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Bellerose shelter saves boro’s stray cats, dogs

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For Maria Barnett finding homes for stray cats and dogs is more than just a vocation — it is her destiny.

The Bellerose resident had become so involved in saving strays, two years ago that she opened The Noah’s Ark Project.

Saving animals has been a lifelong occupation for the 55-year-old St. John’s University law student, who immigrated to the United States 20 years ago from Buenos Aries, Argentina. After setting up the shelter in 1999, her first goal was to save cats on the streets of Astoria, but she has since expanded it to communities throughout the borough.

“We were doing animal rescues for many years and had numerous foster homes for pets,” said Barnett, who is director of the project. “We put a lot of animals into homes, but we wanted to bring the community to us to find and help animals.”

She said the shelter at 251-16 Jamaica Ave., which primarily rescues cats and dogs, is a non-profit organization staffed by volunteers. More than 20 people donate their time to the shelter.

The majority of the volunteers are elderly community residents and high school students who get school credit.

“Saving animals is my vocation, my love,” Barnett said. “We do not get any money, we have to put money in to care for the animals. We were hoping to get funding from the government, but after Sept. 11 there has been no available funding. We live mainly on public charity.”

Marie Beneat, a spokeswoman for Noah’s Ark, said when the shelter first opened there was not a waiting list for animals, but recently that has changed. Some of the 50 cats and 20 dogs are permanent residents and have become unadoptable, she said.

In addition to finding homes for strays, the project offers a program to trap, neuter and release cats; grooming services; and low-cost veterinary care.

Barnett said the neutering program is geared to stop the cat overpopulation problem that affects many Queens neighborhoods. She said Noah’s Ark lends traps to people to catch strays, which have a lifespan of about two years. The captured cats are then neutered and put back on the street. She said this prevents the feline population from growing.

“An unspayed female cat can produce an average of three litters each year,” Barnett said. “In most cases, the kittens face early death. Others die as a result of city animal control policies. According to the ASPCA, each year 40,000 animals are euthanized in NYC’s municipal shelters.”

If people do not stop dumping the cats and dogs they no longer want and do not neuter them, she said, the problem will never end.

“It is my destiny to do this full time,” she said. “But I have a family — four children who go to college and a mom. America is a wonderful place. It is my country and I want to help the community.”

The shelter is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and night emergency hours will be available soon. For more information or to volunteer call the shelter at 343-5204.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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