SCHENECTADY — Residents in the city’s Goose Hill neighborhood are fuming over a local cat adoption service they claim has them holding their noses.
“The smell is killing me,” said Latchman Haripersaud, who lives next door. “I can’t even barbecue.”
Haripersaud collected signatures from 12 homes along Lenox Road and submitted the petition last week to City Council, imploring lawmakers to take action.
He ushered a reporter out to his backyard, where a strong odor of ammonia was evident just moments after a torrential downpour.
Previous attempts to remediate the situation with Voice for the Voiceless, which bills itself as a pet adoption service, fell flat, he said.
Haripersaud purchased his home in late-2017 and said he didn’t notice the smell until the following spring.
Voice for the Voiceless has obtained legal 501c3 non-profit status from the IRS. The shelter has also registered with the state Department of Agriculture & Markets, which oversees pet rescue operations.
But the designations are not enough to be compliant with city ordinances.
City Zoning Officer Avi Epstein issued a summons to the building owner, Camille Qualtere, after what he documented as repeated requests asking the shelter to cease operations at the site, which is located at 1769 Lenox Rd.
The property is zoned R-1 single-family residential, a designation that prohibits the operation of a non-profit entity, as well as other businesses, including nursing homes, beauty shops, restaurants, nursing and funeral homes.
Epstein posted a notice at the property on July 12 and mailed a copy to Qualtere the same day.
Voice for the Voiceless was ordered to comply by July 26. Epstein reinspected the property on Aug. 8 and issued a violation ticket after he determined the center failed to terminate operations, according to the case documents.
Epstein entered into evidence numerous social media posts by the shelter to substantiate and document that pet intakes and adoptions continued to occur during that two-week window.
A police log filed on Aug. 1 noted the responding officer reported a "strong" smell of urine that could be identified from several houses away.
Qualtere lives out-of-state and did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.
The city’s Zoning Office previously issued a violation in 2018 and ordered the occupants to immediately discontinue using the location as an adoption center.
A second batch of violations issued that November ordered occupants to remove portable garages from the yard, which are barred between Oct. 15 and May 15.
The violation-level offense carries a first-time penalty of between $350 and $500; between $350 and $750 for the second in 18 months and $750 and $1,500 or between 5 and 15 days in jail for subsequent offenses.
Voice for the Voiceless is active on social media and has a verified Facebook account.
On Aug. 12, the same day Haripersaud aired his concerns to City Council, the shelter posted it had taken in 29 kittens during the past three days and “desperately need donations.”
“Most of these kittens were covered in fleas and had respiratory issues of some kind,” read the post.
Voice for the Voiceless didn’t return a phone call or email seeking comment.
However, owner Staci Lydon has acknowledged the violation, a copy of which she posted on social media, and has mentioned visits from animal control, city police and code enforcement in a post designed to solicit legal advice from users.
The scrutiny comes two years after the governor signed a new law to designed to bolster state oversight of nonprofit pet adoption groups, placing shelters and rescues under the same state Department of Agriculture and Markets regulations that cover licensed pet dealers and municipal shelters, the Associated Press reported.
The new law also requires the organizations to "follow state documentation and vaccination requirements and disclose the number of animals transported annually" and gives Ag & Markets the ability to craft new regulations.
All animal rescues, shelters and other non-profits are subject to state animal cruelty laws and may be investigated and/or prosecuted by law enforcement.
Yet, while rescue organizations for domestic animals are regulated by Ag & Markets, the department does not have the authority to physically inspect the facilities.
“The Department takes animal health very seriously and if there are any concerns about the condition or welfare of an animal, we encourage the public to contact their local law enforcement or SPCA office,” said a department spokesperson.
Despite the tightened oversight, the law also does not appear to provide a stronger way to crack down on conditions that fall short of cruelty or abuse, but are enough to raise red flags with neighbors complaining about quality-of-life issues.
For Haripersaud, a potential solution is a long-time coming.
The homeowner, who lives with his wife and three young children, said his upstairs tenants are moving out because of the smell.
He often considers doing the same, but believes it would be unfair to potential homebuyers.
“This will happen to somebody else,” he said.