North Shore Animal League America
North Shore Animal League America
25 Davis Avenue
Port Washington, NY 11050
The North Shore Animal League America (NSALA) in Port Washington on Long Island is “the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization,” according to its website. About one hour by car from midtown Manhattan, NSALA has an annual revenue of $40.2m, according to its 2018 990 tax filing, and a list of donors that includes Rachel Ray and Billy Joel. Beth Otrosky Stern, the spouse of radio personality Howard Stern, is listed as a Director in the organization’s tax filing. Put simply, NSALA is not without resources.
Last November, North Shore Animal League unveiled a $12 million dollar cat adoption center – Bianca’s Furry Friends Feline Adoption Center – named for the late English Bulldog of Howard Stern and wife, Beth. The second-floor addition features rooms NSALA says were designed by Billy Joel and Rachel Ray. “The much-anticipated Bianca’s Furry Friends Feline Adoption Center..features 14,000 square feet of cage-free space featuring perches, large windows to allow natural sunlight, quiet nooks, and large viewing windows through which visitors can watch cats play, nap, and interact,” NSALA said in its press release.
Perhaps, but the reality on the ground, at least when we visited, seemed less than ideal. In January 2020, The Canine Review visited North Shore’s Port Washington adoption facility undercover after NSALA director of communications Kathleen Lynn declined our requests to meet on site for an interview and tour of the facility. We found dogs kept in small kennels — some without beds or any soft surface for sleeping. We also observed dogs in the same area that did have their own kennels with their own beds. Asked if these conditions were standard at North Shore, Ms. Lynn, NSALA’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email: “All the dogs and puppies in our care have beds overnight. Beds are removed daily for the cleaning process and then replaced during the day,” she explained. “Additionally, there are heating coils under the concrete floors of the kennels keeping them at a comfortable temperature.” Joanne Yohannan, North Shore’s senior vice president of operations, told The Canine Review in a telephone interview this week that the main floor level where the adoptions take place – the same area where we observed the dogs without beds in January – “is under renovation and that new kennels would be arriving for the dogs within “the next three months.”
Happy clients and a bit of controversy
Julia Ann Procupio, a substitute teacher for children with special needs, says she adopted a beagle mix named Elizabeth from NSALA two years ago. She told TCR that not only did she have a great experience at the shelter, but that she recently organized a fundraiser to support the organization on Facebook during the COVID-19 pandemic. “You could tell it’s just a place where they love animals,” she said.
Former employees say NSALA was concealing dog bite histories
However, the shelter is not without its detractors. In March, former shelter employees claimed that NSALA had a practice of hiding the biting histories of aggressive dogs from potential adopters. In a report by Long Island News 12 , the former employees said they were “directed by their superiors to hide the biting history of animals and use euphemisms instead.” Documents released by purported whistleblowers to Long Island News 12 revealed information about dogs’ biting histories that were hidden from adopters, according to the News 12 investigation. Asked about the News 12 report, Joanne Yohannan told The Canine Review that the claims are unfounded. “We do not hide a history of biting with any of our dogs. That’s not what we are here to do. It would serve no purpose for the animal or for the adopter,” she said in a telephone interview.
Puppy laundering or rescue?
NSALA has also come under fire recently for its relationship with National Mill Dog Rescue. North Shore Animal League regularly receives dogs from National Mill, which journalist Kim Kavin reported on in a 2018 Huffington Post story. National Mill is a nonprofit organization that purchases dogs and puppies from breeders it describes as puppy mills, sometimes purchasing these pups through dog auctions. After Kavin’s story in The Huffington Post ran, the Colorado agency that regulates dog-dealing entities hit National Mill with the biggest fine the agency’s manager could recall.
North Shore confirmed its relationship with National Mill to The Canine Review. When asked about Kavin’s reporting, NSALA wrote in an email:
Animal League America does rescue animals in collaboration with National Mill Dog Rescue. We have done this for over a decade and have never paid for these animals. In fact, most of these dogs arrive with a host of medical conditions that include severe dental problems, skin conditions, and a variety of cancers that often result when animals are not spayed. Many need specialty care, such as echocardiograms, and some require surgeries to assist with bone deformities, broken jaws, displaced hips and elbows from living in cages. Since these animals no longer have value to the Mill operators they would be killed. We prefer to rescue them. Additionally, the animals we rescue often suffer from behavior problems as a result of a lack of socialization. All of these conditions are treated and paid for by the medical and behavior professionals at Animal League America. Each mill dog rescue has a cost, on average, of approximately $1000 to treat their illnesses and place them into permanent loving homes.”
In her 2018 story, Kavin wrote that her reporting “points to a damning conclusion: that National Mill’s version of ‘puppy mill rescue’ simply normalizes another retail pipeline, with a side helping of virtue, from the commercial breeding industry to the public.” She continued: “Iowa’s attorney general, in an action filed this past March against other rescue nonprofits, defined a similar operation as ‘puppy laundering’ intended to sidestep the pet store bans lawmakers have been enacting.
‘This is a dog-buying and distributing company that is posing as a rescue,’ said Cindy McKeon, who served as National Mill’s facilities manager from 2011 to 2013.”
Joanne Yohannan, North Shore’s senior vice president of operations, says that NSALA has never paid to purchase any animals from National Mill and often has to provide costly medical procedures for the animals. She estimates an average cost of $1000 to rehabilitate each animal rescued from a mill. The adoption fees on NSALA’s website for “Puppy Mills Rescues” are $250, priced separately from “Puppies” which are $350.
North Shore Animal League America provided TCR with intake and outcome data on request, for all of the years requested. The data shows an average of 4,033 dogs entering the shelter each year; 3,892 dog adoptions; 8 euthanasias; 14 sent to no-kill rescues, according to Ms. Yohannan.
If “our pet department is unable to rehabilitate them to traditional placement into a home,” and the dog is sociable and will not injure sanctuary caretakers, the dogs are sent to vetted sanctuaries, according to Ms. Yohannan. “The only time an animal is ever euthanized is for humane reasons,” NSALA wrote in a statement. “If an animal is sick and suffering and cannot be helped the animal is humanely euthanized. Of, if an animal has such a severe bite history, or aggression, that it cannot be rehabilitated and is considered a risk to staff and others it will be euthanized.”
The Pandemic Puppy Effect – COVID-19
Ms. Yohannan says that the number of dogs living in the shelter at a given time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has been notably smaller. “We probably have about 150 dogs and puppies,” whereas prior to the pandemic, “[we] had about 200 – 250 dogs at a time,” she says.
When animals arrive at NSALA, they are brought to a separate holding area where they are examined by veterinarians before being brought to the adoption floor. “Some animals don’t do well on the adoption floor, so we do a lot of office fosters,” says Ms. Yohannan referring to a practice of keeping dogs in employee offices. “We utilize the adoption center, our offices, whatever space we have that is going to be most accommodating to the dogs that we rescue.”
Due to COVID-19, the Port Washington adoption center is currently open to the public by appointment only.