Broadway Barks is now in its fifteenth year, and we couldn’t have done it without our amazing rescue and shelter affiliates—they are the real heroes in the fight to save and protect animals. Stray from the Heart is one of the six founding Broadway Barks affiliates and has been working to rescue, rehabilitate, and place homeless dogs for more than a decade. Celebrating their thirteenth anniversary this month, Stray from the Heart provides shelter, veterinary care, and loving homes for abandoned, abused, lost, and neglected animals. And they don’t stop there—Stray from the Heart also provides training and education regarding the humane treatment of animals, and they give adopters ongoing support to keep them and the animals in their care safe and happy! Broadway Barks is proud to highlight the hardworking and dedicated team at Stray from the Heart.
How it Began
Stray from the Heart co-founders Beth Silberg and Toni Bodon first met at a Manhattan veterinarian office while trying to rescue five abandoned dogs that were to be surrendered to the city pound. The dogs’ owner could no longer keep them and tried unsuccessfully to find other homes for the dogs. Beth and Toni knew the dogs would only have 48 hours to live if taken to the city pound, and they couldn’t bear to see the innocent animals die needlessly. So Beth and Toni joined together to place ads in the newspaper and post flyers around Central Park and the Upper West Side of New York City. Toni says, “It was a coincidence; the vet called asking for help and together we decided to help these five dogs.” Three of the dogs were adopted within a week, and Beth took in the two remaining dogs until they, too, found permanent homes. Beth and Toni decided to maintain their partnership and continued to rescue homeless dogs until they could no longer bear the financial costs. Beth and Toni had a few people willing to sponsor their rescue efforts, so in August 2000 Beth and Toni founded Stray from the Heart and began recruiting volunteers to help realize their mission, which is to “rescue, rehabilitate, and find permanent homes for homeless, abused, or neglected dogs regardless of where they were born.”
How They Do It
Beth, Toni, and the Stray from the Heart volunteer staff have saved more than 3,500 animals since August 2000, and they don’t even have a physical location. How do they do it? Fosters. Stray from the Heart relies upon a cadre of dedicated volunteers who serve as fosters for animals in need until they find permanent homes. It may take a few days or a few months to find each stray a forever home, but Stray from the Heart cares for every animal, no matter how long it takes. The fosters are supported by a variety volunteers who recover and evaluate stray animals, provide training and education, do fundraising and community relations, and help with communications and marketing. Stray from the Heart also operates a 24/7 hotline at 212-726-DOGS, which is staffed by volunteers who answer questions about training, food, behavior, and medical issues. Longtime volunteer Rich Lindy has worked with Stray from the Heart from the beginning in different capacities including transportation, fostering, house visits, follow-up visits, and—currently—fundraising. And fundraising is a really important job given the cost of caring for so many animals in need. Stray from the Heart spends roughly $1,000 on every animal it rescues for food, supplies, transportation, and medical costs. Every dog that Stray from the Heart cares for gets all necessary vaccinations, and they are heartworm tested, dewormed, and spayed or neutered. It can be costly, but Rich says it is worth it: “Every one of these dogs that gets adopted is another miracle. Some of the best rewards we get are Christmas cards from adopters with pictures of their adopted pet sitting in front of the Christmas tree.”
Many of the animals that come into Stray from the Heart’s care have been abused or neglected and are in need of rehabilitation and socialization, which takes time. Abused and neglected dogs need many hours of special care, training, and attention so they can trust humans again. Once the dogs heal from their physical wounds and are socially well adjusted, Stray from the Heart takes the time necessary to match them to the right person or family. And because Stray from the Heart’s number-one priority is the health and safety of each of their strays, they maintain a rigorous adoption process to ensure that each adopter has what it takes to properly care for and love their new pet. The adoption process includes a detailed application, a telephone interview, and a home visit to make sure the home is safe. Toni explains, “The application process helps us determine whether the person or family adopting meets our adoption standards, and we can make suggestions for how to welcome a new dog to their home. We look for a stable home that will be long lasting, with a person or family that is open to communication with us on an ongoing basis.” Stray from the Heart also does follow-up visits to ensure the animal is in good hands, and it remains dedicated to its strays throughout their lives as exemplified by its “no questions asked” policy if adopters need to return animals. Rich explains why this is important: “We ask adopters to sign an agreement so that if they can no longer care for the dog, they agree to return the dog to us. We offer to take the dog back without any questions, and hopefully that opens the door so people won’t dump a dog or return a dog to the shelter system.” Stray from the Heart also makes trainers available to adopters to answer questions and give advice about health and behavioral issues. Toni states, “We follow up with phone calls, we offer trainers to answer questions, we stay involved for the first few weeks. We are like Velcro—we stay with them as long as they need us.” Rich agrees, “We keep pretty good contact with them—as much as the adopter wants. Certainly, we check back in a few days, then in a week or two, then again in a month.”
It’s a Global Issue
At Stray from the Heart, they understand that animal homelessness is not just a problem in New York City or the United States—it’s a global issue. So in addition to rescuing dogs locally from Animal Care and Control (ACC) and the streets of NYC, Beth and Toni have launched an international compassion program to help homeless dogs in Puerto Rico and Ecuador. Stray from the Heart partnered with Save a Sato and the Amigo Fiel Foundation and have found loving, permanent homes for more than 100 dogs in Puerto Rico and 35 dogs in Quito, Ecuador. As Toni puts it, “I am from Puerto Rico, so I have firsthand experience with the situation there, and it is two times worse than what it is in New York City. The situation in Ecuador is six times worse than Puerto Rico! Our goal is to help any dog, no matter where they are from.” The volunteers and donors at Stray from the Heart truly believe that working with international partners will help raise awareness of the global nature of the animal-welfare crisis. Stray from the Heart looks forward to expanding its international efforts by working with similar groups in South America and India.
Beth, Toni, and the volunteers at Stray from the Heart are caring, dedicated people who do amazing work for companion animals in need. The volunteers are heroes who dedicate their time to helping animals because they feel it is the right thing to do. “I love dogs,” Toni says. “I just love dogs, and it breaks my heart to see the abuse.” The volunteers at Stray from the Heart find motivation in the faces of the animals and people they meet along the way, but they also keep their minds focused on the goal of finding homes for every animal. Rich sums it up, “You meet great people and like-minded people doing this work. But what really motivates me is the situation of the homeless animals in this country. If people would adopt instead of shop for a dog, the problem of euthanasia and homeless animals would be eliminated in a year or two.”
By Charlene Sloan