Debbie Wan and Pecan the pitbull

Homeward Bound

What the dogs and cats at the New Haven Animal Shelter most need is a permanent home. While they wait, though, it’s essential that they have some good friends—friends who will work devotedly to advance their best interests and provide the affection they crave.

The non-profit Friends of the New Haven Animal Shelter maintains a busy schedule. Busy walking the dogs who are so anxious to get out of their kennels and into the sunshine for a while; busy fostering mama cats with new litters and ensuring the tiny kittens get a healthy start in life; busy helping shelter visitors meet potential new pets and busy training new volunteers to do all of the above.

“We’re taking care of them temporarily while they wait for new homes,” says Debby Wan, the group’s president (pictured above with Pecan, a pitbull described as “one cool dude”). I spoke to her one afternoon at the Robin I. Kroogman New Haven Animal Shelter, located at 81 Fournier Street, while she took a break from bathing dogs in advance of an adoption event the next day.

Animal shelters are chaotic by nature. Rows of dogs can’t help but start barking when they hear someone approaching—meaning the normal volume inside is loud—and when they do get outside their pens, they practically bounce off the walls. There needs to be order for any organization, and yet the animals, in lovable fashion, seek disorder. Freedom. And you want to give it to them. It’s a balance all animal lovers must contend with given the rules and expectations of civil society.

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If the title “animal lover” is earned rather than assumed, the members of the FNHAS easily qualify. In concert with the police officers who staff the shelter, the non-profit ensures the public gets a glimpse of these buoyant feline and canine personalities, and they strive to get the glimpse to figure beyond what a visitor could see simply by walking through the building.

That includes the photographs and accompanying descriptive paragraphs of dogs on the “urgent list” hung throughout the shelter and on the FNHAS website. Wan says that the shelter never euthanizes based on space, instead turning to rescues and foster homes. But the shelter is almost always at capacity, and some of the dogs have been there for the better part of a year.

The non-profit also partners with a number of outside groups to raise money for the shelter and provide publicity. It organizes and sponsors two outside adoption events a month, appears weekly on local TV station WTNH’s “Pet of the Week” segment and maintains space at the popular site, which leads to many adoptions, in addition to its own website.

This summer Friends has partnered with Kitchen Zinc for “Yappy Hour” events on Tuesdays from 5 to 7:30 p.m., when 10 percent of sales go to the FNHAS. The festive gatherings include treats for the pets joining their human owners on the back patio, plus trick demonstrations and raffles.

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These fundraising efforts go towards general operations as well as special projects like building a fenced-in dog run on site, which now gives dogs the chance to gleefully run around unleashed from time to time. Money also goes to providing dogs and cats (and the occasional bunny or other small animal) with veterinary care, going beyond spaying and neutering—which is included in adoption fees—to prevent or treat ailments like heartworm.

There are currently about 40 active volunteers, says Wan. New volunteers are recruited at orientations held every few months. The next is slated for Aug. 18 at 11 a.m at the shelter; check out the “Volunteer” section of the FNHAS website if you’re interested in learning more.

She points out that beyond animal handling, such as walking and bathing dogs, and visiting with the cats and kittens, there’s a slew of less hands-on volunteer work that needs doing, such as helping with the website and newsletter.

All of it, she says, helps to make the animals’ lives better while they’re in the shelter, and also helps to ensure that they don’t stay there too long.

“A shelter animal is always grateful. They know where they came from,” says Wan. “You’re literally saving a life when you adopt a shelter animal, and it’s nothing but love.”

Friends of the New Haven Animal Shelter
The Robin I. Kroogman New Haven Animal Shelter – 81 Fournier St., New Haven (map)
General Visiting Hours: Mon-Sat 12:30-4:30pm. Special appointment arrangements may also be possible.
(203) 946-8110

Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.

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