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January 18, 2008
Doe Fund helping the less fortunate

by Amy Sacks
Just a few months ago, Brendon Ocasio was sleeping in a shelter facility run by the Doe Fund and spent his days in a job he didn't love, but took pride in: painting the city's mailboxes and traffic poles.

But today, the formerly homeless New Yorker was able to move out of the shelter after landing a job he relates to and feels passion for - caring for the city's neediest animals.

"I have a lot in common with these animals," said Ocasio, 41, who was recently hired by N.Y.C. Animal Care & Control as an animal control officer in the Manhattan shelter. "I'm in the shelter system, too, but I've been blessed and now am able to get my own place. These animals need their own domicile, too."

Ocasio, who has experience as a rancher, helps rescue animals and takes them in and out of the shelter. He recently drove some abandoned chickens and a rooster to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York, and a sea gull with a broken foot he rescued on Madison Ave. to the Animal Medical Center, on the upper East Side. Last week he drove two lovely pit bulls that were not likely to be adopted at the shelter to another bucolic upstate sanctuary that they can forever call home.

Ocasio is among a handful of former homeless men who have been hired by Animal Care & Control, after completing a six-week internship in a year-old partnership through the Doe Fund.

The Doe Fund is perhaps most famous for its Ready, Willing and Able program in which its "men in blue" clean 160 miles of the city's streets and sidewalks.

The program has helped more than 3,000 individuals leave behind lives of homelessness, addiction and incarceration to become productive members of society. Partnering with the New York City-run shelter is a successful new program for the Doe Fund, but one that isn't for everyone.

"They have to love animals," said AC&C operations manager Liz Keller, who calls the partnership program a win-win situation.

It's also a perfect fit for Victor Gomez, 36, a life-long animal lover, who cleaned streets by the Hudson River for the Doe Fund before landing at the AC&C Manhattan shelter as an intern. He is now a staff employee receiving a paycheck and benefits, making it possible to live on his own.

"I understand what these animals are going through, with nobody to care for them, and to be hungry and cold," he said.

Working in the kennels, Gomez makes sure the animals are comfortable. He walks the dogs, gives them water, and checks to see if their bedding is clean, he said.

Over at the Brooklyn AC&C shelter, newly hired animal control officer Curtis Vick is being called a dog whisperer.

"Some animals come in, and naturally are afraid," said Vick, 51, a recent graduate of the Doe Fund program. "I like to talk to the animals and make them feel comfortable. Sometimes we have an understanding."

Still, working at the city-run shelter is no easy task. By law, it is the only shelter in the city that is required to take in any stray, abandoned or abused animal. Ocasio says it is hard to see people who come to the shelter to drop off their pet, sometimes simply because it no longer suits their lifestyle.

Some of the animals come in beaten down and abused. And though his heart breaks when an animal he has come to know has to be euthanized, Ocasio says it is gratifying when an animal he has worked with gets adopted.

For Ocasio it's become more than a job, he said, "It's become a passion."

To adopt an animal go to


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