Across town from show dogs, a job to save the hurting

NEW YORK (AP) — On a recent afternoon at a Manhattan animal hospital and adoption center, a pit bull mix named T-Bone, rescued after being tied to a utility pole, gazed out at visitors from his tidy room. Trigger was recovering from a stab wound, a large gash still visible in his side.

Little Melanie had been abandoned at one of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ community veterinary clinics. Tip’s owner had been overwhelmed by six dogs and four cats. Friendly, Rainbow, like a retriever, given up by someone who couldn’t care for him, dozed in the adoption office.

While the Westminster Kennel Club crowns the cream of the canine elite in one of the tennis courts with more history this week, the ASPCA facility across town will care for dogs that have led much darker lives.

New York is the home of the United States most prestigious dog show and its oldest humane society, the ASPCA. Their stories connect: Some proceeds from Westminster’s inaugural show, in 1877, helped the young ASPCA build its first shelter years later.

Westminster, which lies 10 miles (16 km) to the east, feels like worlds away.

“We have different priorities, different visions,” ASPCA President Matt Bershadker said. “Dog shows focus on breed, composition and movement. And we are focused on the heart and the interior.”

Westminster stresses that its goal is to “create a better world for all dogs,” and the club donates thousands of dollars a year to individual breed rescue groups and pet-friendly domestic violence shelters. Still, the show draws protests every year from animal rights activists who argue that spotlighting prized thoroughbreds leaves shelter pets in the shadows.

Bershadker, for his part, says ASPCA leaders “have no problem with Thoroughbreds, but we want them to be bred responsibly.”

At the adoption center, there is little reference to breed or possible breed. Instead, employees try to characterize dogs by their features.

During a recent visit, Willow (“great on a leash,” according to adoption center leader Joel Lopez’s description) was paired with Gordon (“he likes hot dogs!”) in the spacious, window-lined training room.

The two young adult males with gut-twisting histories (Willow had been stabbed, Gordon starved) were there to learn how to play and be with other dogs in a city of shared spaces. They sniffed and ran on leashes, with occasional interventions from employees as the interactions began to escalate.

In another part of the Upper East Side building, a terrace gives dogs who have rarely been there a taste of the outdoors. There’s even a pretend living room where volunteers can bring in animals to get them used to hanging out at home.

“Regardless of where these animals come from, they make great pets. They just need a little help to get over the hurdle and get through the rest of their lives,” Lopez said.

That aid is part of a $390 million a year organization that responds to large-scale disasters and animal cruelty cases across the country. His extensive work includes a veterinary clinic in Miami, a horse adoption initiative in Oklahoma City, a spay and neuter service in the Los Angeles area, a behavioral rehabilitation center in North Carolina, and more.

Established in 1866, the ASPCA is familiar to many Americans for its fundraising ads featuring bereaved animals, particularly a 2007 ad that featured singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan and ran for years. The charity spent more than $56 million on advertising and promotion alone in 2021, the last year for which its tax returns are publicly available.

Bershadker says the organization affects hundreds of thousands of animals annually, and its marketing communications form “an essential part of the ASPCA’s lifesaving work” by raising public awareness and action.

On the other end of the dog rescue spectrum, the all-volunteer Havanese Rescue Inc. takes in an average of 30 Bullmastiffs each year and finds new homes for many in two to four weeks, according to group leaders.

Getting $5,000 from the Westminster Kennel Club this year is “huge” for a group with a budget of $60,000 a year and dogs needing $10,000 surgeries, president Jennifer Jablonski said.

Westminster is also donating $5,000 each to the Newfoundland Club of America, which has a rescue arm that found new homes for 67 Newfs last year, and to Lagotto Romagnolo Dog Rescue.

At the ASPCA alone, the New York Animal Hospital treats between 9,000 and 10,000 patients a year. By the end of April, there were at least 50 animals each in adoption and recovery centers and about 100 or more in foster care, and kitten season was coming up.

There are numerous animal shelters and rescue groups in New York City, and the ASPCA is not the place to go for stray and lost dogs and cats. (The city largely directs such inquiries to Animal Care Centers, another nonprofit group.)

ASPCA charges often stem from their work with the policebut also from clinics, an association of food banks and other efforts to connect with people who are struggling to keep their pets due to financial, health or other problems.

While the group helps police build criminal cases, that’s not the only result.

A small dog in the recovery area at the end of April was to be reunited with his owner. What looked like abandonment turned out to be a pet care issue, but the owner also needed help with some veterinary issues, said Kris Lindsay, who oversees the recovery center.

“This,” he said, “is one of the cases we like.”

This one too: Rainbow has a new home, with a Connecticut man who had adopted dogs before.