Little Shelter's Story
“To build a future, you have to know the past.” Before the ribbon cutting ceremony on Humane Sunday, April 27th, 1927, a visionary named Anna Hunninghouse dreamed of a place where homeless cats and dogs could be safe and taken care of until they were adopted. Namely, a little shelter from a seemingly uncaring world.
When Mrs. Hunninghouse took up residence in Huntington, NY, this animal advocate was dismayed to discover the inhumane conditions the unwanted and often abandoned cats and dogs endured and immediately began her campaign to promote change and awareness within the community. At the time, Suffolk County didn’t have a Humane Society and the concept of spaying or neutering pets to prevent overpopulation was a foreign one. Most people didn’t realize the deplorable situation of “animal control” that currently existed at the hand of a one-armed dog catcher who, for nine dollars each, rounded up stray dogs, chained them onto his own property, then summarily “disposed” of them after a waiting period of five days. Outraged by the indifference of town officials and the community as a whole, Mrs. Hunninghouse began to expose the atrocities that these animals suffered via letters to the local media and her frequent and vocal protests at Town Board meetings, garnering the reputation as a slightly “crazy” newcomer.
Mrs. Hunninghouse found a much needed ally in Mrs. Nellie May of Brooklyn, who had recently purchased a summer bungalow in the Huntington area. A noted humane worker herself, Mrs. May became involved when she took up the plight of a colony of cats living off the garbage from the local hotels. When they were demolished to build modern stores, the starving cats were forced to roam the streets looking for food. When Mrs. May tried to enlist the help of the town to capture and relocate the cats to a safe area, she was advised to talk to the “dog and cat” lady. The two animal advocates met, collaborated, and soon the idea of the “Little Shelter” was born. Unfortunately, Mrs. May became discouraged when her appeals for donations to start a trust fund for the shelter went unanswered and she abandoned the project, returning to Brooklyn.
Not to be dissuaded, Mrs. Hunninghouse was convinced that the effort could succeed, declaring “With the pennies and dimes from the animal lovers of this town, we will build a refuge that will be a credit to the community.” Fundraising events such as card parties, cake sales, children’s plays, and concerts added to the growing funds. After two years, $300 had been raised, though that amount was still short of what was needed to purchase land and build a shelter. However, on Christmas Day in 1928, several checks fortuitously arrived, donated by generous benefactors who had been watching Anna’s efforts with interest. Construction began on December 9, 1929 and the following spring, the doors of Little Shelter were finally opened, welcoming the “voiceless ones” and beginning the legacy of changing the lives of animals in need.
The first year, on a budget of $1000, Little Shelter handled 600 animals. By 1944, over 12,000 cats and dogs came in and out of the shelter at a cost of $16,000. Monies provided by private donations and legacies enabled the shelter to expand from the original half-acre of land to six acres, which included the Sheltervale Pet Cemetery. During WWII, Little Shelter was the authorized unit of the Red Star Animal Relief, providing assistance in times of war or disaster.
Operating as a “no-kill” facility since 1990, Little Shelter provides comprehensive care for hundreds of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens at any given time. The staff and volunteers prepare the animals for adoption through socialization, behavioral evaluation, and training. Pending adoptions then undergo extensive screening and follow-up processes to ensure that every cat or dog is placed into a loving home. Little Shelter has a strict policy that all animals are spayed or neutered before or soon after leaving the shelter as to not add to the pressing problem of pet overpopulation. In addition, we encourage the community to participate in this initiative by offering low cost spay/neuter certificates from participating veterinarians.
Little Shelter’s feral cat program has been instrumental in preventing thousands of new litters of homeless kittens, effectively controlling the feral cat population in targeted areas of Long Island. Through humane trapping, the cats are brought to the vet for testing, vaccinations, and spay/neuter surgery. They are then released back into the colony wherever there is a stable feeding source.
Recognizing how vital it is to give back to the Huntington residents and beyond, Little Shelter has developed several outreach programs, including Pet Therapy, Humane Education, the Reading Assistance Program, Pets for Vets, and the Animal Soup Kitchen just to name a few. Fulfilling the promise that originated with Mrs Hunninghouse, Little Shelter has indeed become “a refuge for homeless animals that will be a credit to the community.”
From its humble beginnings, Little Shelter now rescues both internationally and locally via the Passage to Freedom Program, changing even more precious lives. While still occupying the original land, Little Shelter has expanded outward to include assuming the operations of the Town of Huntington Cat Shelter as well as developing a beautiful, tranquil Sanctuary in upstate New York. Set on 110 acres, the Sanctuary provides a peaceful atmosphere for overlooked dogs, giving them much needed space while celebrating their lives.
We are proud of our past, and like Anna Hunninghouse, have hope and vision for our future. With your ongoing generous support, we can continue our mission to rescue, adopt, and transform the lives of animals in need.
“Saving one dog or cat will not change the world, but surely for that one dog or cat, the world will change forever.”
Let’s change the world together!