When Broadway Barks began in 1999, six New York City shelters and rescues were brought together for what would become an annual animal adoption event in the heart of New York’s theater district. Nearly 15 years later, Broadway Barks has grown to include 27 affiliated shelters and rescues! These organizations are tireless animal advocates that promote responsible pet ownership, encourage animal adoption, support spay/neuter programs, and offer humane education. Broadway Barks is honored to partner with these wonderful organizations and celebrates the amazing work they do every day on behalf of animals in New York City and animals everywhere. This month, Broadway Barks is proud to highlight the work of the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC), an original founding affiliate of Broadway Barks!
BARC began the way many shelters do; someone recognized a need and took action. It all started in 1986 when BARC co-founder and Vice President Vinny Spinola decided to make a career move. Vinny thought his Brooklyn neighborhood needed a pet food and supply store. So, he took time off from his job at a large manufacturing company to open BQE Pet Foods with BARC co-founder and President Tony Spoto. However, an unforeseen problem soon emerged. Almost immediately after the store opened, neighborhood residents started bringing stray cats and dogs there. Vinny did the only thing he thought was right—he took the animals in, gave them care and attention, and tried to find them permanent, loving homes. As time passed, more animals in need were brought to the store. Just one year after it opened, the neighborhood pet supply store had become a full-fledged animal rescue, and Vinny permanently left his office job to run the newly incorporated BARC shelter full time.
BARC is located at 253 Wythe Avenue, in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Although the BARC facility holds about 35 dogs and 100 cats, the organization actually cares for about 75 dogs and 250 cats at any time—animals not at the shelter are housed in foster homes until they are adopted. BARC does not want any animals to slip through the cracks, so the shelter is almost always filled to capacity. When space becomes available shelter workers quickly identify at risk animals in kill shelters and transfer them to BARC. The organization operates with a small staff of eight, but they have many volunteers who come every day to help clean the kennels, pet and socialize with all the animals, and take the dogs on walks. In the 26 years that BARC has been operating, the rescue has saved thousands of animals. And they do not discriminate. Like many shelters, BARC houses both cats and dogs, but they have also been home to rabbits and a goat, and they currently have several injured pigeons and a chicken named Marsha!! BARC has a veterinarian on staff and they often work closely with other rescues in the area such as Bobbi and the Strays, City Critters, and New York City’s Animal Care and Control to help save as many animals as possible.
Challenges and Rewards
As an urban no-kill shelter, BARC sees the best and worst in people. People often abandon animals at the shelter door and some people surrender family pets they have had for years simply because the pet is old or sick, or because the owner is moving to a place that does not allow pets. For Vinny, it is the hardest part of his day, “A few months ago someone brought in a family dog to surrender him. The dog cried and tried to follow the family as they walked out. It was really sad.” The BARC staff works diligently to advise pet owners who are thinking about surrendering their animals but are willing to try to find ways to keep their animals. As Vinny says, “When an owner comes in to give up an animal, we try to counsel them or help them find a home for the animal before the animal has to enter the shelter.” However, sometimes people are reluctant to change their minds once they have decided to surrender their pet, as Vinny explains, “We go to great lengths over the phone and in person to counsel pet owners before they surrender their animal but sometimes people have already made the decision.” The impact of these decisions is hard on the animals and it can be hard emotionally for the shelter workers and volunteers. Vinny cites economic hardship as another reason people surrender their pets. And while finances are tight, the cowardly ways people choose to abandon their family pets is disheartening. Vinny recounted, “On Christmas day somebody tied a sweet, gentle pit bull up at the front door. They tied him up so tight that he couldn’t even sit down. His neck was all bloody and he had really bad mange. Luckily, we were able to treat him. Later, the person who abandoned the animal called and confessed to doing so for financial reasons.” The dog was traumatized, but the people at BARC worked through the holiday to make room and care for the dog as a cherished family pet, which is what he deserved.
Vinny has noticed many changes in his nearly three decades of service at BARC. As the neighborhood has undergone a re-gentrification, the types of dogs he sees coming into the rescue have also changed. “In the first few years we saw a lot of mixes, but over the years we are seeing more French Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, more purebreds…we have started seeing more designer mixed breed dogs from puppy mills and many of them have problems from inbreeding,” he says. There are bright spots, however. BARC has a long list of “Happy Tails” on their website where adopters share stories and photos of the animals they have adopted from BARC. Vinny says that being with the animals and seeing them get adopted is the best part of his day, “It’s very rewarding when an animal goes into a good home where people are going to love them and take care of them.” Click here for Bosco’s Story, a “happy tail” of a BARC dog who was recently adopted after appearing at Broadway Barks 14!!
What are BARC’s goals for the future? First, they want to save as many animals as possible by increasing the number of dog kennels they maintain and by expanding the size of their cat loft. Through their educational programs, BARC wants to continue teaching children how to respect and care for animals. Additionally, BARC is planning to build an isolation area for sick and injured animals and expand their medical facilities so they can provide low-cost spay/neuter procedures to the community. However, the BARC facility is in desperate need of a new roof, since the current one suffered extensive wind and water damage from the recent super-storms. The damaged roof hampers BARC’s efforts to expand and save more animals. Fundraising efforts are underway, but a new roof for a building the size of BARC is expensive and is projected to cost $50,000. BARC is partially funded through its pet food and supply store, but it operates mainly through private donations. Financial donations are desperately needed and will go toward replacing the roof, animal medical care and nutrition, general building maintenance, and spay/neuter surgeries for all animals in BARC’s care. But money is not the only way you can help. If you have room in your home and your heart for a pet, go to BARC, or your local shelter, and meet the wonderful dogs and cats available for adoption. If you are unable to have a pet, you can still help by volunteering your time to clean the kennels, socialize with the cats, or walk the dogs. You can also use the power of social networking to advocate for an animal at BARC. You never know who you are going to reach—you may have a Facebook friend who is looking for a pet and your post might match them up with the perfect pet! As Vinny says, “The animals just want to be with somebody. They want to sit next to you; they want to be petted. They just want attention.”
BARC’s stated mission is to “provide a safe haven for abandoned animals and to find permanent loving homes for them.” But the people of BARC really do so much more. Vinny, Tony, and the employees and volunteers at BARC have all made great personal sacrifices, both emotional and financial to advocate and care for the animals. Their indefatigable dedication cannot be adequately expressed in the words of a mission statement and their personal ethics and character extend far beyond the mission. Despite the sad circumstances surrounding an animal’s arrival at BARC, the workers’ and volunteers’ compassion creates a positive and uplifting—even hopeful—atmosphere at the shelter. Rescued animals thrive and are transformed under the care of BARC’s loving and attentive staff. Everyone at BARC possesses a deeply sincere compassion for animals and a commitment to their wellbeing that permeates into the way they treat people as well. They support struggling pet owners in so many ways, from counseling to education and training, and they refuse to let animals suffer if their owners die or become too ill to care for them. The people of BARC give of themselves for both the animals and their fellow man and serve as an example for us all.
By Charlene Sloan