Animal Welfare League director salutes staff for 60 years of service

From its start in a trailer in Southold in 1963 to operating animal shelters in both Southold and Riverhead towns, the story of the North Fork Animal Welfare League is one to behold. This year, the group is celebrating 60 years of giving back to the community.

The league has managed and operated the Southold animal shelter since 1980. It was one of the first not-for-profit organizations in New York State and the first humane society on Long Island to enter into a contract with a town. In March 2013, the League took over the management and operation of the same program in neighboring Riverhead and built a new, state-of-the-art center there. NFAWL offers many services to the public. According to its website, dog control officers are on-hand 24 hours a day and are called on to pick up lost or runaway dogs and other companion animals.

Other programs include spaying and neutering clinics for dogs and feral cats and microchip clinics as well as educational programs that address humane treatment of animals and the prevention of cruelty, bite prevention, dog training, dog therapy visits and more. They also have an open-door policy for dogs and cats without homes and provide veterinary care for sick pets. Every dog and cat that comes in to either location gets a complete check-up, including vaccinations, according to the website.

Times Review spoke with Leslie Benway, president of NFAWL’s board of directors, about what reaching this milestone means to the organization. 

Diana, 1-1/2 years old, relaxing during a play group session at North Fork Animal Welfare League on Tuesday afternoon.(Credit: Melissa Azofeifa)

Q: What is NFAWL’s biggest achievement in these past 60 years?

A: An organization is made up of its people and throughout the 60 years that we’ve evolved, they’ve had incredible staff; they’re compassionate and caring. We have a community that responds to the needs of the animals — and without the community, we’d be nothing.

Q: How has NFAWL been so successful for this long?

A: Sixty years is incredible. They started in a trailer in Southold and then it’s evolved into big buildings that Southold owns and we just recently bought the Riverhead shelter … we can [house] close to 30 dogs there. We’re able to not only serve our community with homeless dogs or people who have to relinquish their dogs, we’re also able to reach out to neighboring shelters, and shelters that euthanize, so we’re able to save those animals as well … there’s way more [that we do] than just adopting animals out, it’s what we give back to the community that helps us survive with their donations.

Q: What have been the biggest hurdles that NFAWL has overcome?

A: Over the years, we went from just managing the Southold shelter to managing the Riverhead shelter as well. [It] took some time to get to know the community there, we’re still doing that now that we’ve moved the building. We’d like to expand our volunteer base in Riverhead and we would like to get more integrated with the community, which we’re working on.

Q: What’s in store for the future of NFAWL?

A: As we look forward and we look to the future, we want to continue to focus on animal care and animal abuse and stopping animal abuse in our community. We want to continue to educate people on how to care for their pets. And we probably, at some point, as we have these contracts with the two [towns], we want to do more outreach to high schools and even elementary and junior high schools and get students involved … helping at the shelter and walking dogs.