Elainne Samman, who has been a North Bergen resident for 18 years, is an avid animal lover. Her compassion was passed down by her mother, Barbara Bellino. Together they have started a local rescue group called American Life Savers Inc. (ALS). They are strong believers in a program called “trap, neuter, and release” that has been controversial in some local towns and has met with opposition from North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
Samman’s non-profit organization rescues homeless animals within the North Jersey area. Bellino is right by her daughter’s side, as she is the founder and treasurer of the organization.
ALS began in 2000 and was primarily focused on cats, but has now expanded.
Two years ago Samman left the job she had worked in for 20 years “to become poor on her own” and devote herself to her organization. “The rest is all a crazy mess,” joked Samman.
Fighting for animals
Samman works with other groups and with the North Bergen PetSmart store to get animals adopted. Those adopting kittens pay $100, including spaying, neutering, vaccines and a checkup for feline leukemia and AIDS. Adult cats have a lower fee, $60 to $75. Puppies are between $200 to $250 and a dog ranges from $100 to $200.
“We applaud people for taking a cat rather than a kitten or a dog rather than a puppy,” said Samman.
“The community needs to group together and come up with a solution on getting North Bergen to be TNR friendly.” - Elaine Samman
One of Samman’s favorite dog breeds is the pit bull, which she said is misunderstood. She feels that some people just don’t raise them properly.
Yvette Miqueli is the trainer for ALS who stumbled onto the organization because she lives around the corner from Samman.
Samman is a strong believer in TNR or “trap, neuter, release,” a program in which volunteers trap stray cats in cages, neuter them so they can’t reproduce, and release them. Some communities have objected, saying the program really doesn’t reduce the population of strays. The program has spurred controversy in nearby towns including Bayonne.
Samman attended a meeting in February with Mayor Sacco and officials from the local Animal Control office and the Health Department.
Samman said that she was told by the Health Department that TNR is illegal in New Jersey. After some research, she realized that it varies from town to town. Fort Lee, for example, has a program in place.
Samman said that she was trying to start a TNR program with the help of the town and local volunteers.
Town spokesman Phil Swibinski, after speaking with North Bergen Health Director/Officer Rich Censullo about the issue, said that North Bergen does not currently have a feral cat problem. He said that Censullo and the Sacco administration believe that starting a TNR program could lead to a problem. He said there are potential legal issues regarding abandoning cats after they have been taken in for a time. Various issues are unclear and would have to be sorted out.
He said the township has no plan to begin a TNR program.
“We believe that Elaine and her organization have their hearts in the right place and do truly care about animal welfare, as North Bergen does too,” said Swibinski. “Mayor Sacco’s administration is willing to meet with Animal Life Savers Inc. hear their recommendations and work with them for a solution in the best interests of North Bergen residents and animals.”
Samman said that a majority of the strays she finds in Hudson County are feral, meaning born in the wild, and are not socialized by people. So many of them can’t be adopted, but they can be sponsored.
For the non-adoptable cats, she tries to get them into sanctuaries, which is costly – from $300 to $400 per cat.
She would like to have a bulletin board placed on Bergenline Avenue illustrating how important TNR is for pets.
“The community needs to group together and come up with a solution on getting North Bergen to be TNR friendly,” said Samman. “We all have to come together and try to make this a better town.”
She is also looking for volunteers in general.
“All organizations lack volunteers,” said Samman. “Without volunteers, our organization cannot exist.”
Senior citizen program and others
Bellino works on the newsletters for members, which she said take her six months to create. The newsletters are seasonal and they provide updates on pets that have been adopted, along with highlighting those that are still looking for homes.
Samman is starting a program to link senior citizens with senior cats that are difficult to adopt, at no charge. The program will provide the cats with food and liter once a month.
Fundraising is crucial to help them feed the animals and provide essentials.
ALS is available on petfinder.com and they also have a Facebook account. Both accounts are under the organization’s name, Animal Life Savers, Inc. They previously had a .com website which has been recently changed to www.animallifesavers.org. For their 20th anniversary, Samman’s husband Michael, who works for Berkeley College changed the website from a .com to a .org.
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