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Van Nest resident campaigns for animal shelter

If the Health Department fails to build an animal shelter at the Old Fordham Library in Community District 7, expect to hear from animal rescuer Bernadette Ferrara.

Ferrara, who sits on Community Board 11, doesn’t speak for her neighbors. But the Van Nest resident is determined to pressure the Health Department and would personally like to see an animal shelter in her neighborhood. Plans to build an animal shelter at the Old Fordham Library have stalled, thanks to legal maneuvers and angry Fordham teens.

When the library closed its doors in 2005, Fordham teens and neighborhood leaders pushed for a community center. There were rallies at the three-story Bainbridge Avenue building in 2007; some 10,000 people signed a petition.

In 2008, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services transferred the building from the Public Library to the Health Department. Bound by a city law to operate a 24/7 animal shelter in each borough, the Health Department prepared to open one at the Old Fordham Library site. The law was signed in 2000; the Bronx still has no animal shelter.

When teens and neighborhood leaders balked, the Health Department suggested that it build a smaller spay and neuter center instead and that it share the building with teens.

The Health Department appealed for the right to build a spay and neuter center and was denied. In September 2009, a Manhattan judge ordered the Health Department to comply as soon as possible. The Health Department appealed again in December 2009.

Ferrara understands why teens and neighborhood leaders in Fordham have opposed an animal shelter at the Old Fordham Library but thinks the Health Department has used that debate to drag its feet.

“The Bronx needs an animal shelter,” she said. “Not a spay and neuter clinic.”

The borough already boasts several spay and neuter clinics, both stationary and mobile, Ferrara explained. Animal shelters not only spay and neuter, they also offer children’s programs and hold animals for adoption, she said.

Because the Bronx has no animal shelter, it ships strays to Westchester County and Manhattan. Many pets have been orphaned in the Bronx since the economic recession began, Ferrara said.

Community Board 7 has suggested that the Health Department build its Bronx animal shelter on Webster Avenue between E. Gun Hill Road and E. 209th Street. The spot sits close to public transportation and the Bronx River Parkway, while Bainbridge Avenue is more congested and residential.

The Health Department has explained that, for financial reasons, it would rather stay at the Old Fordham Library than build an animal shelter from scratch on Webster Avenue.

But the Health Department has plenty of money to build, Ferrara claims.

“It has had $12 million since 2000,” she said.

The Health Department made no move to acquire a former American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals building on Morris Park and E. Tremont avenues, said Ferrara, who helps orphaned cats in Van Nest find new homes.

She has asked Senator Jeff Klein for help. Klein has urged the Health Department to open an animal shelter on neighborhood leaders’ terms, he said.

Ferrara’s friend Joan MacKay, a Co-op City resident, hopes to open a animal rescue operation in the Bronx soon.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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