Good Neighbor of the Year: Little Shelter

They provide a safe haven for cats and dogs

By Marjorie Gursky

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Suffolk Legislator Jon Cooper of Lloyd Neck, who has become an outspoken animal adoption advocate, with Kisa, the terrier-pit bull mix puppy his family adopted a couple years ago from Little Shelter. Photo from Jon Cooper

Times of Northport

December 28, 2011 | 01:44 PM

Tucked away on six acres of land in the middle of Huntington, the staff and volunteers of Little Shelter house and care for hundreds of cats and about 50 dogs that have been abused or abandoned by their owners.

Above, Little Shelter volunteer Al saying goodbye to Buddy Madison, one of the rescue center’s longer-term residents and Al’s favorite dog. Buddy was recently adopted. Below, volunteer Mike Masino of East Northport with a puppy at an event Little Shelter attended recently. Photos from Jodi Record

Little Shelter, founded in 1927, is the oldest humane society in Suffolk County, continually rescuing dogs and cats from kill shelters as well as educating and helping the community about proper pet care. Because of their perpetual commitment to cats and dogs in the community, The Times of Northport honors Little Shelter's staff and helpers as Good Neighbors of the Year.

"I have tremendous admiration for all of them," said Carolyn Cohen, one of the shelter's generous donors. "It's easy to donate, but very hard to be with these animals day in and day out. I couldn't hold a candle to any one of them."

Thankful for all of the financial support they receive from private donors in the community, the shelter has developed several programs to give back, including the Animal Soup Kitchen, providing food and medical care to animals whose owners no longer can afford such necessary provisions for their pets, especially in this economy.

"We only survive because of the generosity of the community. As a thank you to the communities, I started the humane education program," said Arlene Leone, special programs manager.

For the last 10 years, Leone has brought trainers and animals to different community groups of all ages, from preschools to Girl and Boy Scouts to the Lions Club, and teaches them how to take care of an animal. "I talk about kindness, responsibility, pet care," she said.

The program especially focuses on children's groups because "the earlier you reach children, the more likely they will become humane pet guardians," said Jodi Record, communications and events manager. The children are taught a pet is "a member of the family," she added. "It's a lifetime commitment."

The shelter also started the Reading to Dogs program at Lloyd Harbor School in the fall of 2010. Twice a week, the shelter would bring a dog into classrooms to meet children who have anxiety about reading. The children sit on the floor with the dog and, taking turns reading to a nonjudgmental animal, soon learn to read calmly, Leone said.

"The children become relaxed and more confident," she said. "It's an exciting transformation from the beginning of the year to the end."

Lloyd Harbor School Principal Valerie Massimo said, "Rewards for the children are academic and social in nature. The program not only builds their confidence but also increases their literacy and social skills. They also learn about animals, as they watch the dog react to them reading."

Leone said Little Shelter started the program at West Side School in Laurel Hollow this past fall and hopes to expand it to other Long Island schools.

While the shelter does much in the community to educate people about animals, its primary goal is to adopt out as many animals as possible. But not all animals are adoptable. That is why the shelter built a sanctuary on 110 acres in upstate New York. "Some dogs don't adjust well to shelter life. If they are here too long for various reasons, the shelter sends them to the sanctuary to live out their lives in peace," said Record.

Other dogs, however, can be retrained in the spacious sanctuary and then would be more likely to be adopted, said Maryann Chernovsky, volunteer president for the past 22 years.

Little Shelter President Maryann Chernovsky with her adopted dog, Lily. Photo from Jodi Record

The sanctuary includes an apartment building with individual furnished rooms for each dog, painted to suit the dog's personality, said Record.

Amidst the rolling hills, fields and streams, there is a 2 1/2 acre pond for the dogs to swim in, Chernovsky added. The sanctuary now houses 12 dogs but the shelter has another 12 to send up there. "So we need a new apartment building, so we have to raise funds for that," said Record.

In addition to the money needed for building the structure itself, the shelter also needs funds for the continual maintenance of the property as well as care of the dogs. "We want to add the additional space next spring," Chernovsky said.

To get some of the dogs and cats adopted, the shelter's volunteers and animals attend myriad community events. East Northport resident Mike Masino, a volunteer at the shelter for the past two years, said, "Me and my wife, Jessica, we go to all the different events: the Fall Festival in Huntington, the Northport parade; sometimes we go to the Broadway Mall [in Hicksville] to try to get the dogs adopted."

As a dog lover, Masino wanted to volunteer at a shelter and finds that the people at Little Shelter are "awesome."

Huntington resident Allison Whitney, who has been helping out there for almost 20 years, agreed, saying, "I've always been proud to call myself a Little Shelter volunteer. The best people I have ever met in my life are at Little Shelter."

Chernovsky said, "I am always amazed at how wonderful the staff is with the animals. What makes us stand out is that we have six acres, and the amount of hands-on care the animals get."

Suffolk Legislator Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Neck), who worked on getting his Puppy and Dog Protection Rating Program passed this fall, adopted two dogs from Little Shelter and expressed great admiration for the organization. "It's a no-kill shelter with very dedicated people who do great work," said Cooper.

He indicated his hope that rating pet stores partly based on the reputation of those breeders who sell them puppies will deter the continuation of inhumane puppy mills, and encourage people to get their dogs from adoption and rescue centers like Little Shelter in Huntington.