Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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Valley Shore Animal Welfare League: A Small Westbrook Shelter with Big Plans


Valley Shore Animal Welfare League manager Haley Samodel checks in on shelter cat Fire, who’s expected to have a litter any day now. Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News

Valley Shore Animal Welfare League manager Haley Samodel checks in on shelter cat Fire, who’s expected to have a litter any day now. (Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News)


The Valley Shore Animal Welfare League has a new manager and a renewed commitment to the community. 

Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News

The Valley Shore Animal Welfare League has a new manager and a renewed commitment to the community. (Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News)

The Valley Shore Animal Welfare League (VSAWL) in Westbrook is a small shelter that plans to have a big impact on its community.

The shelter got a new manager in August. Haley Samodel, at 23, exudes energy, passion, and plans, including renovating a building on the rear of the property, building a social media presence, and making the shelter known to its neighbors.

“We are a very small organization and I want to make our presence known,” Samodel said. “I lived at the bottom of Break Neck Hill [Road] and I didn’t know that this place was here for my entire life. I grew up down there.”

(The intersection of Break Neck Hill and Horse Hill roads is about 500 feet from the shelter.)

VSAWL’s main building is an unobtrusive pale blue ranch, distinguishable from an ordinary house by the extended roof that shelters a dog play area with a cement floor and enclosed by a fence. Samodel, who is studying to be a veterinary technician at Middlesex Community College, explained her plans to put a concrete floor in a second fenced-in dog play area.

“That way, it’s easily sanitizable,” she said. “If [a dog picks] up hookworm...and gets it in that dirt, then it’s infected there.” With a concrete floor, “we can bleach it, scrub it after every dog goes on and minimize the amount of transferable anything.”

On a recent morning, there were two dogs in residence; a third had been adopted the previous day. Titus, a one-year-old Boston terrier mix, is caramel brown with pointy, alert ears and a white chest. After his previous owner left him tied to a tree in Norwich, he was picked up by animal control and transferred to VSAWL. McGruff is a small, black five-year-old—possibly a schnauzer/terrier mix—who came to VSAWL just days before from a shelter that tends to larger breeds.

VSAWL, like so many Connecticut shelters, has been taking in dogs transported from the South, “but I’m trying to do more in our area,” Samodel explained.

She also noted that not all shelters accept animals from owners unable to continue caring for the pet.

“I think it’s one of the most noble things that you can do, if you think you physically or financially can’t take care of your pet and you want to give it a better home that can give them the care that it needs,” she said. “That’s a hard decision but I really respect the people that are able to do that. Because I know it’s very hard.

“I’ve sat here and cried with people that are giving up their dog,” she said.

VSAWL Director Jessica Pernal called the shelter manager position “a very emotional job, a roller coaster. You have to make clinical, medical decisions. It’s very personal. You become very attached to the animals as well to the people.”

In the cat room, part-time animal caretaker Heidi Tamm reported a fight that injured Bella’s ear. The culprit was Mia, a seven-year-old tabby who lay innocently on a half wall welcoming human attention. Nearby, on a futon sofa, a lump under a blanket turned out to be Ruffio, an enormous hulk of a tabby who enjoys hiding but is a “mush ball,” Tamm said, who loves to cuddle.

“It’s hard sometimes when you bring a new cat in and the atmosphere changes,” Samodel explained. “We kind of take it as it comes sometimes. Things do happen and we have to reevaluate—does this cat need to go into isolation for a little bit and maybe just be a by-themselves cat?”

Between all her duties at the shelter, which include intakes, adoptions, the website and social media, planning events, cleaning, organizing and working on new projects, giving animals their medication, and making sure they get to their veterinary appointments, it’s a wonder that Samodel has time to be a full-time student. The shelter needs more volunteers, she said.

Also needed, aside from funds, are cleaning supplies, pet food, and a vacuum. Not a fancy one, Samodel explained, just one that works.

“I want people to know that we’re here and what we do and that we’re passionate about what we do and good at what we do,” Samodel said. And she wants the community to know that “[w]e’ll be at events more often. You’ll see us a lot more.”

Information about volunteering and donating can be found on the website Samodel designed, valleyshoreanimalwelfareleague.org.

Aviva Luria covers news from Old Saybrook and Westbrook for Zip06. Email Aviva at a.luria@shorepublishing.com.

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