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Lewyt Humane Awards Luncheon Honors Animal Heroes
North Shore Animal League America celebrates heroic dogs, along with the devoted humans who make the world a better place for our beloved canine and feline companions
Long Island’s Garden City Hotel was alive with the sounds of barking, meowing and applause as North Shore Animal League America honored several individuals and organizations who have dedicated their lives to saving Mutt-i-grees®—the rescued animals from shelters, several of whom were honored themselves for saving their human rescuers.
John J. Stevenson, President of Animal League America, kicked off the 12th Annual Lewyt Humane Awards, hosted by HGTV Personality Tanya Marchiol, with highlights of the year, including the news that the organization had hit the milestone of adopting more than 1,000,000 animals since last year’s event.
John bestowed the inaugural Sandra Atlas Bass Philanthropist of the Year to the woman it was named for in recognition of her tireless efforts on behalf of the Animal League, her unwavering devotion to animal rescue, and her philanthropic efforts for so many organizations. “Sandra’s philanthropic spirit has been an enormous blessing for the homeless, abused and neglected animals in our midst, as well as for those of us who work to rescue these innocent creatures who depend on us for their survival,” he said.
“I am honored to receive this award from an organization that does such wonderful work,” said Sandra, promising to continue to support Animal League America as it continues its mission to rescue abandoned animals.
One of those rescued animals joining in the day’s festivities was Seven Feeney, an Animal League adoptee who alerted his family to a fire in their Syosset, NY, early this year. At around 4 a.m. on the first Wednesday of January 2012, Seven sensed trouble and barked frantically, refusing to stop until the family awoke to discover an electrical fire in their basement. Thanks to Seven, they all escaped safely, though the house was a nearly a complete loss.
Tom and Deborah Feeney, along with their daughters Brooklyn and Jayda, were thrilled that their hero was being honored with the Scarlett Award for Animal Heroism, named after the courageous mother cat who in 1996 fearlessly risked her life as she rescued her entire litter of kittens from a fire.
Seven—sporting a blue tie for the occasion—joined the Feeneys on stage as they accepted the award. Deborah told the audience that she’s convinced that if Seven hadn’t woken them up, the outcome would have been tragic. “Seven has always been the most wonderful dog, and the fact that he saved our lives is such an amazing gift,” she said. “We love him with all our hearts.”
North Shore Animal League America spokesperson Beth Stern was deeply moved by the Feeney’s story. “It’s just so wonderful and life-affirming to hear stories like Seven’s,” said Beth, proud parent of three cats from the Animal League. “Our animals are truly members of our families, and Seven’s devotion shows the wonderful nature and gratitude of rescued shelter pets.”
Beth graciously presented her friend and honoree Scott Guber with the Heart of Hope Award, which honors those who exemplify the greatest aspirations for all animals in need. As Team Captain for Team Animal League—a group of runners who raise money for the League while participating in the ING New York City Marathon—Scott has personally raised $25,000 to support the League’s mission. “Scott has been the driving force in inspiring all of the members of Team Animal League to lace up for the cause and raise a total of more than $750,000, all of which goes to saving the precious rescued animals called Mutt-i-grees,” said Beth, founding captain of Team Animal League. “I can’t think of anyone who deserves this award more than my marathon man, Scott Guber.”
For his part, Scott thanked everyone at Animal League America for their devotion to animals, adding that “I cannot think of a more worthy cause to support. The people at North Shore Animal League are real heroes.”
The Mutt-i-grees® Advocacy Award was presented to two dedicated educators, Deborah Swink from Arkansas and Norma Meek from Kentucky. Deb and Norma are pioneers in implementing the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, an innovative social and emotional learning program that builds on children’s affinity for animals and highlights the unique characteristics and desirability of shelter dogs. Joanne Yohannan, Senior Vice President of Animal League America, called Norma and Deb leading contributors to the Curriculum’s growth, noting that it was now in more than 2,000 schools across the country.
Norma said that she’s seen first-hand how the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum is truly making such a big difference in the lives of students, their parents and their communities nationwide, helping students learn compassion, responsibility and empathy. “I feel that I’m here accepting this award on behalf of every teacher implementing the Curriculum,” she said.
In her thank you speech, Deb told the audience, “I am so honored to receive this award, but I have to admit that I feel a bit guilty.” The reason? “In my 30-year teaching career, the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum has been the easiest thing I’ve ever implemented,” she said. “Administrators, teachers and students all love it, and it works unlike any program I’ve ever put into place before.”
Billy Jackson, Deb’s boss and the superintendent at South Side Bee Branch Schools in Arkansas, joined her at the ceremony and echoed her praise of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum. “Animals open children up and calm them down, and that makes it easier for them to learn,” he says. “The Curriculum reaches kids at any level, whether they have attention or behavioral issues or are the gifted students.”
Event attendee Bonnie Littman, a guidance counselor at PS 20 in Queens, is excited that her school will be implementing the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum this fall. “It’s a great way for kids in a multicultural community to connect,” she said. “Dogs really attract children’s attention, and that special relationship offers a great learning opportunity.”
Leslie Hervey, executive director of the SPCA of Martinsville and Henry County, a small, non-profit shelter in Virginia, brought along her colleagues Carol Berlauk and Donna Belcher to accept the Spirit of Compassion Award. In bestowing the award, Sylvia Ottaka, Senior Director of Operations at Animal League America, noted that the 18-year partnership with the SPCA of Martinsville and Henry County has resulted in the saving of more than 17,000 animals, including three amazing dogs that were in attendance at the luncheon.
Sylvia shared the story: “In 2007, the folks at SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County introduced three very special Chihuahua pups to Animal League America: Carmen, Pablo and Venus, three siblings who’d been born without their front legs. The group knew that we had the ability to nurture them and find them a loving home.”
After months of rehabilitation, the pups were adopted by one of Animal League America’s own veterinary technicians, who proudly showed off the well-behaved, happy siblings to an enthusiastic round of applause.
Other presenters included Jill Burkhardt, Vice President of Sponsorship and Major Gifts, who shared a heart-warming video of Animal League America’s Nursery program and thanked the monthly donors who support it; and Dr. Mark Verdino, Vice President and Chief of Staff at the Alex Lewyt Veterinary Medical Center, who discussed plans for a state-of-the-art Special Recovery Center that will enable us to save even more pets’ lives each year.
We hope you’ll join us next year!