About a week and a half ago Betina Wassermann of Flushing went to a city animal shelter and saw something horrific — a sick pitbull mix with an untreated exposed bone.
“This wound was rancid,” Wassermann said. “We didn’t know how sick she was. Under her right arm the bone is showing through ... all the skin is missing so she has a cast on that arm.”
As a part of her new nonprofit venture, Unwanted New York City Pets, Wassermann rescued the dog, named Sally, that she said would have been euthanized otherwise. Since then they’ve treated Sally’s wound and continue to pay for the vet visits she needs once every four days.
Wassermann and several of her friends began their effort to rescue dogs from kill shelters about eight months ago after she had a life-altering experience.
“I was diagnosed with lymphoma two years ago,” she said. I pulled through after several bouts of chemo and losing my hair.”
She thought, “what have I done for the greater good — and the answer was nothing.”
The idea for Unwanted NYC Pets, which Wassermann runs from her Flushing home, seemed to came to her naturally.
“My mom never passed a stray she didn’t pick up,” Wassermann added. Back when I was a kid in Queens there were strays all over the place and they would wind up in our house. It’s all thanks to my mother who raised me to respect all creatures ... It’s in the blood.”
Wassermann said her organization does not discriminate based on a dog’s age or breed.
“We’ll pull a pitbull one day and then a poodle another day. They’re all mutts. Sometimes it’s a very, very difficult choice,” Wassermann said. “I go to sleep every night thinking about the ones I couldn’t save. It’s really, really hard.”
She said that every day between five and 25 city dogs are put down. Her mission is to rescue as many as she can, but resources are limited and she relies on the kindness and willingness of others.
“If people didn’t donate, we’d be in trouble,” Wassermann said, “but when people see a crisis they tend to help us, which is wonderful.”
Unwanted NYC Pets is not a shelter, all the dogs rescued go to foster homes while they are rehabilitated and given the veterinary care they need. That means Wassermann needs people not just to donate, but to open their homes.
Our mission is to rescue animals from kill shelters ... It’s all dependent on having a foster home and having funding. There’s only six of us and only a few foster homes. We will foster dogs [ourselves],” Wassermann added. “I personally have four dogs that are rescues that are mine and I’ll foster one on top of that.”
Wassermann gained media attention in 2009 after she made and sent actor Mickey Rourke a pendant in memory of his dog who had recently passed away. Rourke wore the pendant to the Oscars and was quoted as saying “I got it on and I ain’t takin’ it off.”
Although Wassermann no longer makes jewelry, she maintains two stores on Etsy, a popular retail website where artists and designers can sell their original and handmade clothing, jewelry and art. She sells what’s left from her jewelry-making days in her online store called, “Wicked World” and T-shirts and photographs at unwantednycpets.etsy.com. All proceeds from the Unwanted NYC Pets Etsy store go toward her rescue and rehabilitation efforts.
Sometimes, Wassermann said, pets she rescues turn out to take more care and resources than originally anticipated.
“Right now we’re in a financial stalemate. “We haven’t even hit the final total of what she [Sally] is going to cost us,” Wassermann said. “We run very slowly on the funding. We’re apprehensive to pull [dogs from shelters] right now because we don’t know what this could cost us. Without the funding and without the fosters, we can’t pull because these rescues are in desperate need of medical help.”
Wassermann said that because the whole operation is run on a volunteer basis, sometimes scheduling and transportation can be hard to manage and help is always welcome.
“We always need people with transportation ... that can drive a dog to a vet, to a permanent home ... We have a dog that’s now going to New Hampshire. We can use all the help we can get.”
Wassermann, who said the organization has rescued 25 dogs and several cats to date, hopes that in a year’s time she will have a financial sponsor and more foster homes and more adoptees so she can increase the size of her rescue operation.
“We just want to create awareness that so many dogs are being put down. There’s no reason to go out and buy a dog,” she said. “Walking out of there with a dog you know you saved is the greatest feeling in the world. I recommend everyone do it at least once in their life.”
For information on how to volunteer and donate visit unwantednycpets.org.