In four years, the Southampton Animal Shelter Unconditional Love Gala has grown from a cocktail party that raised $75,000 to a full-blown dinner dance raising close to $400,000. This kind of financial success is the hallmark of Jean Shafiroff, Honorary Co-Chair with the Shelter’s “Angel,” Susan Allen, and Board President Jonathan McCann.
“My daughter Elizabeth introduced me to the shelter,” Jean told us. Today, her rescued menagerie includes a chihuahua/dachshund, a Shiba Inu, two Pit mixes, and a rescue cat. “Animals give so much love,” says Jean, “and none of the animals can speak for themselves.”
Sandra McConnell once again opened her Southampton estate for the event. WNBC’s Chuck Scarborough emceed the evening and honored NBC’s award winning animal advocate and best-selling author Jill Rappaport along with ASPCA animal behaviorist and trainer, Pamela Reid, Ph.D CAAB.
Henry Buhl, Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley, Spencer and Alexis Bryan Morgan, Jean Remmel Little, Nicole Noonan, Kim Renk and Greg Dwyer, Martin and Elizabeth Shafiroff, Laura Lofaro Freeman, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Amy Cofman and Ray Cofman, Rya and Cliff Knight, Yaz Hernandez and Valentine Hernandez were among those who dined on Robbins Wolfe Eventuers fare and danced to the Alex Donner orchestra. Honorary Corporate Chairs for the event included Allen & Co, Barclays, Ferguson Cohen LLP and Sequin Jewelry. Sisters Kim Renk and Linda Renk, who operate the Sequin stores in Southampton, Newport, Palm Beach, Naples and Delray, are longtime animal rescue supporters.
Jean may be a fundraising force (and a third-time chair who wants you to know they can still fit you in to the Southampton Hospital gala: [email protected], 631 726 8700 X 3), but everyone connected to the Southampton Animal Shelter is committed to their mission of saving, training and rehoming these loving creatures. “SHAS is ranked in the top 10% of all shelters in the country and is a wonderful place for the animals,” Shafiroff said. “It is a model shelter. Because of the efforts of Susan Allen and other concerned citizens, when the city could not longer afford it, it was able to privatize.”
One of the hallmarks of the shelter: the socialization training all dogs get, that helps maintain their 94% adoption rate, an increase of 43% since privatization. Award-winning Executive Director of Training and Behavior, Aimee Sadler, lends her expertise to shelters around the country, and provides free counseling to all who adopt.
And we learned that it’s now possible to adopt a dog who knows sign language! That’s due to the outreach programs spearheaded by Gina Martini, a former social worker with a passion for needy children and dogs. The shelter has opened its doors to the McCleary School for the Deaf on Long Island. “We have deaf dogs that we sign with,” Gina told us. “We’re doing hand signals with the children and we have an interpreter. We’re teaching the children to communicate to the dogs and we’re teaching our hearing dogs sign language as well.”
“In the first visit, we showed the children how the animals look when they’re frightened. Because they don’t have language, there’s a connection more on a physical level, a body language communication. The children really focus in on the dogs.
“Many of these dogs have been through a lot and they are fearful. These kids, living in a hearing world, can get spooked as well. It’s a soulful connection.”
The SHAS also brings in physically challenged kids from the Fresh Air Camp to interact with the dogs. “I get so passionate about working with the dogs and children,” says Martini, “just seeing the looks on their faces. Learning to work with the animals gives them self esteem and builds their ability to communicate with others.”
To forge a soulful connection of your own, if you can’t adopt, adopt for a half hour. SHAS encourages volunteers to walk a shelter dog in their neighboring trails.