By Sabina Mollot
On Sunday afternoon, over 400 cats and dogs in need of homes were brought to Union Square Park for Adoptapalooza, an event held by the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals and the Petco Foundation. A constant stream of animal lovers, many considering adopting or fostering new pets, filled the park’s north end, which was lined with booths manned by shelter volunteers as well as a few booths for games, pet photos and caricatures as well as a grass field.
Jane Hoffman, president of the Mayor’s Alliance, said at Adoptapalooza events, it’s typical for around 200 animals to get adopted.
“The value of it is it creates awareness,” said Hoffman, who also said it’s become a popular destination for families. This year, the event took on some extra urgency though thanks to a flurry of homeless pets from Florida and Texas following the hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
“When we had Superstorm Sandy, we had groups fly out of parts of the country and help us,” Hoffman said. “With Harvey and Irma, our groups stepped up to help them.”
What’s been happening in a number of cases is shelters in hurricane-impacted areas have sent their charges to shelters in other regions so they can make room for local, now homeless or flooded out stray animals.
This hasn’t come without its challenges though. In New York City, it’s always harder to get larger dogs adopted as well as certain breeds like pit bulls, due to rules imposed by many landlords.
Hoffman said this was a shame, because she believes most dog owners would be willing to pay a deposit or bond to a building if it meant they could have their pet.
“It’s unfair to stigmatize larger dogs,” said Hoffman. “I’m all for reasonable regulations, like they must be vaccinated, microchipped and they need to go to a trainer. But just to ban them, that’s not right.”
A volunteer from Bideawee, Miryam Greene, said the organization tries to work around this by bringing their smaller dogs to Manhattan adoption events, and the bigger pooches to an event that takes place in Long Island. “We bring the bigger dogs where they might need a bigger home,” said Greene, as she trotted out a medium-sized Australian cattle mix puppy named Lime.
At times, a few rescue groups and shelters operating out of trucks had long lines of people waiting to step inside to see their array of animals. One couple, hoping to adopt a dog, was waiting on a line 27 people long outside the North Shore Animal League truck. Viviana Velez and Benjamin Bowe, of Chelsea, said they had previously gotten a beagle at Adoptapalooza, which had been rescued after over seven years of breeding puppies at a puppy mill.
“She had never seen sunlight or grass. For the first month she didn’t know what to do,” said Velez. Fortunately, “she’s happy now.”
For her new dog, Velez would have liked to have gotten a pit bull. “But they’re on the no list” at her building that also includes German shepherds. After that Velez had no preference for breed, though Bowe said if possible, he wanted a corgi.
This year, participating groups and agencies included the Department of Health, which was issuing dog licenses, NYC Animal Care & Control, Bideawee, City Critters, the Wild Bird Fund and dozens of smaller rescue groups like Rescuzilla and Best Bullies (a pitbull-focused group).
Many of those groups get their animals from NYCACC in order to keep animals from getting euthanized, which happens when those shelters get overcrowded. And because they must accept any animals that come through their doors, they get overcrowded a lot.
One of those smaller organizations is the Patricia Ladew Foundation, which shelters about 100 cats at given time. Dr. Susan Winttred, who runs the center, said most of the cats come from local city shelters, including after the recent hurricanes.
“I figure if everyone’s taking from the hurricane (areas) no one’s taking from New York,” she explained.
At her booth, the organization’s mascot cat, Rubio, was manning a kissing booth, while at the nearby Wild Bird Fund’s booth, all eyes were on Damien, a pigeon raised by volunteer Chris Stub and his wife Wolfie. The couple had found it at four weeks old, emaciated. They then fostered the bird, which now prefers its human parents’ company over that of other birds.
“It’s like a feral cat or a dog. You can probably get it to like people,” Chris Stub explained.
Another animal rescue organization, Linda’s, also had a booth. Its founder, Linda Bryant, said she started the organization after moving to a neighborhood in Queens that was overrun with feral cats. The London native knew she wasn’t the only one who thought it was a problem when she organized a meeting for neighbors and had 60 people show up.
“In London you don’t see so many cats running around,” she said. Out of 40 cats and kittens the organization had up for adoption on Sunday, when speaking with a reporter an hour into the event, Bryant said she’d already found new owners for all her kittens.
Meanwhile, Christine Hahny, a volunteer for NYCACC, said the organization gets about 35,000 animals in need of shelter a year. In a Manhattan shelter, there are typically 60 dogs and 100 cats at any given time. The organization gets some funding from the city but also fundraises. She said the event was great for getting animals adopted — even the bigger dogs.
While she agreed many landlords have rules against bigger dogs, “there are (also) a lot of places that don’t discriminate against big dogs.”
Dena Spinelli, a volunteer with the New Jersey-based Husky House, also cheered the event, mainly because it gets the dogs out of the kennel. The group specializes in hard to adopt dogs, like those with medical issues or that have come from hoarding cases. On Sunday, Spinelli was walking a husky, Jake, that had been rescued from an Amish puppy mill. Now, she said, “He’s super healthy and loves belly rubs.”
Another group at the event was The Wild Dog Foundation, with Frank Vincenti, its president, trying to spread awareness about coyotes migrating into the city. He believes this is due to recent, harsh winters. “A lot of young animals will leave to find new territory,” he explained. “When winters are bad, you’ll see a dispersal to Manhattan and Queens. They’re already in the Bronx.”
Vincenti strongly advised against trying to tame coyotes or turn them into pets. “Exotic animals don’t make good pets,” he said, adding, “Being here, you know there are plenty of other animals that need good homes.”