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Acts of Kindness

For North Shore Animal League America, Holiday Spirit Lasts All Year

“Thank you, Santa!” 

Ben Savio says he gets that a lot lately.  It all started when he recently began growing out his white beard; the red North Shore Animal League America volunteer sweatshirt doesn’t hurt either.  That’s exactly what Ben was wearing on that chilly mid-November day when one woman, Jennifer, came out to East Rockaway, Long Island for pet food that the Purina PetCare Company had donated for distribution by Animal League America.  The cold weather of the season had arrived, it seemed – just as the homes, belongings and important supplies (including pet food) of so many living in the tri-state area had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters.

For Ben and his fellow Animal League volunteer (and wife), Marian Savio, the holiday spirit of helping others lasts every day of the year; in fact, it’s been the work of a lifetime.  The couple began volunteering at the Animal League in June 2008.   Having worked for 33 years as educators for Eastern Suffolk BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), Ben and Marian were particularly delighted, on that mid-November day, to be volunteering alongside students of Animal League America’s Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum. 

The interdisciplinary Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, an exciting program developed for students in Pre-K through high school, combines social and emotional learning and humane education.  Through hands-on activities and discussions, students learn to grow into resilient individuals with an increased capacity for empathy and compassion.  In the process, they learn about the plight of homeless animals (Mutt-i-grees).  That day, in East Rockaway, students were handing out the donated food and helping carry large bags out to people’s cars.

As animal lovers who hold a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of education, the Savios know more than anyone how important the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, and the related volunteer experience these students were gaining, can be for a young person.  “It teaches them about responsibility; it teaches them about caring,” Ben says.  “If you show someone how to do something, you’ve got them for life.” Ben Savio would know.  Nowadays, Ben and Marian may be retired from their days as a principal and special education teacher (respectively), but they’re still doing the good work of helping their fellow living beings whenever and however they can.

Whether there’s really a North Pole or not may be up for debate – but since 1944 there’s certainly been North Shore Animal League America.  Just as Santa wouldn’t be the same without the help of his elves, Animal League America wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of its 434 volunteers.

Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum Motivates Students to Help Local Hurricane Sandy Victims

North Shore Animal League America volunteers  – along with members of its Mutt-i-grees® team and three motivated teens – recently came to East Rockaway, Long Island, to distribute pet food donated by Purina PetCare Company to members of a community that had suffered tremendous losses due to Hurricane Sandy.

The young people, students at Syosset’s MercyFirst Residential Treatment Center, are participants in the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum.  The Curriculum, which is an approach to teaching children social and emotional skills as well as highlighting the unique characteristics and needs of Mutt-i-grees (animals awaiting adoption at shelters), was developed by the Pet Savers Foundation, in collaboration with the Yale University School of the 21st Century, and funded by the Millan Foundation. These students have also been working as special Mutt-i-grees interns at Animal League America’s national headquarters in Port Washington, NY through a partnership with MercyFirst’s Project CARE (Canine Academy for Rehabilitation & Education). The work that the students perform for the internship builds upon – and provides a real-life application for – what they have been learning through MercyFirst’s Project CARE the past several years.

The teen volunteers came to hand out dog and cat food, offering to carry large bags out to the cars of grateful community members who needed all the help they could get as they recovered everyday necessities they had lost to the floodwaters that destroyed their homes.  The students, stationed for most of the day at Animal League America’s Mobile Rescue & Adoption Unit in town, also accompanied Mutt-i-grees team members as they drove through neighborhood streets to seek out people who needed the supplies but may not have known where to get them. 

Seventeen-year-old Carlos, working outside in the cold, was happy to be helping others, knowing that the people in the neighborhood were without heat in their homes.  As he traveled through the streets with the Mutt-i-grees team, Carlos saw, firsthand, the enormous piles of destroyed furniture, drywall and lumber set out on curbs, noting that one of the boats that had been washed up against someone’s home by the storm’s powerful waves looked as though it had knocked the house off its foundation.  “This is so sad,” he said.

East Rockaway resident Janine Wayar, who had come to the Mobile Unit for both dog and cat food that day, was touched by the compassion of these teens, who have learned – by working with dogs through specially designed lessons of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum – important social and emotional skills such as empathy, leadership and responsibility.  Janine, who has three young children, along with two cats and a dog, had already had her hands full before the hurricane hit.  After the hurricane, she said, one of her fears had become that, given the chaos surrounding her, she would go “shopping for the kids but forget the dog.”  Of course, she explained, the three pets are important to everyone in the family, including her children; therefore, getting support to make sure that the pets were well cared-for helps her, in the midst of such a challenging time, “feel like a good mom.”

Carlos said that working with dogs has taught him so much about helping and relating to others in general.  Working with animals is “like taking care of a baby,” he explained.  “You have to bond with an animal.” 

The internship program in which Carlos has been participating, which originally began as the Mutt-i-grees Summer Youth Program, was subsequently extended to include the academic school year due to its great success.  The skills that Carlos and his fellow students have learned (and get to practice with the animals), through both the Youth Programs and the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, have taught him a lot about teamwork.  For example, Carlos said, “You can’t be too bossy.”  Carlos believes that it’s important, even as he helps others, to let people retain some sense of power; therefore, he said, he often gives people suggestions for possible ways to solve a problem but leaves the decision in their control.   

Carlos also believes that being able to give is important for a person’s sense of well-being.  It “releases my stress a lot,” he said.  “It makes me happy.”  The work of Carlos and other MercyFirst Mutt-i-grees students has also included visiting the elderly and teaching students at other schools about the benefits of working with dogs. 

Carlos doesn’t plan to let his practice of leadership and community service end any time soon, either; this is only the beginning.  He said he would love to work for a government agency in criminal justice someday, explaining that there are special programs that assign dogs to trauma victims to help those in distress to heal.

Such a career may be a long way off into the future for the seventeen-year-old, but thanks to the opportunity to assist hurricane victims through Animal League America’s Mutt-i-grees program, Carlos is already helping others to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced.

The Silver Lining in the Storm: Stories from the Pet Distribution Sites

After Hurricane Sandy battered Long Beach Humane Society’s Kitty Cove, destroying its supplies in the process, Jennifer Ryley of North Baldwin, Long Island -- who has been fostering kittens for the past two years – knew she had to help, but she also knew she couldn’t do it alone. That’s why, when North Shore Animal League America set up one of its mobile units in the also hard-hit Long Island town of East Rockaway to distribute pet food donated by Purina, she came to pick up supplies for the additional kittens that she’s taken in to help Kitty Cove. Jennifer says that adopting a pet is so important during times like these; not only do animals need us, but we need them, too. As she puts it, “People could use a little furry thing to make them feel better.”

In the devastated East Rockaway community, looking out for one another has become a way of life, and North Shore Animal League America has been no exception in lending a hand to those in need. Animal League America recently drove through East Rockaway streets -- where residents and contractors were heaping destroyed furniture out on the curb and cutting away drywall that had been ruined by the storm’s floodwaters. Animal League America team members asked around, finding out who was in need of food for their animals. One man, Gary Hansen, says that while he personally had no pets, he could direct them to neighbors who could definitely use the supplies. Hansen – who lost many photos and saw many important documents destroyed – says he never saw this coming, having been a resident of the area for almost half a century. “Forty-two years,” he says, “and not a drop of water” until now.

Fellow neighbor Joel Pasternack was helping out by walking a dog for another one of his neighbors. Pasternack, who had adopted his last dog from Animal League America, currently has eight dogs staying at his house—one of them his, two of them belonging to friends who have been out of town, and the other five belonging to friends in Long Beach who have been displaced from their homes due to Hurricane Sandy and have no choice but to be apart from their pets for now. “Their hearts were just so broken,” he says. But neighbors like Joel provide the silver lining to the storm clouds as Long Islanders and all affected by the storm continue to recover. During this time of crisis, it has been an inspiration to see corporations, animal rescue organizations and ordinary people band together to help the neighbors with comfort and support when they’ve needed it most.

November 15, 2012

“Everyone I Cared About was Suffering”

Cassandra Sclafani, 23, is a second-year Teach for America eighth grade Spanish teacher in Hartford, CT whose hometown of Bayville, Long Island, was hard hit by the storm. The Saturday morning before the storm hit, her mother drove out to Hartford to weather the hurricane – and brought along Patches, the seven-year-old white Mutt-i-gree with gray patches of fur whom her family had adopted from Animal League America as a kitten. Cassandra was happy to see her mother and beloved family pet and to know they were safe in her company for the week that followed, but she also had what she calls “a guilty conscience” about being safe and warm while the rest of her extended family and everyone else she knew back in Long Island were struggling in the aftermath of the hurricane.

So Cassandra did some research to find out what kinds of items – such as flashlights, baby supplies, etc. – would be most needed in hurricane-torn communities and organized a supply drive at her school, Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. The supply drive also included pet food. She knew that Animal League America would be helping people during such a crisis, too – and she wanted to support them in their rescue efforts. After learning about Animal League America’s upcoming participation at a supply distribution center in Freeport (which included pet food donated by Purina PetCare Company), Cassandra and her boyfriend, Jamie Merolla drove all the way there with the pet food collected from the school supply drive. “Everyone I cared about was suffering,” she explains.

As much as Cassandra’s awareness of the full extent to which the hurricane had affected people on Long Island could be attributed, in large part, to her family, her family can also be credited for putting North Shore Animal League America’s rescue work on her radar. Not only did Cassandra’s cat, Patches, come from Animal League America; her cousin, she says, adopted his dog from North Shore Animal League America as well. “All of the animals in my family are from the Animal League,” Cassandra said.

When Cassandra’s family adopted Patches, Cassandra says, Animal League America staff took them through a very thoughtful vetting process. “We were impressed by how thorough they were,” she reports. Her family’s cat, Snowflake – whom they’d adopted as a stray – had just passed away at the time. “We were just thankful we were getting another cat,” she says.

Now with two cats, Cassandra empathetically expresses, “I can’t imagine what I would do if this had happened to me…so that is why I came down to do whatever I could.”

November 9, 2012

8-year-old Living Thousands of Miles Away Raises Hurricane Funds for North Shore Animal League America

When that 8-year-old Sofia Legreca of Las Vegas, NV heard about animals who might be suffering in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, she decided, from all the way on the other side of the country, to hold a bake sale at her school to support North Shore Animal League America in their continued rescue efforts -- and she raised $1,000 in one day! North Shore Animal League America’s Mutt-i-grees curriculum teaches social and emotional learning skills like empathy and team work -- but those are skills that Sofia has already learned a lot about on her own -- with the help of her loving parents, Jeffrey and Jody, along with the support of the Southern Highlands Preparatory School community. Fox5 TV reporter Azenith Smith told her story:

November 15, 2012

Lending a Helping Hand; It's the Natural Thing to Do

When North Shore Animal League America adopters Dan and Tina Romanello of Greenwich, CT faced the question, following Hurricane Sandy, of whether to donate clothes to hurricane victims or to donate pet food for affected families who have animals, Mr. Romanello had an inspiration: “You know what?” he told his wife. “Let’s do both.” That decision made, they drove all the way to the Freeport Recreation Center on Long Island (one of the distribution facilities for people in need) to add their own contribution, along with supplies they had collected from friends, to what Animal League America and Purina PetCare Company were already donating to communities where people had suffered tremendous losses and displacement.

For Dan, helping people not only with their very basic needs, like food and clothing, but also helping them to care for their pets during this trying time seemed like the natural thing to do.

Dan Romanello’s family had rescued Pit Bulls when he was a kid, so he’s always had fond memories of growing up around dogs. That’s why on January 1, 2011, Dan and his wife Tina decided to adopt their own Mutt-i-gree, Whistler – a mix between a Belgian Shepherd and Rhodesian Ridgeback – from North Shore Animal League America when Whistler was just 10 weeks old. At that time Animal League America had recently rescued the puppy from Georgia, Dan said.

When asked why he felt it was important to help hurricane victims care for their pets, Dan pointed out how crucial it is to have something to feel happy about during challenging times. “Our dog brings us a great amount of joy,” he says, telling the story of how Whistler – always up for an hour a day of Frisbee – makes him smile at the end of even the toughest day at work. He recalls how he and his wife fell in love with this puppy, who was incredibly easy to train and, as he describes him, was “all paws and all ears.”

The second after Dan and Tina agreed to take Whistler home from Animal League America, they knew how lucky they were to be the ones to adopt him, noting that at least “10 people after us” at the shelter that day had told them, “If you don’t want him, we’ll take him.”

In preparation for helping their devastated faraway neighbors in Freeport, NY last week, the couple gathered the donated food, bleach, water and other supplies and faced the next question: how to choose an organization that was well-run and would make sure the items quickly reached those who were really hurting. “If we bring [the supplies] to these other places,” Dan remembers thinking, “You don’t know what will happen.” Thinking back to how they had been “really, really impressed” with how well Animal League America treated the pets, Dan and Tina knew that their efforts would have the maximum positive impact on the people who needed the supplies the most with North Shore Animal League America on the job.

Dan and Tina were far from disappointed. “We were very shocked by how appreciative people were,” Dan reports, commending Animal League America, as well, for what he calls the “group of wonderful volunteers” who hustled to help the tremendous number of people who turned out.

See our latest rescue efforts here.