An elderly woman grips Murphy awkwardly around his chest, leaving his hind paws dangling in the air, but the little white-and-black shih tzu takes it well. He neither whines nor wriggles. The woman says she’s looking for a small dog and has – her daughter adds – “so much love to give.”
But that’s not enough for Bobbi Giordano. “You’re hurting him,” she says and gestures to a volunteer to grab Murphy. Half an hour later, the mother and daughter leave Giordano’s shelter without a dog.
Roberta “Bobbi” Giordano, 69, founded a nonprofit no-kill animal rescue organization, called Bobbi and the Strays, in 1998 after witnessing a dog injured in a car accident in Brooklyn. She wasn’t able to save that dog, but decided to close and eventually sell her clothing store in Staten Island and devote herself to animals in need. She started by housing the animals in her apartment then boarded animals at Petco and later rented a space at JFK Airport. By 2007, the owners of the mall The Shops at Atlas Park donated space in Glendale.
Today, Bobbi and the Strays operates the Glendale adoption center in addition to a shelter in Freeport, LI, where Giordano, her staff and more than 100 volunteers work to find loving homes for rescued cats and dogs.
A short, sturdy blonde with a deep voice and a calm, authoritative air, Giordano looks like she can handle anything. But she leaves visits to the city shelter to her colleagues. “I get very upset, and I want them all,” she said.
Bobbi and the Strays is part of New York City’s growing movement toward no-kill animal shelters. More than 150 rescue groups and no-kill shelters in New York City work with the umbrella organization the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. The alliance’s goal is to transform New York City into a no-kill community by 2015.
In comparison, Animal Care and Control, an open-admission shelter that takes in 30,000 animals each year, takes pride in euthanasia reductions, but “there’s more to do,” it says in a statement. “We continue to work toward our goal of ending the euthanasia of treatable animals.”
The no-kill debate grew heated last spring, when the British tabloid The Daily Mail revealed that the animal rights organization PETA euthanized 90 percent of the cats and dogs taken to its headquarter shelter in Virginia. PETA defends its practices, saying that the animals it receives are often in such bad shape that euthanasia is the most humane option. “There is a fate worse than death for these animals,” says PETA campaign coordinator Kenneth Montville.
Sick animals aside, the organization tries to transfer adoptable pets to open admission shelters, but there are just too many. “Between six and eight million animals enter shelters every year in the U.S., and half of them are euthanized because of lack of space,” Montville says. “This isn’t a crisis we can build enough shelters to get out of.”
He calls euthanasia a “horrible necessity” and doesn’t believe no-kill shelters provide a solution. “I think they’re well-intentioned, but they don’t take in the scope of the issue,” he says. “They have limited capacity. They have no more room, they can’t take in more animals and have to turn animals in need away.”
Giordano’s only comment on PETA’s policy: “I don’t euthanize.” She agrees on the importance of spay and neuter; she has the animals she takes in sterilized and she has a trap-neuter-return team. But, she says, “nobody deserves to die.” Her motto: “Animals feel the same pain we feel, only they can’t talk.”
Although she turns animals down because of space limits every day, Bobbi protests the often-used argument that no-kill shelters turn their backs on the neediest to keep their survival rate high. “We take everything. We do not discriminate,” she said and shows pictures of her blind American eskimo dog – one of her own three pets – on her smartphone. “There’s a home for all of them. You just have to find it.”
Bobbi and the Strays, whose shelters accommodate 370 animals, houses more than 600 cats and dogs a year — but could take at least twice as many if it had room, Giordano said. She employs 12 part-time workers at minimum wage and takes a modest $484 biweekly paycheck for herself. To keep the operation going, she charges an adoption fee of $100 for cats and $300-350 for dogs, relies heavily on volunteers and raises money from sponsors, fundraisers and donations. “We beg,” she says.
The biggest cause of pet overpopulation in New York, she said, is irresponsible owners, who buy a puppy at Christmas and tire of the responsibility, or let their pets breed without recognizing the consequences. She refuses to take animals from those who just want to get rid of pets, even if the animals then end up at city shelters. “I can’t handle the world,” she says.
But she can handle Chauncey, a two-year-old black-and-white Japanese chin. “She is always so happy and her tail never stops wagging. A total love bug,” the description on Bobbi and the Stray’s website reads. Chauncey looks so adorable that Jennifer Vogt and David Lanzoni drove from Connecticut for a meet-and-greet, bringing their chin Brian, adopted from another shelter.
“A lot of dogs need good homes,” says Lanzoni, filling out the application while Vogt goes outside with the two dogs. “I don’t mind it’s not puppies. Brian is always a joy.”
Returning to the office, Vogt is all smiles. “They got on great,” she says. Lanzoni puts Chauncey on his lap. “Oh my God, you’re such a beautiful girl,” he sighs, kissing her furry forehead. “Oh gosh.”
Two days later, the staff removes Chauncey from the website’s adoptable list.
Good for her, because shelter life can be tough, says veterinarian Terry Eylers, who volunteers at the shelter. “It’s very stressful to be around all those animals and all that noise,” she says. “Animals need social interaction. They need people. The shelter walkers do what they can, but I’ve seen a lot of animals, when they’re adopted, they’re different animals.”
But life at a shelter, Eylers thinks, is better than no life. “Ideally, we’d love to get all animals a home,” she says. “But at least the animals at Bobbi’s shelter are very well taken care off. They’re socialized as much as possible; they’re walked; they’re loved.”
Giordano feeds the dogs bites of chicken one by one. “Good boy, Petey,” she says to a little white-and-black terrier, a stray rescued by a fireman after living under a school bus for six months. Giordano’s face and voice go soft for the first time. “Animals are God’s creatures. They never get mad at you. They never answer you back. And they don’t leave you unless you leave them.”