So far, Dog Habitat has found homes for about 200 rescues. While the focus is on New York City, the group does take in rescues from elsewhere, such as the 32 small-breed dogs that the Humane Society pulled from a puppy mill in Virginia last winter. “It was the perfect time,” Maher says. “Had it been any other month than January, I don’t think we could have done it. There are fewer dogs boarding after the holidays.” On an average day, Unleash hosts 70 dogs, a combination of daycare, boarders and rescues. “We try and stay at around 12 rescues so that we can focus on them, but we fluctuate,” Maher says.
Dog Habitat’s most recent initiative, the Nanny Dog Project, puts Pit Bull pups through a year’s worth of basic-obedience classes with no less an agenda than restoring the breed’s good name. Maher plans to train exceptionally calm pups as special-needs dogs to be placed with children and adults with disabilities. To date, there have been eight Nanny Dog Project graduates, including the Bronx fire puppies—Stavros, Notty, Squishy and Nugget—who’ve all been adopted. Mom Phoenix, who Lombard says “still smelled like smoke” that first night when she stayed at his apartment, was waiting to find her home at press time.
“These have been the best two years of my professional life,” Lombard says. “I’ve worked every day, seven days a week, 12 hours a day. I’ve never had so much fun in my life. And I’ve never been so tired, but there’s an intrinsic value. Knowing that a dog who was on the euthanasia list now has a doorman … that’s really gratifying.”