No-Kill Animal Shelters Offer a Beacon of Hope to Discarded Pets

Barbara Anne Kirshner and her dachshund Madison
Barbara Anne Kirshner and her dachshund Madison, Photo: Courtesy Barbara Anne Kirshner

Life has its ups and downs. Anyone living long enough knows that all too well. If you can get past the rough times the sun will shine again. As a teacher at Suffolk Community College, my students confide in me about their joys as well as their sorrows. What young people haven’t lived long enough yet to understand is that everything changes. Nothing remains the same.

And so that has been my experience through my life’s journey. I have loved. I have lost family and beloved pets.

Did you ever have a pet that you bonded with so completely that he or she touched the very core of your being? That was Madison for me. But we were not destined to enjoy more than 7 years and 3 months together on this earth. Madison was diagnosed with a decaying spine. She tried to stay alive, I think for me, and we tried to help her stay alive. But after two highly invasive spinal surgeries, my girl’s disks ruptured again so badly that the surgeons shook their heads and said there was nothing they could do.

On January 27, 2012, my girl passed away in my arms. That day, the pain that was so pronounced in her eyes disappeared as she fell into eternal sleep. I know when my time comes, my girl and I will embrace again at the Rainbow Bridge.

I tell you all this because I feel so strongly that while her body left this earth, her soul still accompanies me. I believe that Madison took me down the path of animal rescue. This was not something that even entered my mind while my girl was alive. But for some reason, after she passed, I had the burning desire to help other animals. That eventually led me to Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the homeless animals of Long Island.

Save-A-Pet table at recent rescue event in Setauket
Save-A-Pet table at rescue event in Setauket, Courtesy Barbara Anne Kirshner

I tentatively entered that little shelter on Rte 112 in Port Jefferson Station and filled out the volunteer application. I attended an orientation conducted by a gentleman named George who outlined the shelter’s procedures and discussed safety in walking the dogs, especially on busy Rte 112. That day, his companion for the walking demonstration was a big, white and brindle mix pit bull, with the unlikely name of Lady Rebecca. Up to this point, I had never been comfortable with big dogs, but I soon learned that this enormous girl had a heart of gold.

I returned shortly thereafter and walked Miss Molly, a little yorkie mix. I searched for my place in the organization. Was it helping out at adoption events, continuing walking the dogs, or was it something else? I have always recorded everything my own dogs did through photography. So I started carrying my camera with me to the shelter and discovered that taking the pictures was most welcomed by those in charge.

The pictures on the shelter Facebook page many times are the first introduction of a dog to the public. Pictures elicit emotions in people. Many have called Save-A-Pet enquiring about an animal seen on the shelter’s Facebook. I am pleased to add that after initial meetings between animal and human, there have been many happy endings.

At the shelter, I met a very capable young volunteer, Wendy, who walks the dogs daily and knows them completely. As she helped me pose the dogs for their pictures, she filled me in on their histories as well as their likes and aversions. Some dogs like other dogs, some do not. Some dogs are total mushes, while some, like the little black chihuahua, Jasmine, pick and choose the people she will allow to pet her. If Jasmine does not like you, you will quickly be met with a sneer. Somehow, that makes her all the more endearing.

It was at the first photo shoot that I met Jada, the gentle giant who turned me into a pit bull lover. Around that same time, two pit bulls, Darla and Petey, were brought to the shelter. They came from deplorable conditions being forced to live outside in a horrible pen. Food was thrown out to them and their only source of warmth during the frigid winter was each other.

My heart went out to them for the plight they had experienced at the hands of human beings. But they reached sanctuary at Save-A-Pet and have since been adopted.

Most recently, I photographed a cute little cocker spaniel, Tammy, who at 10 years of age spent most of her life outside. How anyone could keep a doll like Tammy out in the blizzards of winter or during Superstorm Sandy is totally beyond my comprehension. Had this senior girl wound up in a town shelter, I fear she might have been destroyed due to her age alone. But at Save-A-Pet, she is safe. She has a roof over her head and gets plenty of hugs and kisses from the volunteers. Though she is happy here, this still energetic little girl deserves to live out her years with a forever family.

On the same day that I photographed Tammy, I met two 6-year-old shih tzu-Havanese mix sweeties, Rocky and Lucky. They were surrendered by the family because their owner was hospitalized. If you saw them, these two would just melt your heart. They are so loving and are probably so confused. After all, they grew up in a house with their owner, but now at 6 years of age they were thrust into an uncertain world. They are probably shaking their heads wondering how this ever happened to them. These two grew up together and MUST be adopted together. Yes, it is a big commitment to adopt even one dog, let alone two. But the bright side is that the adopter will be getting twice the happiness, twice the love.

The reasons dogs are surrendered would break your heart. I have actually seen dogs left at the shelter because their owners consider them old and might soon be in need of medical care. I wonder how they would feel if their family discarded them in such a cavalier manner. It is like sending parents to the nursing home the minute they celebrate their 78th birthday.

I understand terrible things happen to good people making them unable to care for their beloved pets. In cases where a pet must be relinquished, animal safety should be paramount and a no-kill shelter should be the first consideration. Too many beautiful pets with much love yet to give are needlessly exterminated in overcrowded town shelters.

The list of dogs and cats that need forever homes is infinite. I feel overwhelmed and frustrated that I can’t do more for them. And I thank Madison for taking my hand and leading me down the path to Save-A-Pet, this safe haven for all the discarded and forgotten animals. This light in the darkness offers all the helpless, innocent animals a good meal, a warm place to rest their heads and interaction with volunteers who are all true animal lovers.

At the time of this writing, the dogs I have mentioned have not been adopted. Should this article whet your interest enough to consider meeting one of these angels, please do not be disappointed should you discover they have been adopted. Local shelters have many great dogs and cats looking for their forever homes, so if you are truly ready to open up your heart and home and rescue an animal, you will find the right match at one of our local no-kill animal shelters, such as Save-A-Pet, ARF or Kent Animal Shelter.

Visit Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center at

Visit Animal Rescue Fund (ARF) of the Hamptons at

Visit Kent Animal Shelter at

Dogs in need of a forever home at Save-A-Pet's No-Kill Animal Shelter
Dogs in need of a forever home at Save-A-Pet’s No-Kill Animal Shelter, Photo: Courtesy Barbara Anne Kirshner

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