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Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation Hosts 10th Annual "Unconditional Love"

Lee Fryd

The Southampton Animal Shelter not only serves our villages and hamlets, but thanks to such stalwarts as Susan Allen, Jean Shafiroff, Aimee Sadler, Clif Knight, a host of volunteers and the supporters that sold out last Saturday's glamorous gala, it is a template for shelters around the country.

Jean Shafiroff was Event Chair of the Southampton Animal Shelter's 10th Annual Unconditional Love Dinner Dance. Aimee Sadler, Founder & CEO of Dogs Playing for Life, was honored. Gregory D'Elia kept it going as emcee. The Host Committee was Antonella Bertello, Amy Cosman, Missy Hargraves, Sharon Kerr and Randi Schatz. Kate McEntee was Junior Chair. Junior Co-Chairs were Kingsley Crawford, Jenny Dwork and Merritt Piro.

"We have an adoption rate of about 98 percent which is extraordinary," Clifton Knight, Esq., Shelter Co-President (with Beau Hulse) told us. "We take all animals from the town of Southampton, the villages, and the 18 hamlets, without regard to age, behavior issues or special needs. This event tonight really is a tribute to these dogs and cats. Also, we are very closely affiliated with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and they have been very gracious to provide this beautiful venue on Wickapogue and Old Town Roads."

Event Chair Jean Shafiroff gave this brief history: "In 2010 the Southampton Shelter was going to close," she said. "A concerned group of citizens got together and decided to privatize and make it into a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. There's one woman in particular, Susan Allen — who likes to remain anonymous — who is the heart and support behind this shelter. She's here tonight, but she will never stand up! And we all want to thank her. I got involved about six or seven years ago. At that time, the shelter was having a cocktail party to fund raise and they grossed about $78,000. I thought that was interesting, but not very acceptable. We changed to a dinner. Each year it's drawn larger and larger and this year we miscalculated. We sold out, have 360 people here and had to turn away many, many people ... all here for the animals."

Beth Stern. (Photo: Lisa Tamburini/www.hamptonsphotog.com)

Another key element to the Shelter's working success has been the evening's honoree, Aimee Sadler, Founder & CEO of Dogs Playing for Life, which socializes what are often abused and traumatized animals by letting them play together as their nature warrants, supervised off leash. The program was developed at the SHAS thanks again to Susan Allen. "I had just finished training Susan's dogs when, in 1998, she asked me to help with the Shelter dogs," remembered Aimee. "I looked at these 30 something dogs and thought: we have to let them go out, have a good time and get their ya yas out before we can start training them."

"When we put them in shelters, we're trying to help them. But, they don't understand. They just know they're in a kennel. Even in the best of shelters, those are adverse conditions. It's hard for go directly from a caged situation, where they can feel cornered, into training. So, the foundation of our training is to just let dogs be dogs! When you focus on the quality of life, you can save lives. Getting them out of kennels to play is where everything starts. They learn conflict resolution skills, how appease one another, to make each other feel better. Play is therapeutic for all species, period!

"So many of aggressive dogs are misdiagnosed as dog aggressive, but they just have barrier or lease frustration because of their circumstances, and they are not given the opportunity to engage with each other," she noted. "Sometimes, they're just barking at each other to say 'I can't wait to meet you in play group."

Jackson found his forever home at the benefit. (Photo: Lisa Tamburini/www.hamptonsphotog.com)

"Socializing with other dogs also leads to better socializing with people. We see fearful dogs in the back of the kennel labeled as feral. That's sometimes because coming into a closed area can be perceive as cornering and frightening," she added. "When they see the other dogs jumping up and happy to see the people in the yards, they model that. All of a sudden they see people as part of this positive engagement. With this training, when you adopt a dog, you know you can take them to places like the beach."

Aimee's program was so successful, shelters around the country began reaching out to find out how it was done. She eventually took it to about 200 shelters across the country, including the largest intake facility, the Los Angels County animal shelter which serves 70,000 animals a year. "How else are they going to get every animal out of enclosure every day?" she said.

Now Aimee is back, ready to use the SASF as her laboratory to take her training methods to the next level. "We're going to take everything we've learned and bring it back to Southampton to become the end game of animal shelters," she said, "and demonstrate how the best of the best work is done.

"After all, it's freeing to be ourselves and the dogs deserve it too."

Southampton Animal Shelter is located at 102 Old Riverhead Road in Hampton Bays. For more information, visit southamptonanimalshelter.com.


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