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Hundreds of dogs find temporary or permanent homes on LI: 'It's like nothing we've ever experienced'

George Sparacio, Kim Sparacio and their children, Robert, Matthew and Julianna, adopted Bentley from Last Chance Animal Rescue on March 20. Credit: George Sparacio Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

Bentley, a lab max previously in the care of Last Chance Animal Rescue, has only been in his forever home in Stony Brook for six days. But if you ask his new parents George and Kim Sparacio, they’ll say it already feels like much longer.

“Look at the calendar,” Kim, 51, says to her husband. “We got him on the 20th,” George, 52, replies. “It’s like he’s been with us forever … he’s made everyone smile a lot more.”

The 3-year-old rescue is one of more than 100 dogs on Long Island who’ve been placed in temporary and permanent homes in what shelters are calling “record timing” after the coronavirus pandemic left them in “desperate need” of help. Nearing capacity, several shelters began asking the public to open their homes to pets on March 16, the day the White House tightened employee regulations on open businesses.

"Like nothing we've ever experienced"

Since then, Last Chance in Southampton has placed 10 dogs in permanent homes and 20 through foster applications — a number that would normally take about five months to reach. Ruff House Rescue in Island Park has placed more than 20 (with 100+ applications still to sort through) and Bideawee in Wantagh and Westhampton totals 40 animals.

“It’s been like nothing we’ve ever experienced before,” says Jude Langmaid, vice president of Last Chance Animal Rescue. “We can’t believe it. This is a difficult time, but what we’re seeing is truly a pouring of interest.”

That interest, adoptive and foster parents say, is stemming back to the unexpected amount of time families have now accrued at home.

“When this all hit, and my college kids returned home, I looked at my husband and said this is the right time because we’re all going to be together to do this as a family,” says Kim. Her three children — Robert, 22, Matthew, 19, and Julianna, 14 — are now taking care of Bentley’s daily needs at home while she and her husband are busy with work.

“He’s bringing our family closer together,” says George. Kim adds: "My teenagers are out of their bedrooms much more for us all to watch his antics. He has such a personality."

Before meeting his new family, Bentley had been in the care of Last Chance since Jan. 7. “He was a ‘last day’ dog,” Langmaid says, meaning he was rescued from a high-risk kill shelter.

“We’re seeing dogs who have been with us for an extended period of time find their homes now,” she explains. “Whether it be [they were overlooked] because of their color or their breed, people are seeing beyond all that right now.” In turn, the shelter has been able to commit to rescuing 20 new at-risk dogs. 

“Applications continue to pour in," says Melissa Savitt of Ruff House Rescue. “We are still practicing social distancing, working outside and one-on-one."

"A puppy is a great distraction" 

In Smithtown, the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s Vet Dogs are also benefiting from Long Islanders’ increased interest in opening their homes to puppies while working from home.

In one week, 175 future guide dogs (including 30 puppies aged 6 to 8 weeks) were placed in temporary Long Island homes; 280 were placed in total, including areas outside Nassau and Suffolk.

Nadia Holden, 32, of Northport, took home Bloom, a 3-month-old black Labrador on March 18. “Having a puppy is a great distraction,” she says. “I saw this opportunity and thought it would be just a great time to help out. It helps us as well, being at home, to have something else to focus on.”

Lorin Bruzzese, 25, puppy program manager at the Guide Dog Foundation, says, “It was an unusually speedy process [to find placement] because there were so many people either self-quarantining or working from home.” While the Guide Dog Foundation accepts volunteer applications for those willing to help raise and train dogs year-round, the coronavirus outbreak led to the need to find all dogs currently in its care rapid, temporary placement.

“We aimed to get all of our puppies out — we aim to do that usually — but when it comes to puppies, it is time consuming and it is a commitment,” Bruzzese, of Plainview, says. “The most impressive aspect of all of this is the number of people who we didn’t have previous volunteer relationships with who signed on to do this with short notice."

While being a Guide Dog Foundation volunteer typically involves proper training to help teach pups socialization and other skills, expectations right now are basic for new volunteers.

They signed on to care for the dogs for about two to three weeks and will work on house manners.

“It’ll be tough when she has to go back because, obviously, we love her so much already,” says Holden. “But, it’s awesome that she has the potential to become a guide dog and help someone in need and probably drastically change their life.”

TO FOSTER, ADOPT OR VOLUNTEER

If you're interested in opening your home to a Long Island shelter pet, contact Ruff House Rescue's foster coordinators at ruffhousefoster@gmail.com or 516-418-0078; Last Chance Animal Rescue at applications@lcarescue.org or 631-478-6844; or Bideawee at bideawee.org/Volunteer-The-Todd-Richter-Foster-Program. You will be asked to fill out an adoption application.

To apply to become a Guide Dog Foundation volunteer, visit guidedog.org.

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