An Interview with Dog Habitat’s Rob Maher on AdoptNY
Dog Habitat stands out from other rescues for an array of reasons, the least not being its position as the only rescue in Greenpoint. Sharing a space with two other welcome additions to the neighborhood–the pet boutique District Dog and green boarding facility and doggie daycare Unleashed–Dog Habitat also acts as a local reminder of co-owner Rob Maher’s overarching mission.
Maher, along with wife Bea, rescue coordinator Emily Tanen and chief operating editor Jeff Latzer, co-runs Adopt NY, an online gathering for a collective of charities and rescues supporting one cause: to make New York a no-kill state. Maher was kind enough to answer a few questions on what goes into running a pet charity.
How did Dog Habitat begin?
Dog Habitat started from us having District Dog. Basically we kept finding
abandoned dogs, or people kept finding abandoned dogs that were left in a dog
run, and we would basically try to place them in other rescues, but most of the
rescues were full and a lot of them don’t accept dogs off the street, so it
became a constant problem; you can only pawn “X” amount of dogs off on friends.
We basically tried to figure out what was a reasonable way to start a rescue
within New York. And it being a brick and mortar rescue, there had to be some
place to actually put the dogs. It’s really hard to have a brick and mortar
rescue unless you own the building for it to sustain rent. Because, for the
most part with rescues, whatever you have coming in from donations or from
adoptions, it goes back into taking care of the next dog you help.
We figured the most logical thing would be to open a daycare and boarding facility
that could house our rescue. And the perks of that–not only is it that we have
rescues and a place for rescues to stay–but we have–once they’re socialized
with one another–the ability to socialize the dogs with clients. So, by the
time they’re ready to go home and get adopted, they’re socialized, they’re
ready to go to dog runs, they’re ready to meet other dogs or go into homes with
What has been Dog Habitat’s greatest achievement so far?
Our greatest achievement as an individual rescue is…the lives that we save. We
tend to focus ourselves on dogs who are malnourished, or overweight, or have
health issues more than behavioral issues because of the type of facility we
have. It’s pretty much a cage-free environment so we don’t really pull dogs
that aren’t good with other dogs, because we don’t really have the facility to
care for them. But we pull dogs that have severe mange, that are obesely
overweight, or super underweight, or dogs that may have cancer, or things like
that–things that we can treat through nutrition, because we focus mostly on
nutrition through our shops. We kinda believe that if the dog is healthy
overall, it’s gonna be a pretty well-rounded dog.
I noticed that you have a lot of unique pet food and pet treats here…
Yeah, Bea, my wife (who runs District Dog) is the one who basically hunts them out
and finds the best ones and makes sure they’re up to par with our standards
(before they go into the shop).
Did another charity or rescue serve as the basis for starting Dog Habitat?
No. It started solely on the purpose of finding a place where we could put abandoned
animals that we found in Greenpoint.
Not only that, but you do it in an energy efficient way.
Our entire facility is green. We use recycled rubber floor mats, our bulbs are
green, a lot of our wiring is redone…
How did you get that idea?
It’s mostly a lifestyle for us, so it was kind of a no-brainer for us to do it that
In starting a charity and/or rescue, what’s the most important thing someone
should know going into it?
That you’re not going to make money and you need to be doing it for the love of
What are the best ways you’ve found to raise awareness for the rescue?
Social media is huge, but a lot of it pertains to having professional imaging. Both me
and my wife come from advertising backgrounds–I come from a photography
background, she comes from a video editing/advertising background–so the
visual image of how you get your message across is really what is gonna attract
people to you.
What are some ways that charities or rescues can “combine forces,” so to speak, to support each other and support their cause?
As a rescue, I think it’s most apparent in our work with Adopt New York. Adopt New
York is a collaboration of (fellow rescue group) Project Pet and Dog Habitat, and
we basically built a support structure for rescue groups throughout New York.
The common goal is to make New York no-kill, so every rescue that we work with
has gotta be focused on doing that. So that means 70% of the animals that they
intake basically need to originate in New York state as a whole.
The work that we do in Adopt New York, it’s really about support. We started with
adoptions, and making adoptions the front and foremost in order to help bring
down the kill numbers in New York. Because it’s not easy; Animal Care &
Control doesn’t promote adoption the way they should–it’s not their priority.
It’s the rescue groups that do all the work in trying to do that. The best
example of it is, generally, let’s say roughly 30,000 to 35,000 animals go into
animal care and control. Rescue groups pull about 14,000 of those animals out
and adopt them out. Animal Care & Control adopts out maybe 6,000 a year.
And the rest usually end up getting euthanized. So, it’s the rescue groups that
are doing the legwork. If we weren’t, then your euthanasia numbers would still
be through the roof.
I was on Adopt New York earlier today and it looked like a really good resource, not only in raising awareness about no-kill, but just for finding other shelters to check out.
Our goal is to make it available for people to find different rescue groups in New
York, and find the right match of a pet for them. Or, you know, learn about
what the rescue community is all about. That’s huge for us. I mean, our biggest
thing is we wanna engage people, and we want people to know about what’s
happening in New York, because New York–New York City especially–doesn’t
wanna tell you what happens. Most people–maybe three out of ten people that
you talk to on the street–actually know that New York euthanizes animals.
That’s a problem.
What are your hopes and goals for Dog Habitat and Adopt NY’s future?
Dog Habitat’s a constant. It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. We
pull the amount of dogs that we wanna be pulling, and we adopt them out in a
fairly high ratio. We have a pretty high turnover for rescues, which is great.
Our focus is very much on Adopt NY and awareness. As far as Adopt NY goes,
we’ve been growing so rapidly, that our plans are basically to be able to throw
large scale adoption events every month in New York. Our plan is to launch full
viral and print campaigns for the print campaigns that we currently have…(Our
print campaign, “Doesn’t this dog deserve a chance?”) is reaching 300,000
people a day just based on…the context of what we are saying. But we’d like
to be able to put them into print.
It’s all about awareness. Our job is to make people aware of exactly what happens in
the city and how they can go about changing it. We don’t use sad, depressing
imagery and messages because we don’t think it works. Our messages are
uplifting and proactive…Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Our
hopes are to grow Adopt New York into a much larger organization that can
support more rescues. We support 44 right now. We took on a major hurricane
relief effort which we didn’t intend on doing; it needed to be done so we did
it. We’ve raised, at this point, around $23,000 that we’ve been distributing
through supplies and necessities for all these rescue groups that were really
heavily damaged. And we put out a plea for fosters and we made our message
really loud and we pulled in over 850 foster applications, which is unheard of.
Normally you put out the message and you get ten; we got 850. So, we basically
took those 850 and divided them up amongst rescues and said, “Go save more