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Rego Park animal shelter raises $18K for Verizon bill

"I was overwhelmed," said the shelter's founder, Robert DeFranco, of the outflow of community support. "I thought maybe people might put a little pressure on Verizon, but I never expected the amount of donations we received." Although DeFranco could not yet give a figure on how much was donated, he said it was more than enough to pay off the debt.Problems first arose for the shelter, at 89-10 Eliot Ave. in Rego Park, when it received a court order Aug. 4 requiring it to pay fees owed to Verizon by Aug. 18 or the marshal's office would close down the business. The fees had accumulated from advertisements the shelter had purchased from Yellow Pages over a year ago. According to DeFranco, the closing of the shelter would have resulted in most of its 50 homeless animals being euthanized.Within a week, more than 25 animals had been adopted (five are adopted in a normal week), countless donations were sent and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) contacted Verizon on behalf of the shelter."We just asked Verizon not to take any Draconian steps to collect the money," Weiner said. "To their credit they realized that no one would benefit from it."Although it appears the shelter will remain open, DeFranco warned that the new settlement number and payment plan Verizon offered - which the company asked not to be released out of concerns that this trend would spread - was merely a "gentlemen's agreement" with nothing yet in writing. Lawyers from both ends were in discussion, DeFranco said.Based on the more affordable Verizon agreement and the surge of donations, Jill Morganstern, executive director for the shelter, said it had enough to perhaps initiate other projects, such as a neutering clinic next door, whose $35,000 price tag made the idea previously unthinkable. Another would be setting up a trap and neuter program to stunt the population of feral street cats. Morganstern even raised the possibility of developing land in northern Florida into a sanctuary for the "unadoptable" pets. Taking a breath from spinning off all the possibilities, Morganstern concluded, "it's all just been wonderful."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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