A feel-good story in the Adirondacks

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1995:

CORINTH, N.Y.––Adopting out 1,500 to
1,700 animals a year, or roughly one for every 10 year-
round residents of Saratoga County, Adirondack Save-
A-Stray is easily the best-known enterprise in Corinth,
New York, population 2,700. Founder Meredith Fiel,
perhaps the best-known person in town, makes sure of
that, spending $500 a month to advertise in every paper
from Schenectady to Ticondaroga, and Rutland,
Vermont, to Lake Luzerne.
“If you don’t get out word about what you
have,” she states, “people aren’t going to know.”
Since 1991, Fiel has also contributed a popular
biweekly pet care column to the Glens Falls P o s t
S t a r––and just this year she commenced a weekly half-
hour interview program, “Hot Topics,” on the Corinth
country music radio station, WZZM 93.5. “It doesn’t
have anything to do with animals,” she insists. “The
focus is local current affairs.” But Adirondack Save-A-
Stray gets frequent mentions.

Busy at all hours
The Adirondack Save-A-Stray shelter occupies
one of the busiest storefronts at the busiest corner in
Corinth. Fiel acquired the building along with a farm
near town in 1981, when she moved to the Adirondacks
from New York City, seeking a quieter life.
“Don’t believe that,” says a volunteer handling
the cash register. “I was here alone all morning and it
was dead. I cleaned the cages and read half a book.
Then Meredith walked in and there were 12 people here
within five minutes.”
At six p.m. on a midweek night, when most
shelters would be long since closed, Adirondack Save-
A-Stray is packed with at least four helpers, Fiel’s two
children, a couple of people trying to pick out a puppy,
veterinarian Steven Lascher, radio program guests, and
a harried young producer who’s trying to drag her over to
the station to go on the air. The telephone rings constant-
ly. Some of the cats are running around the office for
exercise. Fiel is talking to everyone at once while taking
off the smock she wore as Lascher’s technician on open-
ing day for Adirondack Save-A-Stray’s own in-house
neutering clinic, Planned Pets. In addition to low-cost
neutering, the clinic provides discount vaccinations and
other basic animal care. For those who don’t care to
drive all the way to Corinth, Adirondack Save-A-Stray
also maintains a network of 35 veterinarians in outlaying
areas who neuter animals at reduced rates.
No newsletter
As amazing as what Fiel accomplishes amid the
uproar is what she doesn’t do. Founded in 1988,
Adirondack Save-A-Stray still doesn’t have any
brochures about itself, or much of a mailing list. A one-
page list of adoption hints appears to be the extent of
Adirondack Save-A-Stray literature, apart from photo-
copies of Fiel’s columns, which focus on veterinary
advice. Because she has little patience for the requisite
record-keeping, Fiel also doesn’t take advantage of her
location to sell pet supplies, a potentially very lucrative
sideline that is in fact advertised on the storefront sign.
Nor does Fiel ever sit still or stop talking.
Radio show guests sometimes wonder why they’re invit-
ed: Fiel, in effect, interviews herself, turning to the
guests much as a sportscaster turns occasionally to a
“color man.” But she makes guests and audience alike
crack a smile with her unquenchable effervescence. It’s
hard to imagine such a personality thriving in the
Adirondacks, characterized by men of few words and
women who rarely speak unguardedly among mixed
company––but it’s hard to imagine, too, that anyone of
less energy could make humane headway in an area
choked by poverty for most of this century, with some of
the highest rates of hunting participation, child abuse,
and failure to finish school in the whole U.S.
“It’s changed, really changed,” Fiel insists.
“Fourteen years ago you heard that neutering makes an
animal fat, lazy, and stupid. We’ve really educated a lot
of people,” to the point that the neutering clinic is now
booked for a solid month ahead. Fiel made it happen by
visiting every school, summer camp, youth group, and
public gathering of any other kind that she could talk into
letting her speak. Humane education hasn’t changed the
Adirondacks, yet, but a generation has grown up better
informed than their forebears.
Ironically, Field never intended to get into
humane work at all. “When I bought my farm,” she
explains, I didn’t realize it would become a dump for
unwanted animals. Of course when I found the animals,
I took them in. I got up to 56 before I realized something
had to be done. I hooked up with a veterinarian who was
willing to do low-cost neutering and began to do adop-
tions from a basket in my storefront window. I got to be
known as the cat-and-dog lady, and other people began
bringing me strays. Finally, at Christmas in 1987, I
looked around and saw I had a line of customers going
out into the street while I was trying to adopt out a
puppy. I realized I had to choose betwen my businesses,
and I followed my heart. In February 1988, we held an
auction, sold all the antiques, and became a fulltime
shelter,” open seven days a week.
No killing
Everything Fiel knows about humane work,
she’s picked up since, mostly through intuition. She
insists on remaining a no-kill shelter, to encourage pub-
lic trust and enthusiasm. “We’re not 100% against
euthanasia,” Fiel says, “because we will euthanize an
animal who’s suffering and just has no chance. But
we’re not here to kill animals, and for that reason we
don’t accept animals that don’t have a chance of adop-
tion. We tell people with those kind of cases to go to
animal control. That’s why they exist. They do an
important job, and we have a good relationship with
animal control, but we do a different job. We’re here to
help the animals we can help, by finding them homes.”
Fiel equally emphatically opposes warehousing
animals for life. Two other no-kill shelters within a 25-
mile radius furnish her ultimate examples of how not to
operate. Both are located well outside of town, do little
or no adoption promotion, have resultantly low adoption
rates, and have reputedly kept some animals in small
holding facilities for many years. One of the two has
been frequently criticized and occasionally prosecuted
for maintaining squalorous conditions and keeping dogs
outdoors right through bitterly cold winters. The other
has generally stayed out of trouble, but keeps a low pro-
file, with little visible effect on the community.
Fiel’s only other hard-and-fast rule is to
change anything that doesn’t work. It’s a philosophy
that makes Adirondack Save-A-Stray living proof that
“impossible” is only a degree of difficulty.
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