SAVE, A Friend To Homeless Animals Shelter Finds “Forever” Homes for Dogs and Cats
BEST FRIENDS: “At SAVE, our cats and dogs are not just a number. We get to know each one individually. Each has its own story, and each is loved.” Heather L. Achenbach, executive director of SAVE, A Friend To Homeless Animals, is shown with Yorkshire terrier, Rudy, who was recently adopted. Found abandoned, he was brought to SAVE, where he was gently cared for, and then soon found his new “forever” home.
By Jean Stratton
For those who have loved a companion animal, the bond is deep and true. It could be that special dog, now grown old, you knew as a puppy. Or the kitten you watched play all day, now content to catnap the hours away. Both are still such a valuable and loved part of the family — whatever their ages.
There are as many such stories as there are dogs and cats, and each is unique and lasting.
And when an animal who has been abandoned or abused is able to find a home, it is even more meaningful.
No one understands this more fully than Heather L. Achenbach, executive director of SAVE, A Friend To Homeless Animals. She is aware of the continuing need to find homes for the many stray, lost, and surrendered dogs and cats, so that they can live a safe and happy life.
“This is the most fulfilling job I have ever had,” she says. “The best thing about it is that it is really hands-on, and I know that I am making a difference. I know the name of every animal that has been here, and every one is meaningful to me.”
Achenbach joined SAVE three years ago after a previous career in the pharmaceutical industry, with a focus on project management, team leadership, and relationship building. As an animal lover (she received her first dog, a little poodle, on her 5th birthday) and a SAVE donor and adopter, she was familiar with the nonprofit organization’s mission and long history.
Now, nearly 80 years old, SAVE was founded in 1941 by veterinarian Dr. Cornelia Jaynes — the third female graduate of Cornell Veterinary School — and Emily Myrick.
The goal was to rescue stray dogs and cats, shelter them on Dr. Jaynes’ farm, provide spay/neuter services, and ultimately find them new homes.
After Dr. Jaynes’ death in 1969, her farm at 900 Herrontown Road was bequeathed to SAVE to further the cause of animal welfare.
Over the years, SAVE’s mission, with a focus on six core programs —rescue, shelter, health and welfare, spay/neuter, adoption, and humane education — has not changed. It continues to focus on the rehabilitation and successful placement of treatable and adoptable animals, and to build, foster, and strengthen the human-animal bond.
“I love thinking about Cornelia Jaynes,” says Achenbach. “I’d love to go back and have a conversation with her. I’d want her to know we are still doing her work, and I think she would be pleased that we are taking care of her legacy.”
As increasing numbers of animals came under SAVE’s purview over the years, the necessity for expanded space became apparent. Animals needed to be outside of their cages, with dog runs, and cats needed modern rooms, with perches and space for toys, litter boxes, etc.
In addition, the original building was in disrepair, notes Achenbach, and “literally falling down.”
With these needs uppermost, in 2006, SAVE merged with Friends of Homeless Animals, an organization founded in 1998 that had purchased property in Skillman for a shelter. The merged organization was renamed SAVE, A Friend To Homeless Animals, and it is now the largest shelter for companion animals in the greater Princeton region.
“They had the property. We had the animals,” explains Achenbach.
The property, located at 1010 Route 601 in Skillman, included the historic James Van Zandt House, an Italianate mansion built in the 1860s. The house was in complete disrepair, and part of the merger agreement stipulated that it was to be fully restored. It now serves as SAVE’s administration headquarters.
In addition, a new shelter was constructed, which can comfortably accommodate 75 cats and 25 dogs. It includes rooms for prospective adopters to meet and bond with the animal, a surgical unit, food preparation areas, and roomy, comfortable quarters for the dogs and cats.
SAVE moved into the new shelter in 2015, and is now celebrating its fifth anniversary there as well as looking forward to its 80th milestone next year.
As a private organization, SAVE is unique in important ways, points out Achenbach. “We are a limited intake shelter. That is, we do not take in more animals than we have room for. Our goal is first to reunite the animal with its owner, if possible. We have seven days to do that, and often, it does happen. If not, after seven days, they are considered a lost pet and and SAVE prepares them for adoption.”
She explains that SAVE has a boarding relationship with 10 surrounding towns, and rescued animals from those areas can be brought to SAVE by animal control officers.
“If a person finds a stray or lost animal, they must first contact the animal control officer, who will take it to SAVE. The Township animal control officers love animals. Six officers cover 10 towns, and even before they bring the animals to us, they try very hard to find the owner.”
Dogs and cats available for adoption can be viewed on SAVE’s website. Individuals interested in adopting must file an application online. Applicants should have a particular animal in mind when submitting their application.
As a nonprofit, SAVE relies on adoption fees and donations to fund its operation. Costs are $125 for an adult cat, $175 for a kitten; $250 for an adult dog and $500 for a puppy. These costs help to cover the 24/7 services, including food, spay/neuter, inoculations, vaccinations, medications, microchips, and other needs.
In-kind donations are also welcomed, and currently Royal Canin kitten and mother cat food is especially needed, as this is kitten season.
SAVE has a staff of 18 full- and part-time paid employees, and 350 core volunteers. Many of the volunteers donate a great deal of time, reports Achenbach. They are there every day to help clean the cages, walk the dogs, socialize the cats, etc.
A special “Seniors for Seniors” program is available for individuals 65 or older. If they adopt a dog or cat age 8 or older, the adoption fee is waived.
“Older animals are often overlooked, and they can be wonderful pets,” observes Achenbach. “They are mature, often house-trained, and can be calmer. Also, their personalities and sizes are established. You know what you are getting.”
For any pet entering a new environment, there is a period of adjustment, she adds. “A time frame can be three days, three weeks, and three months to notice changes. They need time to become familiar and comfortable in their new surroundings. You will be rewarded for your patience and kindness with the love and loyalty of your new pet.”
Achenbach, who has enjoyed the company of many dogs and cats over the years, is pleased to be part of SAVE, and is dedicated to its mission of ensuring the welfare of animals. She believes it has a special role during this difficult time of COVID-19. Animal shelters throughout the country are being contacted by many more people wanting to adopt, and SAVE has seen an upsurge of requests.
“The minute that the state issued stay-at-home regulations, the applications started coming in. We were shocked at the numbers. We had 300 applications in two days, when typically before, it had been 10 to 15 a day. We have doubled the adoption numbers because of the pandemic, and have twice emptied the shelter of dogs. We were down to 18 cats, when we normally have upward of 75.
“We are living in stressful times,” she continues, “and I hope everyone can be patient with us. We are doing our best to get the homeless animals here, and we want to get the one for you that you will love.
“We are always looking to be the best we can be to fulfill our mission to help homeless animals find the right home. Our goal is always to try to be better.”
She is pleased to report that, even before the current situation with the virus, adoptions have been increasing every year. “Now, it’s up to 700 a year. It was 400 at our previous location. We also can have a fast adoption rate. Sometimes, an animal may be here just a few days. There is nothing like watching a homeless animal go to a new home.
“We stay in touch with the adopters to see how things are going, and they’ll often send photos and emails to share their news.”
Heather Achenbach looks forward to continuing to further SAVE’s mission and to celebrating its upcoming 80th anniversary.
“I am really looking forward to that next year. I am so proud of that longevity and our service. My dream was to work in animal welfare. I live in the community we serve, and my heart is here at SAVE.”
For more information, call (609) 309-5214, or visit the website: www.savehomelessanimals.org.