The park and ride lot at the crossroads of Sherwood Island and Interstate 95 may seem like an unlikely place for a family reunion, but roughly every two weeks, this is where Holly Chasin unites shelter dogs with their new families.
Chasin calls it a "love fest," and anyone who observes the adoptive families meeting their new pets for the first time can see why – there are tears of joy, wagging tails, and lots of happy smiles.
The Westport resident founded The Little Pink Shelter in 2008 after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She had adopted her own dog, Jack, from a shelter in Arkansas and wanted to help other dogs to get a second chance at life.
"It kept my mind off the treatment." Chasin explained. Since then, she has rescued over 450 dogs.
The Little Pink shelter is a "virtual" shelter and you cannot visit a physical location and meet the dogs. The Little Pink Shelter website site is part of PetFinder.com, a national web portal dedicated to animal rescue.
Chasin posts photos and information about the dogs that are available for adoption, and individuals interested in adopting the dogs complete an extensive online application. Chasin does a thorough screening on each person who is interested in adopting. Once the reference check is complete, the dogs are then transported to the drop off point at the park and ride and the families are united.
Because The Little Pink Shelter is associated with a national web portal, her clients come from all over to adopt their pets. "I've had people come from Maine and as far south as the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland," said Chasin.
On Saturday evening, Chasin's adoptive families came from Southport, Farmington, Bristol and as far away as Long Island and Poughkeepsie, to wait for the truck to arrive with their new family members.
Artie Shertzer travelled from Long Island to pick up his year old chocolate lab, the third dog he's rescued through Chasin's Little Pink Shelter. "They're wonderful dogs, I couldn't be happier," Shertzer said of his other two chocolate labs.
Best friends, April Paige of Farmington, and Jen Ponte of Bristol, adopted sibling Boxer-Labrador mix puppies. "I fell in love with Holly's website," said Paige, "That's why we chose her, we liked her backstory."
Chasin works with shelters and dog foster families in Arkansas and Tennessee. According to Chasin, the shelters and rescue organizations in the south are at maximum capacity because many people don't spay or neuter their pets.
"The south is about 50 years behind us. There are no leash laws. No one spays," she said. "If they have extra money, it's not going towards spaying their pet. If you go to a Wal-Mart there are often pickups with boxes of puppies with signs that say 'Free.' These are great family dogs. Very often these puppies are just abandoned."
The dogs that Chasin rescues range from mixed breeds to purebred dogs and range in age from 8-week-old puppies to older dogs.
"Most are mixed breeds, but I've had Labs, Westies, Poodles, and Yorkies. I recently rescued a Sheltie that was in a shelter because the family bought a new leather couch and didn't want the dog to jump on it. Now the dog lives in Guilford, Conn. with a family that loves him. He has the run of the yard and he can sit on any couch he wants to. There are a lot of happy endings like that."
Chasin encourages people interested in adding a pet to their family to adopt a shelter dog rather than purchase a dog from a pet store or breeder. "These are dogs that don't have a chance otherwise; thousands of dogs are put to sleep every week. When you rescue a dog, you're saving a life."
She says every time a new transport comes in, she feels "euphoric. It's the best endorphin rush. I've had friends come to watch the families being united with the dogs and they want to come back again and again. It's addicting."