By Rick Murphy
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Bryan and Carol Clay ran an open door policy at their home; there was always room to house a traveling musician, and there was always room for a stray cat.
Carol Clay runs the non-for-profit Long Island Spay and Neuter Fund, which more often than not translated into "take in the cats no one wants and make a home for them."
Bryan, born and raised in Hampton Bays, is a musician who is well known locally.
The couple bought a house in Mastic Beach when they finally realized living in Hampton Bays was too expensive. "We found out there is a really bad cat problem there," Bryan related. "Word spread that we took them in and they kind of would just appear at our font door."
Things were going smoothly until a nightmarish run of bad luck – almost incomprehensible— robbed them, literally, of everything they had. It hit bottom one night in early December. The couple went out to celebrate Bryan's birthday.
Carol left the party early only to find their house engulfed in flames. By the time firefighters arrived it was too late – a faulty electric wire under the house quickly became a raging fire. "A firefighter told me it had been a long time since he's seen a fire that hot," said Bryan.
It was also too late for 13 of the 14 cats trapped inside, and Bryan's collection of lefthanded guitars, some signed by musicians like Alice Cooper and Bret Michaels (Poison) and other instruments, including a grand piano. "There is no way to replace them," Bryan lamented.
To make matters worse Bryan, an out of work plumber, cancelled his fire insurance before the blaze.
He also lost his medical coverage; he suffered a face fracture working as a maintenance manager at a camp for handicapped children shortly afterwards. The fracture compounded his epilepsy condition, resulting in frequent seizures.
There is also the matter of the recent deaths of four family members, including his wife's brother. The couple is staying at a friend's bed and breakfast until the end of the month. They have tried to get help from the United Way and Red Cross, so far to no avail. They were referred to County Social Services but are currently caught up in red tape.
Saturday night a benefit at Cowfish from 6 to 11 PM organized by Bryan's brother Tim Bennett will hopefully raise enough money to keep the couple going for a while.
"Bryan is a musician, and he knows everybody, so you never know who might show up to play," Bennett said. There will also be a DJ, karaoke, and an auction of autographed guitars. Admission is $30 -- Call 516-902-9987 for more information or to make a donation. Visit sickmanfan.com for more information. Cowfish is located at 258 East Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays. The number there is 631-594-3868.