When you look into a pet store window and coo at the cute puppies therein, and are perhaps even tempted to go inside during this holiday season, plunk your credit card down to the tune of $1,500 – $2,000 and walk out soon thereafter with your very own little four-legged creature, I implore you to think again because the reality behind the endearing displays is far from warm and fuzzy.
The truth is that all pet store puppies according to Jane Hoffman, President of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a nonprofit coalition of over 150 animal rescue groups and shelters, come from puppy mills in which they and their parents are subjected to horrible conditions. How does she know this? She knows this because responsible breeders never sell to third parties. Gail Buchwald, Senior Vice President of the ASPCA, didn’t mince words when she described some of these circumstances to me.
The overbred parents are kept in cramped housing – usually in wire crates that are stacked 3 or 4 high – with little or no consideration for health or hygiene. The feces and the urine of the dog above usually just drop down into the crates and onto the dogs below. The animals’ nails are curled because they’ve grown around the wires of the cage as oftentimes, there isn’t even any flooring to cover the bottom of the crate. Furthermore, the animals don’t get a break from breeding.
Essentially, they are “bred until they’re dead” and there is very little, if any healthcare provided. The same goes for adequate nutrition too. Why? Well, naturally, any kind of care above the minimum required to keep the dogs alive and breeding cuts into profit margins. The result is animals that are often ill, prone to congenital birth defects from all the inbreeding and have a slew of behavioral problems. The kicker here is that many of them, according to Jane Hoffman, aren’t even purebred. So, how much is that doggie in the window? Potentially quite a lot as it turns out.
This applies to the sale of puppies via the internet too. That’s why you can get a purebred puppy online for only $500. And by the way, that certificate from a mom and pop dealer that comes with the Yorkie you have your eye on isn’t usually worth the paper it’s printed on. That’s not to say that all breeders are negligent. To be sure, trustworthy breeders do exist. But those will only allow for the birth of one or two litters at most and they always meet with the prospective buyers who in turn, are allowed to encounter the animal’s parents and visit the facility. In the end, puppies from puppy mills and backyard breeders need homes too, but if demand for pet store and internet puppies were to decrease, supply would follow suit.
So, what is the alternative to pet shops and the internet when someone is looking for a pet – even a purebred one? Why, go to an animal shelter – or more accurately – an adoption center, of course. There are several such wonderful facilities in New York City along with dozens of rescue organizations.
There, you will find all sorts of breeds of cats and dogs (and other species too – rabbits and guinea pigs, cockatoos and reptiles among others) of all ages, sizes and temperaments. If you must have a purebred animal, keep in mind that approximately 20% of the animals found in the city’s shelters are purebred. In addition, there are rescue groups that cater to certain breeds. (The American Kennel Club offers a list of breed rescue groups.)
Plus, when you go to a shelter, you get a lot for your money. For a modest adoption fee of around $25 – $400 dollars (and sometimes for free – check out the ASPCA’s “Free Over 3” cat adoption program), you will receive a loving animal that is spayed or neutered, de-wormed, de-flead, microchipped and vaccinated. Any medical condition has usually been addressed by a veterinarian team in advance of adoption. Often, you are also allowed free medical care for a limited period of time. Not only that, but in many instances, dogs have received some kind of behavioral evaluation and some sort of basic household training. Hundreds and even thousands of dollars’ worth of care is lavished on shelter animals by the time they are put up for adoption. That’s why charitable donations of money, services, time or goods such as blankets and pet beds are always greatly appreciated.
And last, but not least, there’s the incontrovertible truth that you are doing good. The adoption of one animal actually saves two lives – the life of the one adopted and the life of the one for which the new shelter vacancy has been created. Another incontrovertible truth is that the primary goal of all of these adoption centers is to save animal lives by making a lifelong match between a pet and its owner. Period. They are all nonprofit organizations. If profit were to come into it, they would have been out of business a long time ago.
I visited all six of the adoption centers – that is, brick and mortar shelters which have adoption programs in place – in Manhattan and have described them below. There are also several adoption centers in the other boroughs and on Long Island. In Brooklyn, there’s BARC, Sean Casey Animal Rescue and the City’s Animal Care & Control. Queens has Bobbi and the Strays and Staten Island has Animal Care & Control. On Long Island, there’s the North Shore Animal League and the North Fork Animal Welfare League. Unfortunately, the Bronx does not have its own adoption center, to the detriment of its strays and inhabitants. It only has an Animal Care & Control “receiving center” which, during limited hours, accepts drop-offs for transport to shelters throughout the City.
In addition to adoption centers, there are many wonderful rescue organizations. Rescue organizations are funded mainly by donations with most of the staff consisting of volunteers who take the animals into their homes and care for them – providing training and medical care and solving behavior problems – until a suitable permanent home can be found.
A complete list of New York’s shelters and rescue groups can be found on the Mayor’s Alliance site. And making things even more convenient, there are websites on which the pets in many of the shelters in New York and across the country can be found. You can specify the animal, breed and even shelter of choice when searching for a pet. These websites are Petfinder.com, AdoptAPet.com, and PetArk.com. The animals available for adoption can also be found on the shelters’ Facebook pages. My exploration of Manhattan’s animal adoption centers begins with three that were directly affected by Hurricane Sandy.
410 East 38th Street between 1st Avenue and the FDR Drive
Bideawee has been at its present address for more than 100 years. The nonprofit’s founder, Flora Kibbe, picked the riverside location hoping to attract the owners of unwanted animals because at the turn of the last century, these animals were often drowned in the East River.
The East River proved to be an enemy to Bideawee’s animals again a century later as a result of hurricane Sandy when the rising waters forced their evacuation (about 100 cats and dogs in all) to Bideawee’s two other locations in Wantagh and West Hampton for three weeks. The water damage had laid waste to vaccines, medication, pet food and cat litter.
In addition, two commercial washers and dryers were rendered useless, and all the pet bedding and employee uniforms that were stored in the basement were lost. The elevator too broke down. A team of professional cleaners had to be called in to clean and steam everything in the basement and to eliminate mold and sewage.
Bideawee is a Scottish word which means “stay a while” and if you were one of the cats or dogs at this adoption center, you would be tempted to do just that. (Full disclosure here: my own two kitties came from Bideawee.) It’s not just because of the airy and clean rooms where the animals are housed, nor is it because of the center’s hospital which provides a wide range of services from routine check-ups to complex surgeries. It’s because of the staff and volunteers who are completely devoted to the pets that come through Bideawee’s doors.
It’s no exaggeration to say that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and on a regular basis too, some of the staff members have been truly heroic. Nancy described how, after the generators broke down, veterinarians in Bideawee’s hospitals performed all sorts of surgeries guided only by the light of flashlights and miner’s lights. Below are just a few members of Bideawee’s staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
251 Centre Street (between Broome and Grand)
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in the wrong place when you walk into Animal Haven because it doesn’t look like a shelter. It looks like a pet store – and a chic one at that. Animal Haven, in fact, is a one-stop shop for anything your cat or dog might require. Unlike other pet shops, however, its profits help to fund the adoption center.
Something else that sets Animal Haven apart is its programs which are designed to foster compassion and enhance the bonds between animals and people. One example is its weekly Caring Kids Program which aims to educate kids aged 4 -18 about a wide range of animal welfare topics such as the effects of disasters. It’s not just about cats and dogs either. All sorts of animals are covered – chimpanzees, marine animals … you name it. Another program is the Pet Health Seminar series which covers topics like dentistry, holistic therapies and the needs of senior animals.
Then, there’s also the Recovery Road Fund which enables Animal Haven to take in and care for animals with special medical needs from city shelters and from owners unable to cope with the various demands posed by such requirements. Needless to say, many of these animals would not be able to survive without the extra care provided by this fund.
Social Tees Animal Rescue (S.T.A.R.)
155 East 2nd Street between Avenue A and Avenue
This adoption center began life as an apparel company which sold t-shirts with socially conscious messages. It quickly took off and its young founder, Robert Shapiro, was riding high on his business success. But money wasn’t making him happy and this animal lover, who was already bringing strays to the office, decided to turn his focus on the decidedly less profitable endeavor of rescuing animals. That was 20 years ago. Today, Robert still sells t-shirts, but funnels the profits into S.T.A.R. and by his own admission, is broke, although much more fulfilled.
Social Tees, with about a couple dozen or so animals at any one time, is small compared to the other adoption centers covered in this article. (It does also foster as many or more dogs throughout the city.) Although it doesn’t have anywhere near the resources of other Manhattan shelters, it certainly holds its own in the number of lives it saves. S.T.A.R rescues, rehabilitates, and places over 3,000 dogs, cats, birds and exotics per year. All in all, by Robert’s estimation, Social Tees has placed about 30,000 cats and dogs and another 70,000 creatures including turtles, lizards and other reptiles in its 20-year history.
As it’s located downtown, Social Tees was not spared from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. It lost power and as a result of the cold, three kittens got very sick and required veterinary care. Also, no adoptions were made in the aftermath of the storm as understandably, people had other things on their minds.
S.T.A.R has several initiatives worthy of note. First, there’s its “Underdogs and Undercats” program, in which the shelter finds homes for many amputees and blind, elderly and injured animals – usually the first in line to be euthanized at kill shelters. It also runs programs to educate children about all sorts of animals and they are free. And if all this is not enough, there’s also a veterinarian that comes in once a week to provide free veterinary care.
As with the other shelters, all dogs and cats at Social Tees are spayed/neutered, tested, vaccinated, de-wormed, de-flead, de-mited, microchipped and more, before they are put up for adoption. All in all, each cat comes with about $600 worth of medical treatments and each dog, with about $1,200 worth of medical treatments. When you factor in the rent, utilities, the cost of food and pet supplies, well, those numbers add up quickly. The monthly overhead alone is $4,000 – $5,000 and it’s not always easy to make ends meet. So, donations of all sorts including monetary ones, supplies and in-kind are highly appreciated. So is volunteering.
Part II coming tomorrow, Friday, December 21.