The National Catholic Review
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The Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, on the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University, is a state-of-the-art facility that hosts a variety of artists and ensembles throughout the year: the New York Philharmonic, ballet and modern dance companies, Broadway productions and more—music and theater from around the world, in fact. A month ago, the Broadway musical actress Bernadette Peters graced the stage and offered a dynamic tribute to the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim and other great lyricists and composers. Broadway devotee that I am, I could not pass up this opportunity.

Possessed of a lustrous voice that has captivated audiences for decades, Ms. Peters is clearly devoted to the theater. But not everyone knows of her charitable passions, one of which is saving and rescuing homeless animals. Ten years ago, in 1999, she and the actress Mary Tyler Moore founded Broadway Barks, an annual summer charity event held outdoors in New York City to promote the adoption of shelter animals. The adopt-a-thon has come a long way, garnering promotional support and presentations by many celebrities. It currently benefits more than two dozen animal welfare groups (I’m sure there are countless similar programs around the country and abroad as well).

Ms. Peters will appear in mid-November at a Broadway theater for a repeat concert, with all proceeds to benefit Broadway Barks and her other charity, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. A children’s book (for ages 4 to 8) she wrote in 2008, Broadway Barks (illustrated by Liz Murphy), benefits her animal charity. The book comes with a CD of the story and a lullaby, “Kramer’s Song,” with music and lyrics by Ms. Peters herself (whose mixed-breed dog, adopted from a shelter, is named Kramer).

As many America readers are aware, I am an animal lover and try to do as much as possible for the cause of homeless, abused animals (not to mention supporting the efforts of the Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy and the Equine Protection Network, among others). The causes, unfortunately, are numberless while needed resources are scarce. Some progress is being made on shutting down puppy mills, on greater oversight of the treatment and crating of farm animals and on legislation to prohibit having a wild animal as a personal pet.

What I see and experience in my volunteer work at a local adoption shelter (a no-kill center, by the way) can be equally disturbing. We have had dogs and kittens literally dumped outside our door anonymously. We have found animals bound to fences and trees with hard wire. We were recently visited by someone who blithely announced she has a 10-year-old dog and now wants a cat—but not both. Will we accept the dog? Responsible animal owners realize the place a pet should hold within a family and shudder in the face of such cold indifference.

It is especially gratifying in this volunteer work to know we make a difference. We save a needy animal, (re)socialize him, engage a professional trainer (who donates time) and take animals out of their crates for much-needed holding or cuddling time. This is crucial for building trust and human connection in the case of a heretofore isolated, neglected or mistreated animal. Manifold duties keep a large group of volunteers—who range from youngsters to oldsters—busy seven days a week.

Happily, we do find good homes for many of our animals, which should be reward enough. But this Broadway babe would also love to sing for her shelter. Give me a C, Maestro, please.

Patricia A. Kossmann is literary editor of America.

Comments

michelle benedict | 10/23/2009 - 4:27pm
Thank you for this article and for all you do for God's creatures. I am very happy to see something for animals in this magazine.  Wasn't it St. Francis who said "If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men?"

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