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They call New York the city that never sleeps, and as director of operations for Animal Care & Control, Mike Pastore has to keep up with his town.
He’s been on the job for all kinds of animal calls, including cats big and small—for the Bengal tiger kept in a Harlem apartment in 2003 and for Molly the cat, who sparked an international media phenomenon in 2006 when she got lost inside a Greenwich Village building, prompting a two-week search-and rescue effort that included a pet psychic.
A veteran of 17 years in animal welfare, Pastore says he’s grateful for a job that offers daily opportunities to save animals and to help educate people in a city as dynamic as New York. The city poses undeniable challenges— traffic, old buildings, and high-crime areas, to name a few—but Pastore sees animal welfare in Gotham moving in the right direction. Shelter intake and euthanasia rates have dropped, and people seem to be grasping the responsibilities of pet ownership, holding on to their animals rather than surrendering or abandoning them, he says.
In the edited interview that follows, Pastore—whose own pets include a dog, a cat, a snake, a gerbil, and a hamster—discusses his career with Animal Sheltering associate editor James Hettinger.
Animal Sheltering: What’s going on in your community?
Mike Pastore: One of the things I’m excited about is that we’ve been able to really get a grip on our response to the daily calls that come in. I’ve been able over the years to really recruit a good team, and to have some people stick around that know what they’re doing, and we’ve been able to really increase our response to the daily calls. We’re not pushing calls over to the next day as much as we did in the past.
Tell us about your most memorable rescue.
Molly was a cat that was owned by a store owner down in the Village in Manhattan. The cat ran in between two buildings, and was stuck. It was a big problem, because we could only hear the cat; we couldn’t see it, and we weren’t sure where it was. We were blasting through brick walls. We had to call the landmark commission because the building was a couple hundred years old, and we had to make sure we didn’t destroy the integrity of the building. And people came from everywhere once it hit the media in New York—just walking by, helping with suggestions. There was actually a sound guy, an acoustical specialist, who really helped out because he brought some equipment, and we were able to detect where the cat was. It came sort of in the fourth quarter of the operation, but it proved to be really one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Using all resources to help an animal is always beneficial.
What advice would you give to a young person thinking about entering the field?
You have to have a passion for helping animals, because there are going to be times when nobody is going to see you. You’re not going to have the media camera there to watch you, [but] you’re going to get the self-satisfaction [that] you helped that animal in need that was depending on you to save its life. And if you have that passion and you enjoy fieldwork, it’s a great job to get into, and you can really make a difference in an animal’s life, and certainly with the public, because you represent a whole organization when you’re out there in the field.
Do you have any goals for the future?
The goals are to continue to educate the staff that comes on, [to] increase their knowledge. [And to] just keep them motivated, because sometimes there are a lot of sad stories: You didn’t get to the animal in time. The animal you brought in, you worked so hard to rescue, was not conducive to our adoption program and had to be euthanized. And it’s constant cheerleading: Hey, listen, every day you have an opportunity to help another one. And if you’re not in this field, and you give up, you’re not going to have that opportunity.