Adoptapalooza: Helping shelters find homes for NYC’s homeless pets


 Two women stroke a dog at the Posh Pets Rescue stand in Union square.

Two women stroke a dog at the Posh Pets Rescue stand in Union Square. Photo: Cecile Borkhataria.

Four hours into Adoptapalooza, a twice-annual pet adoption event in Union Square, there was good news: Of the 300 animals available for adoption, 275 were headed home with new owners.

The Union Square event, which began in 2010, is run by the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, whose goal is to make New York a ‘no kill’ city by 2015. Dogs, cats and rabbits were available for adoption.

Before the alliance was formed, 74% of the approximately 35,000 animals entering Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC, primarily funded by the New York City Department of Health) every year were euthanized. Now, The Mayor’s Alliance claims a 32.5% rate of euthanasia. Since the founding of the alliance in 2003, more than 275,000 cats and dogs have been rescued.

The participating shelters, known as Alliance Participating Organizations (APOs), take in animals that are given up by the public or that face euthanasia at five Animal Care Centers of NYC, one in each borough. These APOs have adoption programs for the animals and care for them in shelters and foster homes while they’re waiting for someone to adopt them; there are 168 APOs in the New York metropolitan area, 80 in the five boroughs and five outside of the boroughs.

The total intake of animals by the ACC has declined steadily since 2003 –except for a four percent increase between 2013 and 2014, according to the alliance’s 2014 annual report, when warmer weather led to an increase in cat intake because cats spent more time outside. In 2014, the ACC took in 30,278 animals compared to 46,187 in 2003.

The Mayor’s Alliance, recognized by the IRS as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, has been around since 2003, with the aim of helping a coalition of over 150 shelters find homes for cats and dogs. Its mission is to make sure that no dog or cat in New York City with reasonable health and temperament is killed merely because he or she doesn’t have a home. According to Guide Star, a database specializing in reporting on U.S. nonprofit companies, the top funders of the Mayor’s Alliance include a multi-million dollar Maddie’s Fund grant, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Regina B. Frankenberg Foundation. It does not receive government funds.

Julia Kite, a volunteer at the Wild Bird Fund, shows passersby a pigeon blinded in one eye.

Julia Kite, a volunteer at the Wild Bird Fund, shows passersby a pigeon blinded in one eye. Photo: Cecile Borkhataria.

Katherine Gallagher, one of the 70 volunteers who participated in the event, said that her organization, Animal Haven, based in Chinatown, has around 30 dogs and 30 cats at any one time. “There are more cats than dogs available,” she says, and cats are usually adopted on the same day. “People tend to not have their eye on one cat in particular, so there’s a higher turnover.” Gallagher, a college student at Pace University, volunteers for a couple of hours a week in her spare time because she misses her family dog.

While the process varies among shelters, Animal Haven requires prospective adopters to fill out an application and provide a personal reference from a friend or family member as well as their landlord’s contact information, to confirm that cats and dogs are allowed in the building. In addition, an adoption fee of $250 per dog and $150 per cat is required.

When shelters are overwhelmed, businesses like Petco provide them with a platform to increase adoption rates. Neil Schaier, a volunteer for Rabbit Rescue and Rehab, said that the group has placed rabbits in the Petco store in Union Square to improve the odds of adoption. The rest of Rabbit Rescue’s rabbits are placed in volunteer foster care until they are adopted, which may involve a home visit to make sure the home is rabbit-proofed, which involves preventing both property damage and harm to the animal, and can include keeping electrical cords out of reach or wrapping them in plastic tubing. “A rabbit is not an impulse buy,” said Shaier. “People don’t know what it takes.”

One of the events attendees, Katherine Withseidelin, filled out an adoption application for a dog with the waggytail rescue group, an animal rescue charity dedicated to small-breed dogs. The shelter saves dogs from euthanasia from over-crowded local shelters, as well as some West Coast and Southeastern kill shelters. “I’ve always adopted, it’s good to give them a home, they’ve had a rough life,” she said.

Among the abundance of cats and dogs at the event, a small stand showcased birds protected by the Wild Bird Fund shelter, which provides rehabilitation services for injured and orphaned birds in New York City. Volunteer Julia Kite said that they have more than 100 birds in the shelter at any one time, mainly pigeons and chickens that have escaped from live poultry markets. The birds are not up for adoption, as the organization aims to release them back into the wild, and encourages people to rescue injured pigeons and bring them to the shelter.

The event didn’t only include shelters; many of the event sponsors offered other pet-related services, including free micro-chipping for the first 50 cats or dogs, dog licenses from the NYC Department of Health and free personalized pet tags.

Lawyer Vanessa Malzahn started a dog-treat business named after her Pekinese Poodle, Leela Ryan. Her product, which comes in three flavors including Wild Berry Scones, is placed in Trump hotels across the country that have a pet program. Andy Simon, the founder of the dogways app, wanted to create a social network for pet owner. Users can check in at locations when they’re ready to walk their dogs to see how crowded a park is and to interact with other dog owners through a chat feature.