At the bottom of a dead-end street, 15 minutes away from Ramapo College’s campus, there is a place where second chances exist; that place is Ramapo- Bergen Animal Refuge (RBAR). In attempts to explore the stereotypes and connotation that attach themselves to animal shelters, a friend of mine and I took the 20 minute scenic journey. Not sure what to expect, we were greeted by the friendly staff. This multi-level sanctuary is home to both cats and dogs until as Operations Manager, Shannon Barkocy put it, “they find their forever home.”
Although the cat kennel sounded how most would expect, one could not imagine the love that overflows on the second floor. Some cats wandered about and otheres were caged. As the fluffy, sociable cats brushed across my calf, I was led to the “cat wall.” Despite popular belief, cats in shelters, especially this one, are not just a number, they are a name. The cat wall is posted with their names and an adorable picture to match.
A couple steps past the cat wall were the hallways of offices where I met, Jackie, a volunteer with a heart of gold. Both Jackie and her daughter volunteer as a means of bonding. Since Jackie’s daughter moved out the house the two have tried to find moments like the ones they once shared living under the same roof. Past there, was a sectioned off room where a mother had just given birth to several little baby kittens, so small and young their eyes weren’t even opened yet. This experience was indescribable.
Below the cats were a diverse selection of dogs, of all breeds and ages — whatever you are looking for, they have it. It was there where I asked her the difference between purchasing from a shelter and a pet store. By association, most people think of pet stores as better compared to adopting an animal second hand, but leave it to one of the only non-kill shelters in New Jersey to set the facts straight.
“Pet stores typically get their dogs from a puppy mill,” said Barkocy.
A puppy mill by definition is “a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation that places profit over the well-being of its dogs—who are often severely neglected—and acts without regard to responsible breeding practices,” according to the ASPCA.
Barkocy further explained that once the male and female parent dogs that are all used up by facilities, they are rescued by places like RBAR. Some dogs from a puppy mill do not know how to be dogs, and Barkocy even shared that in some cases they have to introduce those dogs to grass for the very first time. Animals at RBAR are acquired through all different circumstances but this shelter is undeniably one of the leading safe havens for animals from all walks of life.
Although adopting is fundamental, the process would be virtually impossible without their amazing staff and volunteers who sacrifice their time at the expense of connecting an animal with its kindred soul. Selfless and available animal lovers like Jackie are needed desperately as volunteers, it warms up outside parties and people begin to contemplate the idea of adopting. One visit changed my perspective on so many different topics in life. As most know, there are a multitude of things we can learn from our pets. Take the time to show a pet the love and loyalty they inherently give people daily, without asking for anything in return.
Be a part of a life changing process. Give these animals a second chance by donating your time. There are openings of all kinds, from the cat kennel to office work.