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Local Hero — Bark to the Future

October 3, 2011 by Tails Magazine in October 2011 with 0 Comments

NYC Hero Steven MarkAn established community animal shelter gets a new top dog

By Wendy Wollenberg

Thirtysomethings often look for new ways to reinvent themselves. In the case of the 33-year-old Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge (RBARI), that means keeping in step with new technologies and innovative programs for animal shelters. It also means a new Executive Director in the form of Steven Mark, an experienced nonprofit professional who joined the organization this past May. Mark, a lifelong animal lover, guardian, and volunteer, jumped at the chance to join RBARI. “Through the course of my life I have always had a passion and love for animals,” Mark says. “I’ve volunteered with rescue groups and partnered with certain vet offices to help find homes and resources for dogs in need.”

He’s come to the right place, even if he has to divvy up his space with a dubious feline. “I share my office with Ben, a 5-year-old cat who was skeptical of me when I arrived, but we have since bonded,” Mark says. “If you spend some time in the shelter, you’ll notice every office either has a cat relaxing on a desk or a dog chilling out underneath it.” At any given time, RBARI is home to 20 to 30 puppies and dogs and 30 to 40 kittens and cats, with another 30 to 40 kittens in foster homes. Space is certainly at a premium at the RBARI headquarters, and even the restrooms are utilized to house animals. “We have sacrificed three out of the four bathrooms in the facility to make more space for animals, and we are currently trying to raise money in order to turn those areas into top-tier kennel space,” says Mark.

RBARI seeks to find good homes for as many animals as possible, providing medical care and training programs for the rescued animals in their care. The shelter offers several rehabilitation programs designed to support both the animals and their guardians in a variety of ways. A staff trainer and additional volunteers customize regimens for the animals to follow, and, in some cases, require training classes for adoptees. “At RBARI we believe every animal deserves a happy and healthy life, so we go to great lengths to provide that opportunity for them,” says Mark.

The organization gives special attention to feral, elderly, handicapped, or formerly abused animals. “We provide all necessary medical care for the animals we take in, which ranges from basic vaccinations to special and emergency surgeries,” Mark says. “We hope this will ensure that our animals always get the proper medical treatment they deserve.” To that end, RBARI created a separate fund where 100% of every dollar goes directly to medical costs.

One of RBARI’s flagship initiatives is the Humane Education project, which works in conjunction with local schools, scout groups, and religious institutions to teach youth about proper pet guardianship. The organization has developed programs teaching students to respect companion animals through lessons on basic pet care, pet overpopulation, the importance of adoption, careers in the animal field, animal abuse and neglect, and safety around animals. The Clearview initiative, which is related to the Humane Education project, is an ongoing program geared toward communities most affected by animal abuse and dog fighting. As Mark says, “We believe education and hands-on experience is the key to positive change and that the Clearview program can have a significant and long lasting effect.”

RBARI has established itself as a vital part of the community in its 30-plus years of existence, and Mark welcomes the neighbors to drop in. “We rely heavily on the generosity of the community, and I want everyone to know how much we appreciate their support and welcome their involvement on any level,” he says. “If you are interested or just curious, I encourage you to stop by and say hello. Everyone will be welcome, and if you’re an animal lover, you’ll feel right at home.”

For more information about the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge, visit RBARI.org.

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