North Shore Animal League America, located in Port Washington, has saved over 1.1 million lives. (Photo from the North Shore Animal League America )

Celebrating 80 Years Of Rescue

This year, North Shore Animal League America is celebrating its 80th anniversary. Animal League America has been an animal welfare pioneer since its inception in 1944. The organization has grown from rescuing homeless animals in and around the Town of North Hempstead to becoming the world’s largest and longest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization.

In 1944, animal advocate Marianne H. Sanders began rescuing homeless animals in and around North Hempstead. The organization was initially called North Shore Animal League America and Dog Protective Association, Inc.

Over the years, the organization grew in popularity, and by 1953, two lots and a house in Port Washington were purchased to begin planning shelter construction. Inspired by the organization’s mission, Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt become more involved in day-to-day operations.

Elisabeth Lewyt begins driving her “Love-A-Pet” van from pound to pound to rescue pets, paying $12 a piece for each dog the pounds will release, 1974.

The no-kill mission continued to grow. A small medical center was established on the premises, an outreach program was launched, a nationwide shelter relocation program was launched, spay/neuter programs were introduced and more. By 2000, the association changed its name to North Shore Animal League America, Inc. to reflect the growth of its national programs.

Throughout Animal League America’s journey, they have led in humane relocation practices, have educated communities across the globe and transformed how many view animal adoption.

The Port Washington News spoke with Senior Vice President of Operations Joanne Yohannan to discuss the immense success and popularity of Animal League America’s work in saving animal lives.

Yohannan has worked with North Shore Animal League America for 26 years, but her career in animal welfare started about 40 years ago with the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). While with ASPCA, Yohannan would see North Shore Animal League America come to the shelters in the ‘80s and rescue animals slated for euthanasia. When the ASPCA gave up its animal control contract and moved into the city, Yohannan took a job with North Shore Animal League America because of her admiration for their no-kill mission and the programs they were implementing.

“From my perspective as a shelter director with an animal control facility, it was wonderful to have a resource that would come in and save lives. Not have to destroy them,” said Yohannan. “So for me, getting a job here was a dream, and it is a dream that has given me the opportunity to work with an organization where we develop many programs that have saved the lives of animals throughout the years.”

While Animal League America has dozens of incredible programs and hosts nationwide adoption events, the Port Washington News asked Yohannan where she has seen the most significant impact of the organization’s work. She praised Animal League America’s work in national relocation, the SpayUSA program and the Global Pet Adoptathon.

“We have set the standard for nation rescue, which in simple terms is the transportation of animals out of high kill areas of the country to areas where they are in demand for adoption,” said Yohannan. “In the ‘80s, when I worked at ASPCA, Animal League America started locally. They would come into the five boroughs and save the lives of animals. They made a significant impact in saving many, many lives. And then in the early ‘90s, that program expanded to the Southern states because that’s where many adoptable smaller puppies and small breed dogs were killed as a means of population control.”

According to the North Shore Animal League America website, the SpayUSA program was introduced in 1993.

“The launch of our SpayUSA program is a national network of veterinarians providing low-cost spay/neuter services,” said Yohannan. “We have a platform where the rescuers and individuals can go on, and they can find low-cost spay/neuter services in their area.”

First annual Pet Adoptathon, saving 525 lives, 1996.

The first Pet Adoptathon was held locally in Port Washington in 1996 and saved the lives of 525 animals. Now, the Global Pet Adoptathon reaches around the world and saves tens of thousands of animal lives. “I started in March of ‘96, and two months later was my first Adoptathon, and I was amazed at the amount of people that came in to save lives,” said Yohannan.

“If you look at those three programs and you look at where we are today, today it is commonplace for people to transport animals out of high kill areas of the country and bring them to areas of the country, including right here on Long Island,” said Yohannan. “Many groups are doing this, including the ASPCA in New York City. We focused on the mission and knew that if we offered people these loving, beautiful animals, they would choose rescue over going to a pet store.”

In addition to the programs that actively work to protect animals and get them adopted, Animal League America knows the importance of educating and engaging students. Animal League America and Yale University have developed and introduced the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum.

The North Shore Animal League America website states, “The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum includes lesson plans to actively engage students and promote social and emotional competence, academic achievement, and awareness of the needs of shelter pets.”
“It’s preparing our future generations to become well-adjusted humanitarians, not just towards animals, which of course is extremely important and key to ending the euthanasia that we’re still seeing in the country, but also to be productive, empathetic members of society in general,” said Yohannan. “I think that every school should have the curriculum across the country, not just the 5,000 that it’s in, but every school.”

The North Shore Animal League Ameirca campus in Port Washington.
(Photo credits: North Shore Animal League America)

Animal League America’s growth and expansion continue today. One of the most recent and largest expansions to the Port Washington campus is Bianca’s Furry Friends Feline Adoption Center (BFF). Animal League America’s national spokesperson, Beth Stern, worked with Yohannan to address feline homelessness issues. That conversation led to an adoption center devoted to the rescue, socialization, care, and adoption of cats and kittens.

Animal League America’s work to get pets adopted and cared for and educate others on the importance of adoption continues to make a difference in the world.

“People are more receptive now. I think that they understand the plight of homeless animals because there is social awareness now, and I do credit North Shore Animal League America for putting this plight on the forefront through the many programs that we discussed and I’m very proud to work here,” said Yohannan.

For more information about North Shore Animal League America, visit

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