By Jon Craig
It’s been a dream in the making for three decades: a permanent local “petquarters” for abandoned or neglected dogs and cats.
About 300 people attended an open house Sunday for Pet Rescue’s first permanent facility at 7 Harrison Ave., Harrison. Mayor Ron Belmont teamed up with NY Giants President John Mara of Harrison for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The purple ribbon was wrapped around a Pet Rescue sign placed in front of the new center. It’s on the site of the old Westchester Shore Humane Society, which became rundown and degraded before closing down a year ago.
“It’s going to be an asset to the community,” Belmont said of the new pet sanctuary. “It’s a labor of love.”
The non-profit animal rescue organization based in Larchmont was founded in 1982. In recent years, Pet Rescue has kept its dogs at Northwind Kennels in Bedford and its cats in New Rochelle while waiting for temporary foster homes and permanent adoptions. The group’s mission is to rescue homeless and abused cats and dogs, provide them medical care and find them loving, “forever” homes. Since its inception, the mostly volunteer organization has rescued more than 15,000 animals.
Pet Rescue is currently caring for 18 dogs and about 90 cats, according to Barbara Gebala of Mamaroneck. “It’s so emotional for us,” she said. “We’ve never had a home. We’ve rented space.”
On Sunday, Gebala and other volunteers gave tours of the 80-year-old building, which now has 17 large indoor/outdoor runways for dogs, and space to add more as additional donations are received. The group printed up a “wish list” of its other needs and held a raffle to raise money.
“After 32 years of finding homes for cats and dogs, the prospect of a home for Pet Rescue is wonderful,” said Susette Kamell of Larchmont, founder and president of the group. “It’s amazing what love can do.”
After renovations are complete, the facility will house a larger, more efficient space for spaying/neutering and treatment; indoor space to train dogs; storage and meeting spaces; and temporary housing for dogs and cats awaiting foster homes — the hallmark of Pet Rescue’s efforts and success. “For a homeless animal, sitting on a sofa or a lap is infinitely better than sitting in a run or a cage,” Kamell said.
Paula Krenkel of Larchmont, board vice president, said, “This shelter had been allowed to disintegrate for many years with animals languishing in tiny stalls. Those trusted to care for these critters had lost their moral compass and the animals suffered. It took very dedicated activists over 10 years to get this (former) group to relinquish their control.”
Krenkel said the new board worked for more than a year to make major renovations to the Harrison facility, which includes a clinic area to care for animals as well as playgrounds where the dogs can be exercised and socialized. “We are thrilled to be part of the Harrison community,” she said.
Krenkel credited another board member, Lisa Zappia, for serving as project manager with a passion. “Kurt Guldan and James and the rest of the crew from Salem Landscaping and Maintenance have been beyond amazing,” Krenkel added. “They have been working non-stop to get us here today.”
Last but not least, Krenkel recognized clinic manager and board member Ruth Frumkin of New Rochelle, who began helping Kamell rescue cats about 20 years ago. Nicknamed “Dr. Ruth” because of her knack for saving animals, according to Krenkel. “Ruth’s dedication to providing the best possible care in the most timely means led to the development of our own clinic.”
Over the years, the group has boarded dogs and cats at a groomer, in a small apartment, at Kamell’s house, at a veterinary hospital and ultimately at Northwind Kennels. “We stashed them wherever we could since we just wanted to save some animals,” Frumkin said. “We need your help now more than ever.”
Mayor Belmont echoed that sentiment: “I want everyone here to come back and stay involved.”
Pet Rescue board members estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours were spent renovating the former Westchester Shore Humane Society, which closed in June 2013 amid mounting financial and legal problems. The state Supreme Court ordered the former Board of Directors removed in 2012 due to the shelter’s lack of sanitation and violations of non-profit laws. “It was dark and dreary and full of cages,” Gebala recalled.
An interim board was unable to raise enough money to cover back taxes and renovations until Pet Rescue took over operations and repairs in October, while inheriting a dozen more cats and two dogs. The dog run area needed a complete overhaul including new roof and concrete retaining wall, plumbing, heat, air conditioning and new wiring.
The group previously placed rescue animals with new owners with the assistance of stores operated by Petco, PetSmart and Pet Valu. “Now we can have open houses here,” Gebala said smiling.