd be food the same night. Everybody loved these rabbits, and so everybody was in agreement; 'Okay, we'll take the rabbits back.' I said, 'I will take them home with me, you know, when we get back,' and the last C-130 that left Al-Assad for the Marines had two little rabbits on it. Then they moved into my house, they had their own bedroom upstairs, and they were living the life. You know, it was one of those things that gave a little sense of home, a little sense of levity. It wasn't your dog or your cat, but it was still your pet that you were there and experiencing something with and it just kind of brought you back to normal a little bit, which is why I think that everybody really enjoyed those two rabbits and looked forward to seeing them when they would have to redeploy for a second or third time. That's where nobody could just leave them behind. And those rabbits probably more than anyone, we're very happy that there were no weapons of mass destruction. I'm sure that they were. Yes. Because they would've been the first to go. Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. They were probably about six years old or so when they came back. We named them Frick and Frack. So Frick and Frack we're, we're about eight years old when they pass, which is old for a rabbit. What transferred over from your service in the military to what you do now? Anything? Oh, tons. Folks who have a military background and experience, they really bring a lot to the table in any industry, because it makes you a good collaborator, it makes you a hard worker, it makes you someone who is very adaptive and versatile. And even in the worst of situations, you can still have a positive outlook about things and have a mindset towards mission accomplishments. So I think that it's all of those more intangible things than it is about a learned skill set of how to put together a widget that makes having military employees a real asset to any organization. One of our humane law officers, the main law supervisor, he's a former Marine also, he was in for four years. I was career; I did 22 years active duty. We have a lot of folks in our community in general who are avid supporters of ours with military experience and gladly don't think twice about jumping in and lending a helping hand. So definitely, I would say, you know, there are some days when, you know, you could really be pretty broken and and down and out leaving here, but you have to be able to accept things. You have to be able to cope with things. You have to have resiliency, and that's how you get up and you come back the next day to do it all over again. Yeah. For information on adoptions, donations, and more, we've put a link to Ulster County SPCA in the description of this episode. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Field Recording by Keith Kortright. Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found for free and automatic delivery every two weeks. Thanks again to our local sponsors and to you our listeners for your contributions to the show. If you'd like to contribute, just click Support at kaatscast.com. Until next time, I'm Brett Berry. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you again in two weeks. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai / JL