Gillian Wood Pultz is not a fan of those heart-wrenching TV commercials for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the ones where sad dogs stare through locked cages as Sarah McLachlan’s music plays in the background.
That kind of messaging works well when you’re trying to tug at heartstrings to get donations, said Ms. Wood Pultz, executive director of the North Fork Animal Welfare League. But when it comes to the realities of running an animal shelter — at least at Southold Town’s animal shelter in Peconic — the sad sights on TV don’t match reality.
“Animal shelters aren’t jails for dogs and cats who don’t have homes,” Ms. Wood Pultz said. “It’s not a sad place.”
Armed with a new contract to operate Southold Town’s animal shelter for the next 10 years, NFAWL is aiming to change that perception. The group has plans to bring in more programs for shelter animals and hopes to make the shelter more inviting for the public, with a garden around the property, she added.
“We want to make this much more of a community center than an animal shelter,” she said.
NFAWL, a nonprofit organization that now runs Riverhead Town’s animal shelter as well, has operated the Southold shelter since 1980. Ms. Wood Pultz herself has worked with the group for nearly 21 years.
The nonprofit’s last contract dates back to 2011, when a somewhat controversial Town Board decision to seek proposals from other organizations failed to find any other group willing to take the job.
This most recent round of contract talks centered on two issues: pay increases and the length of the deal. Trying to find another group to run the shelter was not a viable option, said Supervisor Scott Russell.
“The reality is they’re the only one around, and they’re the best,” Mr. Russell said.
The town and NFAWL eventually settled on a new contract agreement last month. The town was able to link pay hikes to cost-of-living increases while the length of the contract was extended to a decade.
NFAWL currently houses 18 dogs and 72 cats at the Peconic facility and arranged adoptions for 70 dogs and more than 160 cats in 2015. Eight dogs also had to be euthanized last year, Ms. Wood Pultz said, noting the shelter puts down animals only as a last resort, if they are too aggressive to release to the public or are too ill to survive.
Last year, the causes for euthanasia were evenly split between behavioral and medical issues, Ms. Wood Pultz said.
NFAWL offers spay and neutering programs, an in-house trainer for shelter animals and those that are adopted and a “Read and Relax” initiative involving volunteers who read to dogs in order to train them to be calm, Ms. Wood Pultz said.
Those are the type of programs NFAWL will try to expand over the next 10 years, she said. The nonprofit has spent the past few years adjusting to running two shelters in Southold and Riverhead, but will now focus on expanding the facilities in Riverhead and the programming in Southold.
NFAWL plans to add to its Read and Relax program this summer by including children who are learning English as a Second Language. The children will gain confidence in their reading skills while also volunteering at the shelter, Ms. Wood Pultz explained.
The organization has a stable of 300 volunteers to pull from and relies on donations for about half its operating budget, she said. But she wants to see NFAWL become more active outside the shelter by holding off-site adoption events and participating in parades.
The group also has even bigger plans: Years ago, Marlene Ferber, a member of NFAWL’s board of directors, pitched the idea of installing a pond in front of the shelter for dogs to swim in and creating a manicured garden around the outdoor dog pens where residents could walk and rest.
Ms. Ferber died last December after a brief battle with cancer. With this extended contract, Ms. Wood Pultz hopes the group can revisit Ms. Ferber’s plans over the next decade.
“That would be an excellent goal for the end of 10 years,” she said.
But the job doesn’t afford much free time, Ms. Wood Pultz admitted, and the group is committed to maintaining the quality of its service in Southold as Riverhead’s shelter expands.
League employees technically work at the town shelter from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., but volunteers and staff members are often called upon around the clock to help out, even on off-days.
As the town’s official animal control organization, Ms. Wood Pultz works closely with local police to catch strays and bring them into the shelter for training, treatment and, ultimately, adoption. So it’s not unusual for the shelter to get calls from residents who see loose dogs.
That’s exactly what happened Monday afternoon, as Ms. Wood Pultz oversaw a skeleton crew at the shelter while its managers were out at a development conference.
At 1:08 p.m., the neighbor of an elderly couple in Mattituck called. A fierce wind had blown open the door of their house and both their dogs escaped.
Ms. Wood Pultz leaned over her desk — surrounded by posters of cute animals, books about pets and a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals — and set about coordinating the search effort. She phoned an employee on her day off who lives nearby. By chance, the employee was out walking her own pet in the area, and was able to help in the search.
Eight minutes later, another call came in. It was the police department with an update: One of the dogs returned home but the other, a 14-year-old white dog named Sasha, was still on the loose. Ms. Wood Pultz put in another call to her employee, who explained that the old dog won’t come to those looking for her.
“She’s a runner,” Ms. Wood Pultz said knowingly.
Updates trickled in over the next hour, but Sasha remained at large. Ms. Wood Pultz continued about her day, fielding calls from someone who found a stray cat and from a concerned citizen reporting “white ducks” in the Wading River Duck Pond.
Finally, around 3:30 p.m., Sasha was finally caught.
“She was on the run, but she’s home and safe,” Ms. Wood Pultz said.
Photo Caption: Gillian Wood Pultz, executive director of North Fork Animal Welfare League, hands a treat to Batman, a dog being cared for at the shelter while his owner’s housing situation is being sorted out. (Credit: Paul Squire)