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The animal shelters in both Southold and Riverhead towns are managed by North Fork Animal Welfare League. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

The North Fork Animal Welfare League’s humble beginnings date back to 1962.

At the time, a wayward canine’s destiny was often the Southold Dog Pound. It was a small brick building, akin to a shed, with very little ventilation.

When the NFAWL was in its early days, it described its goal as establishing a “well-built, well-run shelter for homeless animals, mainly cats and dogs, where they can be cared for until suitable homes are found or other arrangements made for their well-being,” according to an August 1963 announcement in a local newspaper.

Flash forward nearly 60 years and the organization, run tirelessly by a small paid staff and dedicated volunteers, is still working hard to find forever homes for animals on the North Fork — and they are always looking at ways to improve their shelters.

“It’s a big endeavor, a costly endeavor, and we rely on people’s donations,” said NFAWL board president Leslie Benway.

The organization also no longer serves just Southold Town. Since 2013, it has run the town shelter in Riverhead as well and in 2018 it purchased a new property in Aquebogue for long overdue upgrades.

(Credit: Krysten Massa)

This past year has not been particularly kind to the group, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting its ability to raise funds. Social distancing has prevented NFAWL from the in-person contact it relies on to reach donors.

And the timing of when the virus reached our region, just three months after renovations began at the new shelter in Riverhead, only made things more challenging.

“We anticipated having a strong summer to raise money for the renovations,” Benway said. “We lost all that face to face opportunity [for fundraising] as well as promoting the mission.”

There were some positives to come out of the pandemic. More people stepped up to foster dogs, many of which have since been adopted.

Benway said with people working from home they are more open to taking in a dog or cat in need of a place to live.

State grants also kept employees paid and helped feed and care for the animals.

But as the holiday season sets in, and the organization gets closer to 2021, the year it intends to complete renovations and reopen the shelter in Riverhead, fundraising is paramount in order to achieve this goal.

“The community is very supportive of the League,” Benway said. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without the community.”

How to donate

The North Fork Animal Welfare League makes it easy to donate. Online contributions can be made using a credit or debit card at If you’d prefer to mail a donation, you can send it to North Fork Animal Welfare League, PO Box 297, Southold, NY 11971.