Finding Forever Homes For Pets

Brick Police Officer John Turrin does a K-9 demonstration with his black Lab, Vader. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church held their third annual Pet Adoption Day on their grounds at 1520 Route 88 with the hopes of finding permanent homes for animals without one.

Priest Maria Sanzo, 62, said her church identifies animal welfare as one of their main ministries.

“This day started out by supporting Jersey Shore Animal Center (JSAC) with a donation basket in the church,” she said. “We made up our minds to have this day to generate some interest in homes for rescue animals. If we can get one animal a home, the day has been a success.”

Veterinarian Dr. Caitlin Reich, left, and volunteer Maria Bongiovanni work the Jersey Shore Animal Center booth. A Lab mix named Angelica was up for adoption that day. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

Parishioner Sue Medford has coordinated Pet Adoption Day from the beginning, and she said that in addition to three animal rescue groups, some 16 vendors paid $20 for their booths where attendees could buy a variety of items ranging from animal treats to arts and crafts.

“We tried to have pet-only vendors, but it put too much competition on the vendors. This is better for the vendors,” said Medford.

JSAC had set up a booth and their new full-time veterinarian Dr. Caitlin Reich and volunteer Maria Bongiovanni had two dogs and three kittens available for adoption.

“We have a successful adoption rate in general, but through events like this we get a lot of new volunteers and donations,” Reich said.

Presently the shelter has 24 kittens, 23 adult cats and 11 dogs available, she said.

Dr. Reich has started a low-cost spay and neuter clinic at JSAC and offers a general clinic on the first Saturday of the month that offers vaccinations, microchipping and more. (For more information call 732-920-1600).

BFF is another animal rescue group who had a booth and had two dogs and nine kittens available for adoption.

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

Volunteer Kim Skillman, who was also one of the founders of BFF (Best Friends Forever) said the group fosters animals in the homes of volunteers, who are all Brick residents.

“If somebody is in need, get in touch with us. If we have an available foster we’ll take them into our homes which prepares them for their forever home,” she said. (For more information email

There was even entertainment at the event when Brick Police Officer John Turrin brought his K-9 Vader for a demonstration. Nearly everyone there gathered in the parking lot as Turrin explained the role of the four K-9s employed by the Brick Police Department.

The three German shepherds are used for patrol and narcotics works, but Vader, who is the only Black Lab, is used exclusively for the detection of ammunition, explosives and bombs, he said.

“Labs are very social. He has to be around people. The other K-9s are aggressive, but Vader will just walk around and be a dog,” Turrin said to the crowd.

The two attended a 16-week training course in bomb detection run by the State Police.

Brick Police Officer John Turrin does a K-9 demonstration with his black Lab, Vader. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

Vader was trained with a knotted towel that had been treated with the scent of explosives. Turrin and Vader played tug of war with the towel after the dog sniffed explosives, so “that meant we were gonna play,” the officer explained.

“He lives with me 24/7, he gets more attention than my kids do,” Turrin joked. “He’s part of the family – he’s just a dog. But when I put on my uniform, his whole demeanor changes, he just wants to go to work.” Training and vehicle costs, plus the purchase of Vader was paid for with a Homeland Security grant.

Pastor Sanzo said that St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church, which has a Christian foundation, worships in a liturgical style, meaning that church services follow a pattern of solemn ceremonies, such as communion. Sunday services are held at 9:30 a.m. and “all are welcome,” she said.

The church also offers a summer camp preschool starting July 6 until July 30. For more information call 732 458-5711.