A Day in the Life of a No-Kill Animal Shelter

These shelter volunteers work tirelessly to save lives.
By: Michael Arbeiter
Uhaul the dog on a leash at Animal Haven

There isn’t a kennel or cattery attendant on hand at the Animal Haven rescue shelter that isn’t managing three tasks at any given time. At least this was the case on the day I paid the lot a visit. Granted, it was a particularly busy afternoon, as the staff was in the midst of boxing up its longtime Centre Street home in downtown Manhattan in preparation for a new outfit down the road—expected to open after a few months, during which time the resourceful team would be continuing their rescue and adoption mission out of vans that are being donated by Alliance for NYC’s Animals. Nevertheless, I got the idea that every member of the Animal Haven family, employed and volunteer alike, was used to this kind of hustle. In fact, they seemed to thrive on it.

I hung back at first, as not to distract staff attention from prospective adopters, winning the chance in the meantime to fawn over a hallway of adorable pint-sized kittens. Client Service Representative Kate Chamberlain was quick to warn me not to pet the sleeping felines, however, alluding to one’s potential infliction with ringworm. She cheerily assured me, “You don’t want that.”

As the youngest among them slept, older cats enjoyed the run of a sizeable rec room, laden with climbing towers, exercise wheels, and loads of toys. Though sparsely populated on this unique day in the heat of the headquarters transition, Cattery Attendant Moira Connelly informed me that the spacious room would typically entertain 10 cats at once. The remaining inhabitants didn’t get gypped of their good time, however. I later spotted Moira herself enchanting an orange tabby with a feathered wand.

Mine wasn’t the only new face to meet the shelter that afternoon. Staff members were giddy to introduce themselves to kennel newcomer U-Haul, a two-year-old pit bull (pictured) with the disposition of a Golden Retriever puppy. After a round of mutually delighted salutations (the staff was especially taken with their latest rescue’s dopey under bite), U-Haul was led upstairs to a colossal empty room. Watching from a recommended distance, I observed the standard practice for first-day recruits to Animal Haven.

First, a test of U-Haul’s demeanor when approached during a drink and a snack, led by Animal Behavior and Adoptions Manager Maya Robinson. The chipper pit bull lapped elatedly from a full water dish, completely unfazed by the approach of a large synthetic human arm meant to gauge his propensity for provocation. The very same result was gleaned over U-Haul’s food bowl; this dog could not be ticked off.

The grand finale: U-Haul’s first in-shelter interaction with a fellow canine. I was surprised to lay eyes on the Animal Haven resident roped into the deal: Saffary, a six-year-old female Maltese about a seventh the size of U-Haul. An even bigger surprise was that he, with a good 60 pounds on his new acquaintance, was the one to falter in intimidation upon their union. Clearly, U-Haul was not a dog the staff had to worry about.

I got the chance to meet two other, likewise wholly affable representatives of the breed at Animal Haven—six-year-old nipped-eared male Kato and five-year-old feisty female Peapod, a mix—and even better, to accompany the pair on their daily date. I followed attendants Rickie Tice (Kato’s best pal) and Martha Kamberi (Peapod’s favorite) into the kennel to begin the latest chapter of their pitties’ long brewing love story.

If you’ve ever set foot in a kennel, you’re no doubt familiar with the unavoidable pangs of guilt aroused by the sight of dogs just aching to find permanent homes. Of course Animal Haven offered no exception to this as I perused rows boasting varied breeds, sizes, and temperaments, though I took solace in recognizing how much care went into affording each dog due comfort and attention. The dogs were soothed by gentle melodies broadcast over the speaker system, and really only stirred upon catching sight of a passing human—a possible new friend.

It was in tagging along with Kato, Peapod, Rickie, and Martha’s regular leisurely stroll around SoHo that I became aware of what these dogs, and the shelter on the whole, meant to these young women. Rickie, a long-term volunteer at the shelter who became a full-time staff member in June of last year, has adopted four dogs of her own; the most recent of whom was a Chihuahua that she brought home just one day before my visit. Even in light of running what must be a hectic household—Rickie insisted that her apartment was not especially large, but dispelled the myth that even big dogs care all that much about their residency’s size so long as they get plenty of outdoor exercise—does she exude such a welcoming embrace of her Animal Haven canines, old and new alike.

These passions are clearly not unmatched by Rickie’s colleagues. Upstairs in the cat room, Moira walked a potential adopter through the personal history of Gus, a charmingly docile cat temporarily confined to an E-collar. Back down on the main level, Kate rattled off medical, behavioral, and biographical bullet points about every dog of which a curious customer took notice. She promised me that Animal Haven deems it just as important—perhaps more so, as I’d surmise from her tone—to find the right person for every dog as it to find the right dog for every person.

Sleepy kittens, cone-addled cats, playful pit bulls, and surprisingly intimidating Maltese alike, these animals are who Kate, Maya, Moira, Rickie, Martha, and the many other staff members and volunteers come into work every day for. For Gus, Peapod, Kato, Saffary, and, of course, U-Haul: wonderful animals just looking for people to love.

Images: via Animal Haven