KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Amber Cogoli, a town animal shelter staffer, pets one of the dozens of cats that called the shelter home in 2011.
The North Fork Animal Welfare League has come a long way since it was established in 1963 to help combat animal cruelty in the area.
Today, it operates both the Southold and the Riverhead town animal shelters and has worked for 50 years to care and find homes for lost and abandoned animals.
It began when a small group of people got together to find homes for strays and offer information on how to treat animals humanely. At the time, Southold Town operated a pound, not a shelter, which provided little more comfort that being out on the street.
In the 1970s, the pound was no longer in use and strays were kept by vets. Animals left unclaimed were put to sleep. As the league gathered more members, it began to collect donations to build an animal shelter.
League members and others successfully pressured the Town Board to build a decent pound, leading to the construction of a six-run dog facility in Peconic. The league kept a close watch on the operation and was mostly unhappy with the treatment of the strays. Limited food and water and dirty facilities were only a few of the issues.
In the late ’70s, New York State enacted a dog control law that gave humane societies the right to make contracts with the town to manage pounds.
On July 1, 1980, the NFAWL signed a contract with the town to take over the pound and run it as a no-kill shelter, becoming the first humane society on Long Island to contract with a town. The league added six more runs, installed a heating system, replaced broken structures and even bought new bowls.
Executive director Gillian Wood Pultz came on board at the shelter in 1995. She found an overcrowded facility, but over the past 18 years the shelter has become the safe haven for animals that the league always longed for.
The shelter offers educational talks at schools and community centers, a food pantry program for families who cannot afford pet food, a spay/neuter voucher program that provides low- to no-cost surgeries and a large online presence.
NFAWL went into contract to operate the Riverhead town shelter in March and so is now responsible for animals on the entire North Fork. Ms. Wood Pultz said the Riverhead facility is exactly where the Southold shelter was 20 years ago.
“Right now our future focus is to improve the lives of the animals in Riverhead and improve the shelter itself,” she said.
“A lot of stuff is happening and we’re really excited about it,” NFAWL board president Dawn Bennett said. “We’re trying to change the idea that shelters are sad, depressing places. We’re looking to do a lot more educational programs and we’ve just hired a volunteer coordinator, which is a first.”
Despite the passing of half a century, Ms. Wood Pultz said, “our mission is the same, but just on a bigger scale. We have greater resources and have been able to help a lot more animals than when the league just started. We’re doing the same thing — we’re still saving the animals — we’ve just grown.”
The league will celebrate its 50th birthday with a fundraising party on Saturday, Aug. 3, from 3 to 8 p.m. It will be hosted by Lou Corso and family at their home overlooking the Sound on Oregon Road in Cutchogue. The cost is $95 per person, which includes a full buffet and open bar as well as live music by The No Request Band.