City Manager Charles Theofan did not put out an official bid for the high-profile animal activist non-profit, Rescue Ink, Inc., to reopen and run the Long Beach Animal Shelter on a $15,000 budget for one year, a proposal the City Council approved in June.
The move drew questions from animal shelter volunteers about the process by which Rescue Ink was selected, but Theofan accredited the organization with coming to the city with the idea, and not the other way around.
“We have a long standing policy that when someone comes to us first, we’re willing to go into contract with them,” Theofan said.
Theofan added that Rescue Ink had been writing and calling city leaders with its proposal to restart the shelter, and the city eventually agreed. The contract with Rescue Ink took effect July 1.
Rescue Ink is most noted for its in-your-face approach to animal rescue, with its street-tough and tattooed members and consequent profile in a reality series that aired on the National Geographic Channel. Recently, Rescue Ink parted ways with Pack Ethic, a 25-acre upstate New York sanctuary for rescued animals, and its founder Eric Bellows.
Bellows, who resigned from Rescue Ink’s board of directors, said he leased the use of his property to the organization until his resignation.
Rescue Ink, now under the leadership of founding members Joseph Panzarella (a.k.a. Joe Panz), Anthony “Big Ant” Rossaro, and John “Johnny O” Orlandini, will use the Long Beach facility instead.
Both Theofan and Panz said rescue will not be the organization’s sole enterprise in Long Beach.
“The service they’re going to provide to the city is that our animals, strays or pets surrendered to the facility will be in their custody,” Theofan said. “They’re going to be housing and feeding those animals. They’ll be using extraordinary efforts to get those animals adopted.”
Panz said his group will rely on volunteers and like-minded organizations to get the job done. He noted that the $15,000 from the city will be earmarked to cover the shelter’s utility expenses, although he admitted he was not entirely sure what gas and electric bills will cost. Panz was vague about the group’s specific experience running an animal shelter, but said his group is familiar with the inner workings of shelters. In December, Rescue Ink teamed up with the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter in Wantagh to help promote its Home for the Holidays pet adoption program.
Theofan said he also wasn’t concerned that some members of Rescue Ink have checkered pasts, and the group makes no attempt to hide its street credentials. In court papers filed in 2008, Panzarella was allegedly tied to a list of crimes related to the trial of Gambino family soldier Charles Carneglia, though he was ultimately not charged.
“If that’s true I can certainly deal with that,” Theofan said. “I don’t have a problem with that. If they’re doing what they say they’re going to do, and they can, I believe in giving people second chances.”
Said Panz: “A lot of people do things that they’re not 100 percent proud of. Nobody is a felon. Nobody has been charged with a crime.”
* This story was update from the original.