Last March, when Animal Care & Control of New York City took in 14 Pit Bulls (including a mother and four newborn puppies) who had been found in alive in a burned-out Bronx apartment, the dogs’ prospects weren’t great. “It’s 99 percent Pit Bulls that are being put down every day,” says Emily Tanen, at the time a coordinator for ACC’s New Hope program, which helps get animals out of the shelter by placing them with rescue groups. “There are more Pit Bulls coming in [than other breeds] and fewer people wanting them, because of the image surrounding them.” Plus, the Bronx Fire Pit Bulls, as advocates dubbed them (facebook.com/BronxFirePitBulls), faced another challenge: they were under police hold, so New Hope had to find rescues willing to foster them without actually assuming ownership. “Not many groups want to do that, because [then] they are just housing the dogs for us,” Tanen says. “We could take them back at any time, and if the dog has any medical problems, we’re probably not going to pay for that, because we have no money.” Tanen worried particularly about the puppies going into the shelter environment and getting sick. “I spent hours trying to place the mom and the puppies that night before I left work, and [finally] Dog Habitat took them.”
Tanen singles out the two-year-old Brooklyn rescue facility—which cared for the five Pit Bulls for “a really long time” before ACC could officially transfer ownership—both for being among a shortlist of outfits willing to accept Pit Bulls at all and for the obvious care they take with the dogs they do rescue. “They were really open about how the dogs were, and they sent us update pictures,” she says. “Not a lot of groups do that, and when you are working in such a stressful environment like a shelter, it’s really nice to see that the work that you put into saving a dog paid off.”
Tanen may have realized that Dog Habitat (doghabitat.org) stood out from the crowd, but her under-siege post at ACC didn’t allow her the luxury of seeing just how special an operation it really is. Dog Habitat shares space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with Unleash, a daycare-and-boarding business (unleashbrooklyn.blogspot.com), and its rescue dogs live just like the pampered “clients” they romp with during the day. At night, rescues and boarders alike stay in their own four-by-four-foot pens, checked on by a staff member who sleeps on-site. They dine on organic food supplied by sponsor Stella & Chewy’s. “There is no reason a rescue dog should be treated as lesser than any other,” says Rob Maher, who got the idea to start a rescue after his and wife Bea Boado’s pet-supply shop, District Dog, became a magnet for dogs found in the neighborhood.
Once the plan took root, the couple recruited Jay Lombard, an educational fundraiser and customer with a Lab/Border Collie mix named Skyler, to serve as director of the operation. “My dog passed away the month we opened,” says Lombard, who has Skyler’s name permanently inked on his shoulder above a tattoo of the heart-shaped Dog Habitat logo. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be in Greenpoint—I had to find an apartment that had a backyard—and I wouldn’t have met Rob and Bea. Because of him, I wanted to have a rescue.”