Animal Adoption Centers in NYC, Part I

Featured image
These are a few of the pets that were up for adoption during my tour of Manhattan's animal adoption centers

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.

Jane Hoffman, President of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, and Zoe, one of four resident cats at the Alliance offices. The Mayor’s Alliance acts as a liaison between the government of the City of New York and the NYC animal care community. Thanks largely to the efforts of Jane, a former Wall Street lawyer, and those of the Mayor’s Alliance, New York City now has a “live release rate” of approximately 75%. That is up from about only 25% in 2002 when the Mayor’s Alliance was formed. In the US, only San Francisco has a higher live release rate of 80%. But San Francisco, of course, is a city of around 800,000 people, whereas New York has a population in excess of 8 million. Studies have shown that it is not possible, nor even desirable, to have a zero rate of euthanasia because some animals (approximately 20% in fact) are too injured or ill to be treated and some are too aggressive. The importance of spaying and neutering pets and feral animals cannot be overestimated in controlling the animal population and thus, decreasing the rate of euthanasia. Several of the adoption centers provide low-cost or free spaying and neutering services. Also, The Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor’s Alliance has been instrumental in humanely reducing the number of community cats and in improving the lives of cats currently living outdoors. Jane is also a Founding Member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals. The Committee, which was formed in 1990, is one of the first animal law committees in the country. More on the tireless efforts of the Mayor’s Alliance later, when I write about the City’s pound, Animal Care & Control in Part II of this series.

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 BARCSean Casey Animal Rescue and the City’s Animal Care & ControlQueens 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.

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, and 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

Flora Kibbe began operating Bideawee in 1903 after a trip to Paris where she saw the humane way stray dogs were being treated there.

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.

Nancy Taylor, President and CEO of Bideawee. Here she is with Opie who has found a very comfortable home with expansive East River views in Nancy’s office. Opie has slowly been taking over some prime real estate. Not only can he usually be found snoozing in Nancy’s chair, but his treats, brushes, food and water bowls take up much of her desk. Nancy told me how, after hurricane Sandy, largely through the coordinated efforts of the Mayor’s Animal Alliance for NYC’s Animals, Bideawee received a generous load of bath sheets and towels donated by Thompson hotels. In addition, brand new pet beds were also donated. A son and his father drove a van all the way from Virginia filled with supplies. Likewise, a woman drove nine hours from Massachusetts with a car load of pet necessities. Financial donations were also made including a generous one by Beth and Howard Stern. Needless to say, all this was much needed and much appreciated by the organization in its storm recovery efforts which were still underway at the time of my visit to the center, as evidenced by the non-functioning elevators.

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.

Veterinarian Suzanne Paar bicycled nearly 30 miles from her home in Forest Hills to Bideawee’s Wantagh location using the GPS on her phone for guidance. That was during the nor’easter.
John Delillo, aka “the cat whisperer” with Hot Mama. The day after hurricane Sandy hit, when the Williamsburg Bridge was closed even to pedestrian traffic, John walked 3 hours each way to and from his home in Bushwick to make sure the center’s animals were taken care of. He did this even though some staff members had remained at Bideawee overnight.
Letitia Lopez, Bideawee’s Supervisor of Animal Care, took charge of three Yorkshire Terriers when they were just two days old. Their mother had died in childbirth and feeding them properly was critical. Veterinarians gave the newborns only a 50/50 chance of survival. That’s because they didn’t know into what capable hands they would be landing. Letitia fed these puppies every two hours, around the clock, for a month! The result is that as of this writing nine weeks later, they are bouncing around and healthy and just about ready for adoption.
Steven Gruber holding his namesake, Steven, who was recently neutered. Steven (the cat, that is) was fostered by a staff member and bottle fed.
Lucas fresh from an afternoon walk.
Jack has only 3 legs, but he is doing just fine. The blankets, pillows and towels on which the animals rest are laundered every day. That’s why Bideawee has commercial washers and dryers on the premises.
Handsome Henry.
Nancy Taylor and Laverne. Laverne is a native of California. Bideawee works at emptying shelters in other states as well. A lot of Chihuahuas are bred in California and due to their small size, make for desirable NYC pets. As a result, Bideawee has transported a “plane load” of Chihuahuas to New York.
Monkey and Bruce.
Nancy Taylor and Rolex.
Jill Erickson, a volunteer, with Big Mac. Jill adopted a cat from Bideawee who lived to the ripe old age of 21. This cat is now buried in one of Bideawee’s two memorial parks on Long Island.
Bideawee’s pet cemeteries have some notable occupants, including President Nixon’s famous Cocker Spaniel, Checkers. Bideawee also provides free grief counseling through bereavement support groups to those who have lost a pet.

Animal Haven
251 Centre Street (between Broome and Grand)

Founded in 1967, Animal Haven houses about 70 cats and dogs in a 7,000 square-foot facility spread out over three floors. During warmer months, a Mobile Adoption Van travels to the five boroughs.

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.

Dog coats, beds, carriers, leashes, litter, toys, food and treats are available for purchase at Animal Haven.
Animal Haven was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. It lost power for five days, but kept its operations running at full tilt due to the overflow from other shelters and the needs of pet owners displaced by the storm. It ran at capacity without electricity for nearly a week and as of this writing, is still at over capacity due to the storm.

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.

This large “rec room” at Animal Haven is available to rent for parties, lectures and performances. It can also be rented for short periods of time for you and your dog to enjoy an indoor run on rainy days or on days that are too hot or too cold.

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.

L. to r.: Dixon is a recent example of the admirable work done as a result of the Recovery Road Fund. He had been rendered immobile by paralysis in his back legs. Through the Recovery Road Fund, Animal Haven was able to finance the treatment this dachshund required which included physical therapy, acupuncture and regular visits to his veterinarian.; Dixon’s story has a happy ending because not only has he been adopted, but as a result of the care he received, he no longer even needs his wheels.
Tiffany Lacey, Animal Haven’s Executive Director, with Charlie. Charlie was hit by a car and was paralyzed from the waist down. As a result, this Shih Tzu is unable to urinate on his own. But he’s in great hands at Animal Haven where the staff and volunteers tend to all his needs.
Animal Haven has many kittens available …
… and adult cats too.
A few cats enjoying the trees, ramps and beds at their disposal at Animal Haven.
Many different breeds …
… and sizes of dogs are sheltered at Animal Haven. Classical music and even a “scent of the day” are piped through the canine kennel area. And to help facilitate the adoption of dogs, Animal Haven employs a professional dog trainer to provide basic training when necessary.
Alessia Pagnotta and Kristin Lasher, two staff members at Animal Haven. The staff worked through the Hurricane Sandy power outage, caring for the animals that were already in the shelter as well as taking in pets that were displaced by the storm.
Claire Scimeca, a volunteer, taking her charge to the vet.

Social Tees Animal Rescue (S.T.A.R.)
155 East 2nd Street between Avenue A and Avenue

As of this writing, Social Tees is at 155 East 2nd Street. It will move to new premises located at 325 East 5th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues) by the end of December. Several of its cats and dogs can also be found every Sunday at Petco on 86th Street and Lexington Avenue where Social Tees holds a weekly adoption event.

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.

Robert Shapiro, founder of Social Tees, with his beloved Oskar the shelter’s friendly mascot. It’s no exaggeration to say that Robert is a Renaissance man. In addition to starting up a successful t-shirt company and an animal shelter, he: has written a textbook covering all known 6,000 species of reptiles. This was at the age of 19; illustrated a book on Fabergé Eggs for Forbes Magazine while attending Parsons School of Design; was a nationally-ranked handball player; holds three patents for inventions including a “Modular Atrophy Prevention Machine” for rehabilitating bed-ridden hospital patients, and the list goes on.

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.

Two kittens ready to be placed in a loving home. People considering adopting a kitten from Social Tees should know that they cannot adopt just one unless they already have a cat at home. Robert’s rule is that they must adopt at least two because kittens can become aggressive if they grow up single.

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.

Dr. Amy Kantor treats the animals of low-income and homeless pet owners and those of S.T.A.R’s foster “parents” on a weekly basis at Social Tees. She does all this for free. She does not even accept tips. Dr. Kantor, who practices at Fifth Avenue Veterinary Specialists, has been listed by New York magazine as one of New York’s top veterinary surgeons.

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.

Robert and Sam Brody, one of S.T.A.R.’s indefatigable volunteers, with two energetic little guys. Social Tees has a vetting process for its adoptions. Prospective “parents” must have a job so as to be able to afford the expenses that come with pet ownership. A home visit may also be included in the application process.
This cockatoo is 77 years old! He belonged to a couple who had him for 60 years (60 years!) before they passed away. He was then cared for by someone else for 17 years before he ended up at Social Tees. The stress of it has made the cockatoo pluck out the feathers on his front. There is a happy ending to this story, however. The bird is now well-placed with an avian expert. He makes all kinds of sounds including a spot-on imitation of a ringing phone and as he likes the ladies, emits a low whistle whenever one is in his vicinity.

Part II coming tomorrow, Friday, December 21.

Recent Posts