All it takes is a phone call and word that an animal is in trouble or needs help and Bobbi Giordano of Ozone Park is out the door and off to the rescue.
November 17th was typical. Giordano got a call that at least six cats and two dogs had been virtually abandoned in a Howard Beach home when the owner moved away.
Her network of volunteers, Bobbi and the Strays, Inc., went immediately into action.
“The dogs were left outside in the yard, but the cats were in the house and we couldn’t get to them,” she said. “We finally had to get officers from the 106th Precinct to break into the house so that we could rescue the cats.”
A grandmother of six with three pets of her own at home, Giordano said that she’s been rescuing lost and stray animals since she was nine years old. It’s only been in the last 10 years that she’s been doing it full time.
However, Bobbi and the Strays, which, with the help of Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1998, doesn’t just rescue animals. The group also pays to have them spayed or neutered by local vets, makes sure their inoculations are up to date and pays for their board at “foster homes” until the animals can find permanent homes.
Relying completely on donations, fundraisers and a little help from her three children, Giordano’s hope is that she might be able to establish a permanent shelter to house her strays until they can be adopted.
For now, she must depend on an ever-expanding network of volunteers and homeowners who don’t mind taking care of an extra animal or two.
Giordano pays caregivers $40 a week to temporarily house each animal she rescues. She also provides food and pays for medical expenses. Many of the dogs and cats she saves have been abused and require special care.
Dr. Paul Fish, of the Animal Clinic of Woodhaven on Jamaica Avenue, has been taking care of Giordano’s rescued animals for years and he often gives her discounts.
“I can’t imagine why someone would just leave animals behind,” Dr. Fish said of the six cats and two dogs that were left in a vacated Howard Beach house. “You can always call the city’s Center for Animal Care and Control if you don’t know what else to do.”
Giordano, who said she has rescued strays from the CACC facility on Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn, does not agree with the agency’s euthanasia policy and wants to see animals in homes, rather than cages.
Doris Meyers, director of external affairs for the CACC, said that there is no set length of time that the agency keeps animals before euthanizing them.
“Legally, we must keep strays for at least two days and sometimes adoptable animals are kept for weeks or even months,” Meyers said. “Sometimes owners bring pets to us to euthanize because it’s cheaper than going to a vet. If our doctors determine it is in the animal’s best interest, they could be euthanized within hours.”
The CACC has an animal rescue service but does not have the manpower to “do sweeps” for strays. The Queens facility in Rego Park has been closed since September 11th, according to Meyers, because of some computer glitch associated with the World Trade Center collapse. Shelters in the other four boroughs are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The CACC is not the only animal rescue organization with which Giordano is disillusioned. She believes the non-profit American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is ineffective.
“The ASPCA had been to the house in Howard Beach before me and knew what the situation was,” she said. “They just put a notice on the front door and left.”
Dale Riedel, vice president of humane law enforcement for the ASPCA, said his agents responded to a call and first visited the home on 88th Street on November 2nd. The owner was not present, but a friend apparently let the agents into the house.
“There was no evident animal cruelty or neglect. The animals had good body weight and food was available,” he said.
The ASPCA was again called to the Howard Beach address on November 13th. Agents could not get into the home. They left a notice on the door requesting that the owner contact the agency.
Riedel said that the dogs were in the yard outside the house and appeared healthy. The cats were inside the home. Neighbors had been feeding the dogs.
It was just four days later when concerned neighbors called Bobbi and the Strays.
One of the neighbors was just as concerned about the human owner of the house as she was about the animals.
“I don’t want to see her hurt or get into trouble,” said a woman who has lived next to the house in question for 46 years. “I think she has a lot of problems and I’m worried about her.”
The house was reportedly owned by a woman who had a young daughter. The neighbor said the two had not lived in the Howard Beach home for months, but had used it to house their dogs and cats. They would visit regularly to feed the animals.
However, the family recently lost the home through foreclosure, the neighbor said, and their visits became less frequent. They would leave the animals to fend for themselves for as long as two weeks at a time.
According to Riedel, there is no legal limit on the number of animals a person may have. People called “collectors,” who keep unusually large numbers of pets, are a common phenomena.
“It is recognized as a form of mental illness. ‘Collectors’ are usually older females who start feeding strays,” he said. “The animals don’t get spayed or neutered and start to inbreed. It’s not healthy for them.”
While Riedel said a dirty house or apartment and the odors that go with it are not necessarily signs of animal cruelty, along with barking dogs, they are usually the reasons neighbors report people to animal rescue agencies.
“Six cats and two dogs is not a lot,” he said. “We see people with many more than that.”
Some of the animals rescued by Bobbi and the Strays are in foster homes and others have been adopted. Dr. Fish said that although many of the animals were malnourished, they are now in good health.
Those interested in adopting one of the hundreds of strays Giordano rescues, or who simply want to give a donation toward their care, may call 845-0779. Log onto www.petfinder.org and search for Bobby and the Strays to see photos and descriptions of adorable adoptable pets.