Save what saves you: Southampton Animal Shelter matches dogs and the community

In our ongoing series of dog rescue charity profiles, Beth Ann Mayer looks at the famous shelter on Long Island, NY, which will also feature in the first print edition of Wunderdog Magazine

The Southampton Animal Shelter is so ingrained in the community, locals once banded together to save it. When budget cuts threatened to eliminate the shelter in January 2010, a group of volunteers created the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation to care for the area’s homeless pets.

Because of them, 367 dogs found their forever homes in 2018, as did 384 of cats and a host of other animals such as guinea pigs and birds. 

A dog waiting for a new family (this photo and top: Maha Alasaker)

“We’re that last resort for animals, that place where they can be comfortable, safe, healthy and cared for properly,” says Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF) marketing coordinator Christina Ragone.

As a no-kill organisation, SASF truly is the final place for dogs before they find a loving home. The staff makes room for local strays and surrenders first but when space is available works with other Long Island municipal shelters as well as ones in the Southern US and rescues in other countries such as Puerto Rico. 

“It gives them extra time to find a home,” Christina says. “If they stayed at the municipal shelter, there is a good chance they would be euthanized because they don’t have the resources.”

SASF also has vets on staff, which gives dogs who come in with health issues the chance to get better. Christina recalled a brindle pit bull who came in with mange, a skin disease caused by mites that can cause fur loss. In a town pound, the pup may have been put down, but this dog went on to get his grey fur back and live a happy life. Other times, a dog may have a behavioural issue that makes him hard to adopt out, which can increase his chances of euthanisation at a town shelter. Because SASF has a training team, the organisation is able to pull those pups and work with them until they find a family. 

“We had a dog from a Long Island municipal shelter who was showing food guarding issues as a five-month-old puppy,” Christina recalls. “If we didn’t take action soon, it was likely he could grow up and be a full-sized dog with a behavioural issue.”

Dog School, SASF style

By the time the dog left SASF with his family, his guarding issues were gone. 

Being pent up in a shelter can sometimes make dogs without behavioural issues look like they have them. It’s easy to go stir-crazy in a kennel, Christina says. But Southampton has a large area where dogs go out for playgroups, agility work and training.

“They get that energy out as opposed to having it all bundled up inside. We try to make them think and physically do things,” Christina said, adding that volunteers also walk them and those looking to help can sign up on the website.

As part of its community outreach, SASF has playgroups available for locals and their pets as well. The shelter also stays open late Thursday nights during the summer for training sessions, where pups and their parents can learn everything from basic commands to shaking paws.

Working in an adoption centre is not always such a bad job

“It’s a nice way to get pet owners and locals in the community to come out, ask questions and learn more about their pet,” Christina says. “It gives them the opportunity to see what a little bit of work will do for your life with your pet.”

SASF has seen what a little work can do for a pet, and it’s what makes Christina’s job worth coming to every day. One dog, Bonnie, had severe ‘stranger danger’ and had been in the shelter for four years. Finally, last year, she took to a local couple, who adopted her and now sends happy-tail updates.

“To see an animal who sat in the shelter finally living the life we hoped for is really touching,” Christina says. “Just because a dog is in the shelter for that long doesn’t mean they are not adoptable…it’s just about being the matchmaker and picking the right ones to go together, and I think that’s really what we’re best at, pairing up the right people with the right pets.”

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