From Local teens to Rachael Ray: North Shore Animal League America is building a community of advocates  

In our ongoing series of profiles of animal rescue organisations, our New York correspondent, Beth Ann Mayer, profiles a shining light in the fight for every dog’s life

North Shore Animal League America bills itself as the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organisation. It typically finds homes for about 13,000 animals per year, a number that has temporarily dipped to 7,000 as it needs space to build a cage-free environment for cats. The distinction of being the largest no-kill operation isn’t just something Animal League America sticks in marketing campaigns — to the staff, it means there’s a greater responsibility to animals.

When I spoke with vice president of operations Diane Johnson in April, the organisation had just welcomed 38 dogs from Puerto Rico to its campus in Port Washington, N.Y., a town 30 minutes from New York City on Long Island. 

Arrivals cuddles (all images: North Shore Animal League America)

“Some are shy, but we do whatever we can to make sure the animals are brought to our facility, get the best of care — medically, behaviorally, whatever it takes,” Diane said.

The nurse will see you now

And over the years, Animal League America has found ways to do whatever it takes. There’s a neo-natal unit for nursing mothers and an on-site medical facility. Many local shelters have to euthanize sick animals for space, but Animal League America can try to nurse them back to health. The staff has an 80% success rate in treating the parvovirus, a contagious virus that kills 91% of the dogs who catch it. It’s a common reason pups are put down in shelters around the country, but Animal League America not only treats it but protects other animals from contracting it.  

We somehow think this adorable puppy won’t be homeless for long…

“We actually have a special recovery centre that was built to take all the contagions out of our medical centre we were are not cross-contaminating any of the animals that are coming in for wellness visits or any animals coming in for surgeries,” Diane said.

Vet service continues for pets even after they have been adopted, and Animal League America accepts patients not rescued from the organisation to provide a local option for the community.

Beth and Howard Stern

Friends and family

Animal League America’s extended community come from far and wide. Rachael Ray and Beth Stern, wife of radio personality Howard Stern, are vocal supporters and rescue pets make frequent appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Even Long Island native Billy Joel has adopted pups from there.

“They are able through media channels to get people we can’t reach,” Diane said. “People gravitate towards celebrities and listen to what they have to say. They are educated animal people, Beth and Rachael, and people are going to listen to them. Their support of the league and mission does a great deal for us.”

Approximately 200 volunteers may not have the same name recognition with the public as Animal League America’s famous friends, but the dogs and organisation sure appreciate their work. They help with everything from walking dogs to taking them to media opportunities to cleaning kennels. Animal League America thanks them with a brunch each year.

Teen spirit

The organisation also has a teen volunteer programme.  “We actually work with students who come in for two hours per week for six months,” Diane said. “We have currently about 40 of them, and we keep growing the programme. They are interviewed for it because we have so many want to come in.”

The Mutt-i-gree in full swing

Animal League America also runs programs in local schools called the Mutt-i-gree curriculum. Developed with the Yale School of the 21st Century, the programme reaches children from pre-K to 12th grade. Dogs are brought into classrooms daily, often by a teacher who adopted them, and students learn the proper way to pet and care for animals.

“We are looking to create an environment where kids feel comfortable going up to the animals, where this would relay to another person, that they would be showing compassion towards another person,” Diane said. “It’s helped a lot in anti-bullying because it shows kids that they learn compassion for the animals. Some of the kids who don’t open up take to the animals in the classroom.”

And Animal League America hopes its the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the students and animals.

Friends for life already

“The is going to be our future,” Diane said. “We want the children growing up to be humanitarians and people interested in animals because they are going to be the future adopters. Through compassion and when they learn social and emotional learning hopefully, there will be a time we won’t have to euthanize animals for space.”

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