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A Sanctuary of Love

Allyson Halm, left, president of Greenwich-based Adopt-A-Dog, watches while Jennifer Duggen with her daughters Sara, 3, and Emma, 5, look at puppies Tigger, brown, and Moose, black, at the Adopt-A-Dog shelter, in Armonk, N.Y.

George, an 11-year-old gray and white pit bull mix, loves to go for walks. Especially when he sees Adopt-A-Dog volunteer Joy Micik who comes over, leash in hand.

They walk over from the Adopt-A-Dog shelter in Armonk, N.Y., to St. Patrick Church, a close neighbor. Near the church, the grass is soft and the only sound is of leaves, dancing in the breeze. George’s eyes are bright.

Volunteer Joy Micik, of Greenwich, takes George, an 11-year-old pit bull, for a walk at Adopt-A-Dog’s shelter in Armonk, N.Y., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. George would later be adopted.

On the same day, another volunteer, Marc Feingold, and Riley, a pit bull terrier, are playing in the shelter’s three-quarter-acre exercise yard. Riley comes wagging with Feingold, as he heard of the sound of the ball flying. Later, Marc gives him a good hug. You can almost see Riley smile.

Marc Feingold, a volunteer at Greenwich-based Adopt-A-Dog, plays with Riley, a pit bull terrier, at the shelter in Armonk, N.Y.

Something has changed at Greenwich-based Adopt-A-Dog, something quiet and calm. Adopt-A-Dog President Allyson Halm explains, “We want to create a sanctuary atmosphere for the dogs who live here.”

In other shelters, visitors are sent to the kennel to see the dogs. You open the door, and all you hear is the cacophony of 25 or more dogs barking. This noise excites the dogs, and ends with stressed dogs.

“We are non-conventional, ” Halm added. “We don’t want to stress the dogs.”

Adopt-A-Dog visitors never see the kennel, just calm and happy dogs enjoying the shelter.

The day begins at 7:30 a.m. when the dogs are out of their kennel.

“We have 300 volunteers and their staff who exercise the dogs all the day. These dogs probably get more exercise than your own dog, ” Halm said with a smile.

Volunteers Heather Sweeny, of Rye, N.Y. holds Ember, a shepherd mix, and her mother Cindy Sweeny holds Rusty, a chow/shepherd mix at Adopt-A-Dog shelter in Armonk, N.Y.

Volunteers and Adopt-A-Dog staff take dogs for walks, and rides in a car and van, where they can sniff at the window, play in the exercise yard, and swim at Larchmont Manor Beach in New York and Byram Lake. During the day, dogs can come into the offices or enjoy the living room were they can “watch” TV and curl up in a soft bed.

Kristen Alouisa, kennel manager, shows Sonny, 6 month shepherd, a TV show at Adopt-A-Dog shelter in Armonk, N.Y.

The dogs are rotated all day, every day, all year. Their staff works five days a week. They also have two people who live in the shelter so there is always a contact for the dogs.

Not just contact, because animals need love. Kerrin Coyle has been a volunteer for 16 years. She has four cats at home, but she enjoys the cats and dogs at Adopt-A-Dog.

On a warm recent Saturday, wearing a lavender T-shirt advertising “Puttin’ on the Dog, ” Coyle found a chair at Pet Pantry Warehouse in Greenwich during an adoption event. Dillon, a pit bull mix of Adopt-A-Dog, held close to Coyle.

Volunteer Kerrin Coyle shows Adopt-A-Dog Dillon, a pit bull mix, 18 months, during a visit at Pet Pantry in Greenwich Ct.

“What a great feeling to have a dog climb in my lap and make him feel safe and loved.”

“I love every weekend when we have an adoption event with the dogs. Just being with them, loving them, teaching and trying to find them forever homes, ” she said.

And when a dog did find a family, Halm said that she does not rush the adoption.

Volunteer Alice Look, of Darien, holds Gigi, a pit bull, while Cecilia Garcia, 2, of Patterson, N.Y., pets Gigi with mother Amy at Adopt-A-Dog's shelter in Armonk, N.Y.

“We make multiple home visits to make sure the connection there, especially when children and multiple pets involved. We have driven as far as Canada, Maine and Massachusetts.

“We are here to convince people that a dog or cat is as important as having a child, ” she smiles. “It is a 15-year commitment. Why are there so many homeless dogs? Certainly if a child had allergies, you don’t surrender your child. If you have financial hardship you don’t give up your grandmother!”

“If you are going to take a dog we want a commitment from the family.”

This is a place where dogs and cats come in first.

“I have a mission, ” Halm declares, “to go forward to change and create a total new way of sheltering.”

Riley sits in his kennel, waiting to play with his ball, at the Adopt-A-Dog shelter in Armonk, N.Y.

Dadd, a 4-year-old spaniel mix, loves to sleep under a table in the office of the Adopt-A-Dog shelter in Armonk, N.Y.

Izzy, a female domestic long-haired cat, enjoys a quilt in the living room at the Adopt-A-Dog shelter in Armonk, N.Y.

Helen Neafsey