By Janee Law
In the 1920s, a one-armed dogcatcher with the Town of Huntington would round up all the strays in the area and keep them in a shed in his backyard until owners came to claim them.
Unclaimed dogs would be ‘euthanized,’ which during that time period was done with a gunshot.
The process didn’t sit well with Anna Hunninghouse, who decided to make a change in 1927. After a fundraising campaign, she founded Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center, the first shelter to open up in Suffolk County.
Still operating out of its original location at 33 Warner Road in Huntington, the nonprofit, no-kill shelter spans six acres. The property was originally purchased for $100 per acre, David Ceely, the shelter’s executive director, said.
“She got it running for quite a few years, but then in the ’50s and the ’80s it was kind of dormant,” Ceely, 48, of Lake Ronkonkoma, said. “It was open for maybe twice a week for an hour or so, and there weren’t many adoptions. It was saving lives, but it wasn’t the machine that it is now.”
The shelter was in danger of closing before Maryanne Chernovsky stepped in to assist the shelter in 1990, he added.
Now, 27 years later and with Chernovsky serving as volunteer president, the shelter is open seven days a week and adopts out around 500 to 600 pets each year between both its dog and cat programs.
“What she’s done is really made the shelter focus on local, municipal shelter rescue and she’s really put it on the map since she came here,” Ceely said. “We survive only on donations so we really have a responsibility to give back to our donors and our community and we do that through our programs.”
Several programs run throughout the year, including a reading program through which elementary school children develop their reading and social skills by reading to shelter dogs. There’s also the animal soup kitchen program, through which volunteers provide food and medical treatment for impoverished, disabled and elderly pet parents who lack the resources to care for their pet.
In addition, the rescue shelter also operates as a sanctuary. The Little Shelter Animal Sanctuary opened on a 110-acre property north of upstate Binghamton in 2001. The sanctuary, which currently has 17 dogs, is a place for those who have been overlooked for adoption due to behavioral or medical issues.
Back in Huntington, the rescue shelter typically has between 50-70 dogs and 300 cats. It takes in animals of all ages and types of breed.
Ceely said shelter numbers increased recently with the intake of dogs stranded by recent hurricanes. The shelter took in 60 dogs from hurricane-ravaged areas, including 29 dogs from Texas earlier this month, and 18 dogs from Puerto Rico this past Saturday.
At the shelter, each animal is spayed, neutered, vaccinated, micro-chipped and given medical treatment, when needed. They also have plenty of opportunities to socialize, Ceely added.
With 200 volunteers and a staff of 55 workers, Little Shelter is run like a well-organized ship, with volunteers being taught safety and techniques to read animal body language, Ceely said.
The shelter also has adoption counselors who make sure potential owners are paired with a pet that best suits them.
Ceely, who started out as a volunteer in 2002, has served as executive director since 2010. He said he loves being able to save lives on a daily basis, along with witnessing everyday miracles, such as seeing an animal’s life change from rags to riches.
Ceely added that, as the shelter continues to operate in the original buildings that Hunninghouse opened 90 years ago, plans for the future include renovations to the kennel buildings.
Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center
33 Warner Road, Huntington