Watch out, Super Bowl. There’s another Bowl — far cuter and more meaningful (except to avid football fans, I guess) — coming our way, and this year it will be bigger than ever.
“Every year, the channel Animal Planet runs a Puppy Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday, featuring puppies from different rescues and shelter,” Lyn Ofrane of Teaneck said. “This year, on the day before, they will also have a Dog Bowl, featuring senior dogs that need a home.”
Talking to Ms. Ofrane on the phone is somewhat of a challenge. Not only does the photographer and animal activist volunteer at RBARI, the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge in Oakland, but she also dog sits, often hosting as many as six canine guests.
According to RBARI president Arlene Jurovitsky, Ms. Ofrane, a board member, “donates her valuable time to photograph all of the shelter animals at their time of intake, in order for us to be able to showcase RBARI cats and dogs on our website, social media outlets, and websites that potential adopters are searching when looking for a new family member.”
That description is accurate, but does not convey the passion Ms. Ofrane feels for the shelter and its rescue animals. While Lyn and husband, Avi, have grown twin sons, Josh and Etan, and Etan and his wife Becky have added children Mazie and Leon to the family — all of whom, she said “are the most important part of my life” — her commitment to help animals and people in need is clearly evident.
Using her skills as a photographer, “I have always donated time to anything or anyone in need,” Ms. Ofrane said. “If kids were donating their hair [to a charity], I took before and after photos at no charge.” She also composed an ad for the Jewish Standard many years ago, showcasing Orthodox families in the community. (Citing another Jewish Standard connection, she pointed out that community editor Beth Chananie is a big supporter of dog adoption.)
“I try to do good in the world,” Ms. Ofrane said. She helps people find dogs to adopt, whether from RBARI or from other reputable shelters. “It’s my personal goal,” she said. “I helped about 10 families in Teaneck adopt.” She explained that a large part of her dog advocacy is educational. Families can get any kind of dog from a shelter, she said, but many people are misled into thinking that shelter dogs necessarily are damaged.
“Dogs are put down that shouldn’t be,” she said. “So many people buy dogs at a pet store. It breaks my heart.” There are really pitfalls to buying puppies bred in puppy mills and that means that “so many dogs are thrown away. It’s beyond belief.”
Ms. Jurovitsky said that at any given time, there are about 35 or 40 dogs at the shelter and others that are in foster care. The group has been called by animal control to intervene in hoarding situations, or to help with dogs that are surrendered because their owners no longer can take care of them. Some dogs are brought in because they are severely damaged and need a good deal of help.
The group is funded entirely by donations and receives no government help.
RBARI, which takes in animals from the tristate area, runs a number of valuable community programs, Ms. Ofrane said. Paws in Hand, for example, brings together “gentle and kind dogs” with special needs children. It began by visiting only one school, but now it sends representatives to public and private schools almost every day. “We bring retired teachers, or whoever loves children and dogs, and visit schools for several hours,” Ms. Ofrane said. “The children love it and teachers love it. It’s a great mitzvah for everyone.”
She said that she would like to begin visiting Sinai Schools, but the program needs more volunteers. “We’re dying for volunteers,” she said. “I talk to everybody about this.”
Her own pet is a therapy dog, and she has taken him to the Teaneck library. While she would love to expand such visits as well, “we run on a wing and a prayer,” she said. “We don’t get government help. We need more volunteers. We used to take high school kids, but now they have to be 18 or older for insurance reasons.”
Ms. Ofrane is proud of her reputation in the community as a talented photographer. “I’ve had a studio in my home for 30 years,” she said. She began by photographing people in their homes, and then, almost against her will, branched out to cover larger events, such as b’nai mitzvah. Much of her work has been in the local Orthodox community, and she now finds herself photographing the children of people she photographed when they themselves were young. She pointed out that one advantage of working in a tight-knit community is the power of personal recommendations.
“I’m devoted to using photography to change the world,” Ms. Ofrane said. “If I can help someone by taking a photograph, I’m happy to help. If there’s a kid who’s doing amazing things or a family in need, I will do something special for them.”
She learned to care about animals when she was a child; her mother also loved them. Ms. Ofrane’s own dog, “the love of my life,” was adopted after her children were grown. “He was from a puppy mill and very sick,” she said. “He had no medical care, little food, and was skin and bones. Now he’s a therapy dog.” She also has an older dog, which one of her children was no longer able to care for.
The RBARI shelter is extremely proud that two of its dogs will be showcased in the Dog Bowl, its executive director, Megan Brinst, said. The dogs, Lexi and Kody, both since have been adopted. Ms. Jurovitsky said the connection with the Dog Bowl came about through the shelter’s partnership with Grey Muzzle, which, according to its website, “believes no senior dog should die alone and afraid.” The group provides grants and other funding to pay for expenses, such as medical care, “so the wonderful organizations that give these dogs a second chance can focus on their care.”
When it planned this year’s Dog Bowl, “Animal Planet contacted Grey Muzzle,” Ms. Jurovitsky said. “Since they were filming in New York, they recommended that we be part of it.” The program, she said, is not only important but “very entertaining. They film dogs doing different things, related to the Super Bowl.” For example, she said, some dogs will be cheerleaders, while others will run with a ball. They’ll be playing their own game.
The Dog Bowl will air on Saturday, February 3, at 8 p.m. For more information about RBARI, call (201) 337-5180 or go to RBARI.org.