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Astoria Characters: The Pet Protector

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Not a peep. That's what I hear when I walk up the stairs to the top of Christine Shane's duplex.

She has a full house. Bosco, a blue-nose pitbull, Nubia, a chihuahua/pharaoh hound mix; James, a pitbull; Jayda, a black pitbull/lab mix; Sam, a lab; and the four hairless sphynx cats -- Henrik, Pandora, Trinity and Nefereti -- are all in residence.

Yet not so much as a bark or a meow, a growl or a hiss greets me.

Two dogs are in the kitchen, one is sequestered in the bedroom, and the others are downstairs with Christine's mother. The cats, well, they're cats so who knows where their claws are clinging.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Christine with Bosco the pitbull.

Christine's in the living room, which is as clean as an operating room; there's not a hairball or dust bunny in sight and not a whiff of eau de canine or fleur of feline fluff. By the door, a vacuum cleaner stands as ready as a combat soldier.

Christine, who was born in Astoria and has lived in this duplex for 16 years, is mother only to James, Nubia and the wrinkled cats; she's a foster parent to the rest, which she saved from death's door through Flushing-based Second Chance Rescue, which finds foster parents for pets who are sentenced to Animal Care & Control shelters in Staten Island, Manhattan and Brooklyn.

"Some of them stay with me a week or two," she says. "Others are here for months until someone adopts them."

Christine has her pick of the litter. She culls the daily e-mail descriptions the shelter sends to determine who will be added to her merry menagerie.

"Mostly, I pick pitbulls," she says. "They are a great breed, especially for kids, which is important because my daughter, Paige, is 9. I've never been bitten by a pitbull, but I have been bitten by all kinds of other dogs. Pitbulls have a bad rep, so there are lots of them on the list who need to be saved."

Christine, a 23-year-old with long black hair who gets a lump in her throat when she talks about the animals on Death Row, started her foster parenting six years ago when she was in high school and a new mother herself.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Pandora and Henrik allow Christine to hold them.

"I went on Craigslist, and it brought me to tears," she says. "I'd always had pets when I was growing up, but I never knew that so many were abused."

Her mother thought it was a good idea, too, so they took in a couple of dogs.

"They are the most loving animals," she says, leashing up Bosco for a walk. "They pop out of the van, and when they see me, they kiss me to death. It's a great feeling knowing that I saved them from the death list."

Too many of the animals need a lot of TLC.

"In May, I got a pitbull from Four Paws Sake who weighed only 23 pounds," she says. "Her name was Hope, and she was so starved that there were holes in her butt where the bones poked through the skin when she sat down. She's filled out and she's at another foster home; she's still looking for a permanent home."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Paige loves rescues as much as her mother does.

When she got married, in 2009, to Clifford Shane, whom she has known since their days at Long Island City High School, she converted him to her cause. "He had never had a pet before," she says. "He helps me find homes for some of them, and one time he brought home a stray dog."

When she's asked how many animals she has sheltered, she can't come up with an answer. Surely, she says, it is hundreds. She starts counting; oh my gosh, from November 2010 to the middle of January 2011, she played parent to 30 dogs and kittens.

Although the animals love her, some of the neighbors are not so fond of her avocation. "The dogs do bark when the doorbell rings and when there are loud parties in the neighborhood," she says. "And sometimes when people see me walking the pitbulls -- I do only two at a time -- they scream, 'Get them away! They're killers!'"

The center pays for the spaying and neutering and first round of shots, but foster parents like Christine pick up the bill for everything else. Food, treats and necessities like leashes and collars run $500 per month, and the vet bills can mount to $1,000 per year. Although she does get to pocket the adoption fees that run from $75 to $250 per animal, Christine doesn't come out ahead financially.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Christine takes in a lot of pitbulls like Bosco, who's looking for a home.

And there's the work, which she prefers to think of as responsible fun. She and her mother give the dogs three 45-minute walks per day. And they dust -- a lot -- because dust isn't good for the dogs, and they make sure the windows stay closed. Christine's heard one too many stories of over-eager dogs jumping or falling from windows, so she's not taking any chances with her precious charges.

"I don't have a job," she says. "This is my job. I used to have a job as a cashier, but it got in the way."

Someday, Christine would like a job at a shelter; right now, though, she's perfectly content to keep doing what she's doing.

"I'll never stop," she says. "I'd rather fill my home with dogs and cats than people."

Later today, the shelter is dropping off four kittens.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com.
Copyright 2011 by Nancy A. Ruhling