09 July 2012

New York-based Pets Alive leading the no-kill movement: An interview with the executive director

Pets Alive is a no-kill animal shelter located in Middletown, NY.  Their mission is to "improve the lives of companion animals everywhere by any means possible, including rescue, adoption, advocacy, collaboration, intervention and education."  They also have two other shelters in Westchester, NY and Puerto Rico.

I've had the joy of meeting some of their hard-working staff members and volunteers at the Middletown, NY location, as well as the pleasure of bonding with some of their precious, adoptable animals through fundraising events, volunteering and fostering.   One such staff member I interact with quite often is Becky Tegze, Cat Manager.  I'd like to give her hard work and dedication to the cat house, which is nothing short of amazing, some special recognition.  It takes a lot of long hours as well as blood, sweat and tears to keep this shelter running, and Becky is just one of the many who puts their heart and soul into caring for our furry-friends.

When I asked if the shelter would be willing to submit to an interview, Kerry Clair, the Executive Director at Pets Alive, responded with an enthusiastic "yes!"   Kerry, who took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions, went above and beyond what I had hoped for in response.   She details their operation quite thoroughly, and I hope that as you get to know this shelter a little more through this article, that you will fall in love with what they do and reach out with a helping hand.

Below is my question and answer interview with Kerry Clair, Executive Director at Pets Alive:

Q. What compelled you to open a sanctuary?
A. I can't take credit for opening Pets Alive.  Pets Alive is one of the oldest no kill animal sanctuaries in the United States and we have been around for about 25 years.  We have always been no-kill and a sanctuary for animals that often had nowhere else to go.  When the founder of Pets Alive was dying six years ago, she desperately wanted to see Pets Alive continue and all the animals remain safe.  Because of her illness, things had gotten away from her, and the place was very run down. The animals were in desperate need of help. I had some friends at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah (another no kill sanctuary) and they sent many people down to help save Pets Alive.  They put a lot of money and a lot of time and staff into saving Pets Alive - for eight months they helped put it back on its feet and when they left, some of us decided we couldn't let Pets Alive just close down.  We needed to keep running and keep saving animals.  So we made the decision to continue on and we have managed to not only save that one sanctuary in Middletown (petsalive.org), but also to save another no-kill shelter in Westchester (which became Pets Alive Westchester - petsalivewest.org) and we recently opened one in Puerto Rico as well (petsalivepr.org).

Q. Tell me about the animals at your sanctuary.
A. Animals at the sanctuary range from dogs and cats to farm animals, exotic birds, and many others. Many of the animals at Pets Alive are older, have special needs or require special care. Many have aggression or behavior issues as well.  Pets Alive is not a local SPCA or shelter. Our mission is not to provide local animal control. The main focus of Pets Alive, however, is to build, create and help sustain no-kill communities across the nation. To that end, we will try to help any organization that reaches out to us, and help any animal from any location, if shelters want help to stop killing the animals in their care.

More than 5 million animals a year are killed in shelters in the United States. But every year this number decreases, as the no-kill movement is rapidly growing across the country and being adopted in so many places across America. Because we are a leader in this movement, shelters all over the country are reaching out to us to help them become no kill. We teach them proven methods for increasing adoptions, how to implement successful education programs for the public, how to develop successful low cost spay/neuter programs, and we help them by taking in their overflow of animals so they do not have to resort to killing. It is truly a domino effect that is creating a no-kill nation - right here, right now, in OUR lifetime.

At our Middletown location we house about 125 dogs, 125 cats and horses, goats, pigs and some birds.  At our Westchester location we house about 250 dogs, 200 cats and about 25 rabbits.  Our Puerto Rico location houses about 30-50 dogs at any given time.

Q. How many animals do you take in each year?
A. Between our three organizations we probably assist over 3000 animals a year.

Q. Tell me a bit about a current project the sanctuary is promoting.
A. Pets Alive is really working hard on two projects right now.  The first is a TRAP NEUTER RELEASE project (TNR) for both Westchester and Middletown. This involves training volunteers and working with them to trap feral cat colonies, alter them and re-release them.  We feel this is a critical part of any organization that wants to save lives.  We must stop the breeding of animals in order to stop the killing of animals.

Another project we are working hard on is our Animal Hospice program.  When we took over the location in Westchester there were hundreds of senior animals.  We have placed many of them but we still have many more that NEED to go home.  Many are in the end stages of life and some lived at the shelter almost since they were puppies.  We want to get them into homes so for once in their life they can experience the love and warmth of a family and love.  Everyone that has taken a hospice dog has told us what a wonderful experience it is to provide for them and how well behaved, and actually grateful the dogs were to have this chance at a life.  We are offering free seminars and answering all questions in regards to this critical aspect of sheltering.  No elderly or sick animal should live in a shelter.  We really are asking people to step up and be that one special person in this animal's life.  For more information please visit petsalivewest.org.

Finally, we are also working on our "seniors for seniors" program. Many senior citizens are lonely.  Many cannot afford to care for an animal but would love a cat or a dog as a companion.  Pets Alive has matched senior citizens with senior dogs or cats and we help provide all the medical care and food needed.  We also periodically check up on them to make sure all is going well or if they need anything additional.  This is a wonderful way for a senior citizen to have a friend and a companion and it is wonderful for our senior animals to go into homes - homes where their people are home all the time and loving on them!

Q. Tell me about day to day life at the sanctuary.
A. A typical day at Pets Alive involves feeding and cleaning up after all the animals. Making sure food order are in and that medically everyone has what they need! We would also respond to email and phone calls, touch base with other groups that are asking for help, check the lists of animals dying the next day and see who and how many we can help, pay bills, and then spend some time begging people to help us financially!  

On any given day here we will have medical emergencies that we need to tend to and address immediately. Pets Alive takes in animals that many other rescues cannot handle many of our animals are senior, or have various medical needs. Quite often we have an issue that we need to immediately attend to in order to help an animal get through a medical crisis.  Sometimes that can take hours of your time, other times we can tend to it quickly and help them back on their feet. The animals come first here. So it doesn’t matter how many calls we have to return, or emails we need to reply to, or what bills need to be paid – if an animal needs us, all the staff come together at that time to immediately help that animal and help other staff members through any crisis. They always come first. Our staff is so amazingly dedicated.  They don’t check the clock, they don’t call out sick.  They are here all the time, come in often when they are off to check on an animal and often even take sick or scared animals home so they don’t spend the night unattended in our facility.  

A typical day would also involve people stopping by to ask us for help taking in animals, or people dropping in to adopt an animal here at our facilities.  We would also see people coming by just to drop off donations of supplies, or to volunteer walking dogs, or playing with and socializing our cats, or perhaps helping us with data entry or facility care.  We rely so heavily on our volunteers and we have such respect for them.  They truly have helped to build us to where we are today.  

Q. How can people donate or volunteer to your cause?
A. It is as easy as visiting our website:  petsalive.org or Facebook site: facebook.com/petsalive.  You can also follow us on twitter: twitter.com/petsalive !  We LOVE volunteers!  We accept volunteers at ALL our locations seven days a week!  Just check our website for orientation time and after you have attended an orientation you can come back and volunteer whenever you like or as often as you like!  Volunteers are what keep us going and we love and respect the people that help us save lives.

Q. Any word of advice to those looking to help animals?

A. Never give up.  This is hard work and can often be disappointing.  But believe in the domino effect.  If you can help save one life, or impact one animal's life, or change the mind of one person and help save an animal - do it.  Don't ever think what your are doing is not important or not enough. If everyone did one small thing every day - what a beautiful world it would be.  Do NOT EVER believe that killing is the answer.

Now that you see what good work they do on behalf of animal welfare, won't you consider lending them a helping hand in any way you can?   They will appreciate it, and the animals you help out will appreciate it even more! 

Christine Marie | Blog | Facebook
Upstate, NY Christine is passionate about animal rescue and healthy eating. Making the change to an all-natural, plant-based diet dramatically improved her health and she enjoys sharing what she has learned. In her free time she loves to cook/bake, take her dog for long walks and spoil her cats.

Photo credit: Facebook/Pets Alive