Westchester County Center Goes to the Dogs

Hundreds of dogs and cats find homes in Best Friends three-day "Super Adoption Event."

With a goal of "no homeless animals," Best Friends Animal Society is all about affecting change. That said, staff and volunteers do have a few time-honored traditions.

This past weekend, at their Super Adoption Event at Westchester County Center featuring 700 dogs and cats—and a half-dozen rabbits—members of the 300-strong army of volunteers greeted the first guests of the morning with a standing ovation.

Carrying on the festival theme, the lobby erupted in cheers and bell-ringing to mark each adoption.

And there was much to celebrate. By the close of the event, a total of 360 adoptions were finalized. That breaks down to 257 dogs, 101 cats and two bunnies. Other adoptions were pending because many groups do not do same-day adoptions or reference checks.

Throughout the event, the floor of Westchester County Center was arranged with row after row of dogs in pens. (Cats and rabbits were in a separate room.) 

Best Friends New York City Programs Manager Jamie Lyn Rubin shared some additional numbers. There were 300 volunteers walking, watering and cleaning up after 700 dogs and cats, 10 trainers to help with meet-and-greets of potential dog siblings, a dozen veterinarians and vet technicians, 6 municipal shelters, and about 35 rescue groups.

According to Rubin, Best Friends pays all expenses including rental of the venue and insurance. There is no fee the public to attend, and no fee to the shelters or rescue groups to display their animals.

And although not every animal would find a forever home by the end of the event, according to Rubin, one of Best Friend's goals is for unadopted animals to be dispatched to the care of a rescue group, rather than back to a shelter.

Working toward the goal of "no homeless animals," Best Friends operates a sanctuary in Utah for abused and abandoned animals, a low-cost spay/neuter program and a series of super adoption events across the country, including Sunday's event in White Plains.

Forever Homes and Networking Opportunities

Milo, a pit bull from Mt. Vernon Animal Shelter, was adopted at the super adoption event on Saturday and shelter volunteer Mari Cronin was delighted. Cronin was also thrilled to forge connections with non-profit rescue groups. "I've met about ten different rescues, from Westcheseter, Rockland, Long Island and Jersey. It's great because if you build a relationship with them, maybe they'll pull dogs from the shelter. Lives will be saved."

Sharin Polen, coordinator for Town of Hempstead's municipal shelter in Wantagh, Long Island said her shelter was bursting with animals—typically between 30-80 cats and 145 dogs—but she was similarly hopeful. Having escorted playful dogs Buddy and Hennessey to the event, Polen and the shelter warden hoped a rescue group would pull, foster and place the pair in permanent homes if a forever home wasn't found during the event.

Unchaining Dogs

A dog rescuer with a unique focus, Kristie Hendricks of Kerhonkson in Ulster County operates Unchain New York with her husband JP Davis.

Hendricks' non-profit is named after her mission to end the practice of chaining dogs outside for their entire lives. "Our town is very rural," said Hendricks. "You get the mentality of, 'My dad did it. So what?' It's an old farmer's mentality of the animals aren't worth much," she said. Hendricks and Davis accompanied "Mo Jo," one of the 7 dogs they are fostering.

"I look for dogs chained outside and I knock on the door and talk to the owner," said Hendricks. "I've even knocked on a door and a guy answered with a gun in his holster, but I got him to unchain his dog. I basically just ask people why. Why is their dog chained outside, and work from there."

Hendricks says frequent replies to her question range from "we chain him outside because he chewed the couch," to "because he isn't housebroken," or "he's too hyper."

So she offers to take the dog and work with him, housetrain him, or have the dog spayed or neutered with part of the bargain being the dog's return to the indoors. 

Hendricks said often people don't realize a dog will calm down after he's been neutered. "But sometimes they say, 'Just take him. I don't want him back,'" she said. This was the case for Mo Jo, the brindle shepherd mix Hendricks and Davis escorted to the Best Friends event.  

Puppy Love

Shane Walsh, 22, spent several hours on Saturday looking for the perfect dog. Walsh who suffers from cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, recently lost his service dog of 14 years. Hoping to find a puppy who would get accustomed to his wheelchair at an early age, Walsh took his time.

Explaining that he hadn't had a weekend off in seven months, Walsh, who works at AMC during the day and as manager for disabled services for the Yankees at night, wound up adopting Luke, who had been pulled from a Tennessee kill shelter and fostered by Second Chance Rescue in Queens.

Other rescue groups vied for attention with clever names like Cold Nose Warm Heart, and Stray Pride. At the end of the day, hundreds of forever homes for animals were found, rescue groups and municipal shelters networked and awareness increased of the sheer number of homeless animals.

"Hopefully people will think twice before they go to a pet shop and purchase a puppy that most likely came from a puppy mill," said Mt. Vernon Animal Shelter volunteer Kerri Ann Hofer. "Millions of dogs and cats are euthanized every year," she added. "And it just surprises me that there are still people who either don't know or don't care."


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