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On the other side of town from show dogs, a work to save suffering dogs


NEW YORK (AP) — On a recent afternoon at a Manhattan animal hospital and adoption center, a pit bull mix named T-Bone, rescued after being tied to a power pole, stared at visitors from his tidy room. Trigger was recovering from a stab wound, a large incision still visible on his side.

Stubborn little Melanie had been abandoned at one of the veterinary clinics of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Tip’s owner was overwhelmed by six dogs and four cats. Friendly, retriever-like Rainbow, given up by someone who couldn’t care for him, was dozing in the adoption office.

While the Westminster Kennel Club crowns the top of the canine elite on one of the most legendary tennis courts this week, the ASPCA’s facility in the city will be taking care of dogs who have had much darker lives.

New York is home to the most prestigious dog show in the United States and its oldest humane society, the ASPCA. Their histories are linked: part of the proceeds from the inaugural Westminster show in 1877 helped the fledgling ASPCA build its first shelter years later.

Westminster, held 10 miles to the east, feels like worlds away.

“We have different priorities, different visions,” said ASPCA President Matt Bershadker. “The dog shows are focused on breed and composition and movement. And we are focused on the heart and the inside.”

Westminster emphasizes that its goal is “to create a better world for all dogs,” and the club donates thousands of dollars a year to individual breed rescue groups and to pet-friendly domestic violence shelters. Yet every year the show draws protests from animal rights activists who claim that spotlighting prized purebreds leaves shelter animals in the shadows.

Bershadker, for his part, says ASPCA leaders “have no problem with purebreds, but we want them to be responsibly bred.”

At the adoption center there is little reference to race or possible race. Instead, staffers try to characterize dogs based on features.

On a recent visit, Sauce (“great on a leash,” in the description of adoption center leader Joel Lopez) was paired with Gordon (“loves hot dogs!”) in the airy, windowed training room.

The two young adult males with blood-curdling pasts—Sauce stabbed, Gordon starving—were there to learn how to play and be around other dogs in a city of shared spaces. They sniffed each other and ran around on a leash, with the occasional intervention of staffers as the interactions intensified.

Elsewhere in the Upper East Side building, a patio gives a taste of the great outdoors to dogs who may have rarely been there. There’s even a mock living room where volunteers can bring animals to get used to just hanging out at home.

“Regardless of where these animals come from, these are great pets. They just need a little bit of help to get them over the hump and give them the rest of their lives,” Lopez said.

That aid is part of a $390 million-a-year organization that responds to disasters and large-scale animal cruelty cases across the country. Its wide-ranging work includes a veterinary clinic in Miami, a horse adoption initiative in Oklahoma City, a spay and neuter service in the Los Angeles area, a behavioral rehabilitation center in North Carolina, and more.

Founded in 1866, the ASPCA is known to many Americans for its fundraising ads featuring wobbly animals, most notably a 2007 spot starring singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan and ran for years. The charity spent more than $56 million on advertising and promotion in 2021 alone, the last year for which its tax returns are publicly available.

Bershadker says the organization affects hundreds of thousands of animals each year, and its marketing communications are “an essential part of the lifesaving work of the ASPCA” by raising public awareness and action.

On the other end of the dog rescue spectrum, the all-volunteer Havanese Rescue Inc. on average about 30 Havanese each year, and many find new homes within two to four weeks, according to group leaders.

Getting $5,000 from the Westminster Kennel Club this year is “huge” for a group with a budget of $60,000 a year and dogs that have come in needing $10,000 in surgeries, said president Jennifer Jablonski.

Westminster is also donating $5,000 each to the Newfoundland Club of America, which has a rescue arm that found a new home for 67 Newfs last year, and to Lagotto Romagnolo Dog Rescue.

At the ASPCA, the New York Animal Hospital alone treats 9,000 to 10,000 patients a year. At the end of April, there were at least 50 animals each in the adoption and recovery centers and about 100 or more in foster homes, with kitten season approaching.

There are plenty of animal shelters and rescue groups in New York City, and the ASPCA is not the place to go for stray and lost dogs and cats. (The city largely forwards such inquiries to Animal Care Centers, another nonprofit organization.)

The ASPCA’s charges often stem from its work with the policeas well as from clinics, a food bank partnership and other efforts to connect with people who are struggling to maintain their pets due to financial, health or other issues.

Although the group helps the police set up criminal cases, that is not the only result.

A small dog lying in the recovery area in late April was due to be reunited with its owner. What had seemed like abandonment turned out to be a pet violation, but the owner also needed help with some veterinary issues, said Kris Lindsay, who oversees the recovery center.

“This,” she said, “is one of the cases we like.”

This one too: Rainbow has a new home – with a man from Connecticut who had previously adopted dogs.


New York-based Associated Press journalist Jennifer Peltz has covered the Westminster dog show since 2013.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.