DISCLAIMER: if you came to see cute puppies and kittens… you’re in the right place
Penny Smith-Berk is the driving force behind Rescue Right – the animal rescue operation she runs, on a shoestring budget and as a labor of love, out of her Northwind Kennels business at 402 Old Post Road in Bedford. Penny acquired Northwind Kennels and opened Rescue Right in 2012, after a career in animal rescue including having served as Adoption Coordinator for the Yonkers Animal Shelter. Penny reflects: “After 25 years of working in the animal rescue field, I was aware that there were many, many ways to handle animal rescue… And that there are people who do rescue wrong. I wanted to make sure that we were not guilty of that. There are so many gaps that need to be filled-in with animal rescue. You must think very carefully about what it means to shelter. To shelter does not mean to take in the tiniest, youngest, cutest, most adoptable animals and get them out as quickly as you can…To me, and to everyone who works with me, to shelter means to take in an animal who, for one reason or another, and generally through no fault of its own, has no place to go temporarily, where its needs can be met, and its life can be saved. And that is where Rescue Right fills in those gaps. It’s very intentional. It’s something we do every day and something we’re very proud of!”
Rescue Right is making a huge difference! The shelter saved 662 companion animals in 2022 alone, and has saved over 6,000 companion animals since opening their doors.
In fulfilling the traditional shelter functions of rescuing and adopting out homeless cats and dogs, Rescue Right stands out as willing to take-in ‘difficult’ animals that no other rescue operation will accept. As Penny describes, “The questions we ask are: ‘Is the animal in danger?’, and ‘If we don’t take the animal, is it likely to lose its life?’ The dog may have medical or behavioral issues that require more in terms of time, money, and effort, but it’s even more rewarding when we finally find that animal a home.”
A favorite example is Zeus, a German Shepherd. At four years old, Zeus had developed perianal fistulas, a painful, debilitating condition that limited his ability to properly absorb food. He was sold and resold on Craig’s List five times before he ended up at Rescue Right. When Penny took him in, she reported that ‘he was absolutely emaciated – about 50 pounds, snarling, and in pain, and didn’t trust anyone’. Penny spent several thousand dollars on medications and six months nursing him back to a healthy 100 pounds. …And Zeus is now the beloved pet of a regular volunteer and her three kids. At other shelters, Zeus might not have been viewed as worth saving.
Above and beyond the outstanding rescue and adoption operation, in some desperate circumstances Rescue Right also provides companion animals temporarily without a home with a shelter until they can be reunited with their families. Rescue Right believes strongly in serving the most vulnerable animals and in keeping families together—even when it comes at a significant financial cost to the shelter.
When a local woman and her two children found themselves in an impossible domestic abuse situation, they were still reluctant to enter a women’s shelter because their dog could not join them. Terribly, this is a fairly regular problem. Most shelters will not offer temporary shelter for an animal—they will only take-in animals that have been surrendered to them. A family friend called around, asking various animal shelters to board the dog. Every one of them said ‘no’. …That is, until she reached Penny. Penny boarded the woman’s dog for 9 months, free of charge, until the family had found housing that would allow dogs. Penny’s view of the situation was straightforward: “They’d already lost everything else they had— we couldn’t let them lose their pet, too.”
After Hurricane Sandy, Penny sheltered 32 vulnerable dogs whose owners had lost their homes. For several months, Rescue Right provided food, shelter, and medical attention for those dogs – all out-of-pocket. Eventually, 30 of those dogs were reunited with their families and the other two, who were surrendered by their families, found new homes.
And Penny is currently sheltering John Bell’s six cats. John was a long-time teacher in the Bedford Schools and just before reaching retirement, his house burned to the ground along with all his possessions. He had eight cats in the house, two of whom died in the fire. The six who survived suffered burns and smoke inhalation. While John is currently living in a hotel, his cats are staying at Rescue Right, boarding for no charge until he finds a place to live that will allow him to reunite with the surviving cats, his only family.
Penny summed up Rescue Right’s mission saying, “To us, rescue…is a sacred duty! It is a privilege to save animal’s lives, to serve our local community, and to help keep families together! We invite you to join us! This is real rescue, and we can’t do it without you!”