Helen Pundurs of Long Beach got an early and most purrfect Christmas present from the North Shore Animal League of America, complete with a special delivery.
She and her partner, Joe Bua, were approved to adopt three kittens, a male named Mikey and boy/girl siblings Spanky and Pepper, from the no-kill shelter in Port Washington.
"Both Joe and I were so excited when we found out, we could hardly wait!" Pundurs said of being approved for adoption.
The family's new additions were fostered by Beth Stern, North Shore's spokeswoman, who delivered the kittens to their new home with the help of a shelter representative.
Pundurs said Stern lingered for about an hour, "telling us about them, playing, watching them explore their new surroundings, taking some pictures."
Stern, wife of radio host and Long Island native Howard Stern, who is now a judge on "America's Got Talent," is no stranger to puppy love or cuddly felines. Since last summer, she and her husband have fostered about 50 kittens and cats in their homes in Southampton and Manhattan. Potential parents must specifically request one of the kittens the Sterns have fostered when they apply for adoption at North Shore. Otherwise, the rest of the application process is the same as with all animals at the shelter.
Pundurs has had six cats over the years, all shelter adoptions or street rescues, but it has been 14 years since she's had cats underfoot. "A startling length of time in light of how much I love them!"
She's not alone. Stern has been involved in all of her fostered felines' adoptions, reviewing applications, selecting adoptive families with a small committee, then personally delivering some of them to their new homes, as she did with Pundurs and Bua.
But Stern has much bigger plans for cats and kittens.
More room to roam
She and North Shore Animal League America have begun a $7-million fundraising campaign to add a second story to the existing adoption center.
"It's so exciting," said Joanne Yohannan, senior vice president of operations at North Shore. "It's going to be 14,000 square feet of cage-free living."
The extension -- for cats and kittens only -- is a change from the present setup, where cats and dogs inhabit cages on the same ground-floor level. The expansion will have about 10 dedicated open living areas for the cats, and there will be new exam rooms, grooming spaces, a nursery, a surgical suite and other features.
"For cats that are with us longer, that don't get adopted as quickly [as kittens] -- while they are with us this is going to be as close to home as we can make it," Yohannan added.
The addition will be named Bianca's Furry Friends Feline Adoption & Wellness Center, after the Sterns' 10-year-old English bulldog, who died in July 2012.
After losing Bianca, Stern said, she felt a strong desire to do something special in her honor, and that's when the idea to expand the North Shore facility was born.
"She was the love of our lives," Stern said. "She completed us as a couple. I don't have children of my own, so she was my everything -- my light, my love, everything that a dog encompasses in a household."
Bianca cohabited happily among several cats the Sterns have adopted over time. They now have five -- Walter, Apple, Leon Bear, Charlie Boy and Bella, who is blind. And they routinely foster adult cats and kittens, some from North Shore and some from municipal shelters, such as the Islip Animal Shelter and Adopt-a-Pet Center in Bay Shore.
Officials hope to break ground in a year on the upgraded facility, which is expected to be completed in three years. It will not only give cats room to roam, but it will have space for nearly 100 additional rescue animals.
Yohannan said North Shore is caring for more than 125 cats and kittens and more than 200 puppies and dogs.
Nationally, nearly 4 million animals were euthanized in 2013, according to North Shore, which bills itself as the world's largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization. According to its website, North Shore Animal League America rescues, nurtures and finds homes for nearly 20,000 homeless, ailing or neglected animals annually. The dogs and cats are rescued from shelters nationwide as well as from those on Long Island.
"Every single township on Long Island has an animal shelter," said Gary Rogers, a spokesman for the Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But people often don't realize that they can adopt from them, he added, and when no one claims or adopts strays that aren't in no-kill shelters, the animals are typically euthanized after 10 days.
Stars pause for a cause
Saving the lives of more animals and keeping them safe at Bianca's Furry Friends until they are adopted will come at a hefty price. So in addition to accepting donations on its website, North Shore held a star-studded fundraiser in November at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. The Sterns mingled with actors John Stamos, Zach Braff, George Takei, and Robin Givens, "Today" co-host Matt Lauer, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and guest of honor Rachael Ray, a longtime supporter.
Between the gala, which brought in $610,000, a 2014 commemorative calendar featuring Beth Stern and animals (photographed by Howard Stern and priced at $24.95) and special auctions, Yohannan said, more than $1 million has been raised. In June, a fundraising luncheon will be held on Long Island.
In the meantime, North Shore is breaking ground on a separate project to handle medical cases. A 2,000-square-foot space will be renovated to house five small isolation wards in a state-of-the-art facility for animals with upper respiratory infections, kennel cough or other contagious diseases. The Elizabeth Ann Freed Special Recovery Center will cost $750,000. Of that amount, $350,000 has been donated by the Manhattan-based Freed Foundation, which supports animal welfare and other causes.
By the time shovels go in the ground for Bianca's Furry Friends, perhaps Pundurs and Bua will be ready to adopt again.
"We would definitely adopt kittens again; who knows?" Pundurs said. "Anyone who has cats can tell you, having two is no more effort than one, and they make each other so happy."
Not to mention their owners.
NO NEED TO BE FAMOUS TO FOSTER
If you can’t commit to adopting a pet, North Shore offers temporary fostering opportunities. The shelter routinely houses orphaned kittens and puppies, senior-care dogs and cats, moms with babies and animals healing after surgeries, that need some TLC from humans. The length of time for fostering is determined on an individual basis. Applicants must be over 21 years old and live in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area.
For more information, go to animalleague.org or call 516-883-7575.
North Shore Animal League, 25 Davis Ave., Port Washington
Open 365 days a year, Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.