The fall is here and the weather is sublime, but winter is coming and Covid-19 forces us to stay closer to home. What better way to live at this time of our lives than to foster or adopt a dog or cat that would suffer so much more as the weather gets cold? That’s where Sammy’s Strays, facilitated by Lisa Zappia of North Salem, makes the difference.
“Except for raising my own two daughters, there’s nothing I have loved nearly as much as rescuing animals,” says Zappia, who works a full-time job for a large corporation and saves stray dogs and cats from the misery of homelessness on the side. When she rescues the animals she must feed them, clean them, and ensure that they are able to withstand the long trip home in cages in a truck.
Many of us have thought to ourselves about our love for animals, but very few of us make an effort to reach out to those in cages or running wild in the street that need a forever home.
Zappia is one of very few people who spends almost all her spare time rescuing dogs and cats from substandard conditions, mainly those in the southern states. Approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year and yet only about 700,000 are luckily returned to their original owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats. The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million since 2011. This decline can be partially explained by an increase in the percentage of animals adopted and an increase in the number of stray animals successfully returned to their owners.
Since the coronavirus emerged, more people are rescuing animals because families are spending much more time at home and have the ability to care for a pet. That’s where Zappia’s job kicks in: Her desire is to find loving homes for as many domesticated animals she has time to find.
“I’ve had dogs all my life and every one of them has been a rescue,” she says, “and I’d have cats as well, but I am allergic to them — but that doesn’t stop me from saving them for others to adopt and love.”
Because of her ambition to save as many healthy animals from despair, she made the effort to start her own rescue organization. Sammy’s Strays is a small rescue group in northern Westchester, a 501c3 nonprofit that rescues animals in need and finds them loving homes. They are 100-percent foster-based, relying on the care and kindness of animal lovers to keep them going.
“Our rescue dogs and cats live in loving foster homes until they are adopted. We cover all necessary medical expenses until the date of adoption,” Zappia says. “All dogs and cats are spayed or neutered if age appropriate and receive vaccinations, deworming, heartworm preventative, flea/tick prevention, and a microchip.”
“I knew when I started this undertaking that volunteers would join up,” she adds. “Most of them are like me. They already have their own dogs and cats but are willing and able to pitch in and foster the animals — puppies and older dogs domesticate them and give them the love they might have lacked for so long. By the time those who want to adopt come to visit, the dogs are accustomed to being cared for and ready to go to their forever home.”
Although Lisa works a full-time corporate job, saving and placing animals in loving homes is her passion. “I work to support my family and pay the bills, but my passion is animal rescue and working with partners and volunteers who are like-minded and care about the animals as much as we do at Sammy’s Strays. If more people found our Facebook page or website and liked it or become a volunteer as a result, or make a donation, we can do more because of our supporter’s efforts.”
Initially, Sammy’s Strays set a goal of rescuing approximately 40 dogs and cats a year. “So far, we have rescued 58 animals in the last three months,” Zappia says, “and we don’t expect a slowdown.”
The funding to prepare each animal for adoption comes exclusively from donations. Monetary gifts typically cover transport costs, vaccinations, deworming, heartworm, and flea and tick prevention, as well as foster care expenses such as food, collars, leashes, harnesses, and more. As Zappia puts it, “None of us are in animal rescue for the money. The care of animals is our priority.”
Of course, Zappia has a few dogs of her own. One has only one eye, another has three legs, and all are her favorites. “I’ll be rescuing and ensuring animal safety until I can’t,” she happily says. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”