The Hamptons is known for being a place of animal lovers, but few love them as much as Michelle Neufeld Montak. She is the founder of Gimme Shelter Animal Rescue, an all-volunteer organization that rescues dogs from high-kill shelters across the country. Michelle lives in Sagaponack with her husband, Eddie, and their three rescue dogs.
Behind the Hedges: Have you always lived in the Hamptons?
Michelle Neufeld Montak: I actually grew up in Toronto, where my career was selling real estate. I was visiting a college friend who’d moved to New York City in July 2005 and had a summer share in the Hamptons. We went out for dinner to JL East, where I met my husband Eddie, a friend of a friend. We dated long distance for a couple of years and then I moved out here.
BTH: Do you have a favorite dog breed? How many do you live with?
MM: Right now, we have three—Donni, Delia, and Lulu—and I do love the big fluffy breeds like Great Pyrenees. I’ve always been a dog lover—my mother says as soon as i was old enough to walk I chased every animal that crossed my path to give them a big hug! My dog Otis was the love of my life and he lived to be 17, a bearded collie-sheepdog mix. But we rescue all kinds, from puppies to seniors, and all breed, from big dogs to little.
BTH: What inspired you to start Gimme Shelter Animal Rescue?
MM: I went to a fundraiser a number of years ago for another local rescue and it changed my life. I was utterly heartsick to find out that there were so many dogs dying in high-kill shelters across the United States. I had expected to just drop in to the fundraiser but wound up staying three hours. I worked with the other rescue for a number of years and then started my own organization in 2011. Since then, we’ve saved more than 2,000 dogs from shelters. We don’t have a central adoption facility; all our rescues are housed in foster homes.
BTH: What you’re doing is so unusual: caring for so many animals without a facility. Do you ever have any plans to open one?
MM: It’s a goal and a dream to have a facility. Maybe someday it will become a reality. But the way we rescue now, with fosters, adopters can be told about each individual dog’s personality. They’re socialized well in a home environment. Every animal we rescue gets spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, and receives any additional necessary medical treatment prior to being adopted out. But then, each dog has to have a foster home lined up before they can travel up here, usually from the South. If there’s no foster for them, they can’t come.
We always need more foster homes. Every home we can get is another life we can save.
BTH: Why is it important for people to adopt, not shop for, their furry friends?
MM: So many incredibly wonderful animals are in kill shelters through no fault of their own. Not because they’re bad dogs in any way. There’s so much animal overpopulation down South, especially in rural areas. People often don’t have their animals neutered, so they’re running around breeding, and you see all these poor puppies everywhere and they wind up in shelters because there’s nowhere else for them.
In the past, a lot of people felt like rescues were abused or there was something wrong with them, but now times have changed and people see how wonderful these animals are. They’re just beautiful animals that deserve a loving home. We try to educate people about adoption, and, of course, not to support puppy mills.
BTH: What would your ideal day in the Hamptons look like?
MM: Anything with animals in it! I like dogs more than people. My husband and I love to cook together, I love to bake and we love listening to live music at the Talkhouse. Our perfect day starts with coffee—nothing happens till after coffee—then a leisurely walk on Gibson Beach, our favorite beach, and then the day ends with boating.