Dogs’ Best Friend

For impounded pets—stray, wounded, ill, or just unwanted—survival may hinge on a call to Annie Trinkle’s Animal Alliance of New Jersey.

“We’ve got a badly burned stray here,” the officer says. “Think you can take her?”

Ordinarily, Trinkle would count the unoccupied crates in her backyard kennel, but this is an emergency. She calls two of her Philadelphia-based volunteers, Joyce and Joe Tighe, to pick up the dog and bring her to Trinkle’s Hopewell Township home.

The Tighes arrive at 11 pm. It’s clear that the emaciated 6-pound female Chihuahua has been set on fire or doused with scalding liquid. Nearly half her back is severely burned, and the bleeding wounds have matted her black hair. Trinkle carries the shrieking animal to the finished basement and gingerly places her on a nest of blankets.

Throughout the night, she carefully irrigates the dog’s wounds with saline solution and hand-feeds the severely underweight Chihuahua bits of chicken.

The next morning, Trinkle crates the tiny dog and drives to Nassau Animal Hospital in Princeton. Veterinary staff administer anesthesia and remove clumps of matted hair and dead skin from her wounds.

A few days after Trinkle brings her home, she names her Angelique. “I waited because I didn’t want to jinx myself,” Trinkle says. “Once I knew she was going to live, I named her Angelique, referencing an angel. That was important because I thought she needed some help.”

For the next two months, Trinkle faithfully irrigates Angelique’s wounds and administers painkillers, antibiotics, and topical medications. By then, the two-year-old Chihuahua weighs a healthy 10 pounds, has regrown most of her hair except for three small bald patches on her back, and is ready for adoption. Within days she has a new home with Pat Shea of Northampton.

Angelique was lucky to avoid becoming a statistic. Approximately 61 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats entering shelters across the country are euthanized each year due to overcrowding and insufficient funding for veterinary care, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services. Instead, Angelique became one of the 500 dogs and cats rescued, nursed back to health, and placed with new owners each year by Trinkle’s Hopewell-based, nonprofit Animal Alliance of New Jersey.

AANJ is the largest rescue group working with the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association, a city-run shelter that takes in more than 30,000 animals a year. Stray dogs and cats are typically held for two days at PACCA, then euthanized to alleviate extreme overcrowding. AANJ takes PACCA’s injured or ill dogs and cats that weigh 25 pounds or less. A PACCA animal control officer calls Trinkle when a dog or cat’s holding period has expired. AANJ has less than 24 hours to retrieve the animal before it is euthanized.

AANJ has a contract with Montgomery Township to remove impounded dogs and cats that are unclaimed after seven days. For a fee of $40—what it costs Montgomery to euthanize an animal—AANJ will take the animal in, clean it up, and have it adopted.

Trinkle, 43, juggles grant writing, interviewing adopters, and overseeing foster care for the roughly 100 animals she has in her custody at any one time. She makes veterinary appointments, obtains referrals to specialists, and personally oversees the recovery of each animal. This involves everything from administering painkillers to performing coupage on animals with pneumonia—gently thumping the chest to stimulate expulsion of mucus. In all, she devotes more than 65 hours a week to AANJ.

Management is one of Trinkle’s strengths. She grew up in Rockland County, New York, obtained an MBA from Fordham University in 1992, and became an executive at Abbott Laboratories. Always an animal lover, she purchased a purebred Maltese she named Dollie. In 1998, she decided to buy a second dog. A friend suggested she visit a shelter.

“In my mind, shelters were places for big, unruly dogs,” she says. “But when I got there, I was shocked to find a perfect purebred Maltese.” Mighty, as she eventually named him, had a broken leg, the result of his former owner hurling him down a flight of stairs.

“The seed was planted,” she says. “Here was this world of wonderful animals waiting for homes. I thought, ‘I can help.’”

Trinkle started volunteering part-time with animal rescue groups near her home. While cleaning cages during an adoption day at the Princeton PetSmart, Trinkle met Diane Hutton, a retired McDonald’s franchise owner. A lifelong animal lover, Hutton wanted to devote more time to animal welfare.

“We hit it off immediately,” says Trinkle. “We have a similar energy level—hyper.”

While volunteering, Hutton and Trinkle met Janis Lepelis. They observed that large numbers of animals were being euthanized because medical treatment was unavailable. Other animals were being adopted but then returned to the shelters by families (typically with small children or larger dogs) who couldn’t handle the new arrival. The women realized that by tightening adoption guidelines and running a rescue group more like a business, they could save a lot of animals.

“The most fundamental precept is the law of supply and demand,” says Trinkle. “There was an urban shelter in Philadelphia with tons of small, adoptable animals, and a market in the greater Princeton area that was clamoring for them. We just needed to get them from point A to point B to serve both populations.” Trinkle continued to work at Abbott as the idea took shape.

“Eventually, the divide between my life in the corporate world and the nonprofit world became too great,” she says. “I hated going to work because all I could think about were the animals I could be helping.”

A life crisis has a way of crystallizing decisions, and that is what happened to Trinkle. In December 2001, she nearly died after an ectopic pregnancy ruptured one of her fallopian tubes. She flatlined during emergency surgery, and when she awoke in intensive care, “my mind was clear as day,” she recalls. “I said to my husband, David, ‘I’m never going back to the corporate world.’”

By year’s end, Trinkle had quit her job and founded AANJ with Hutton, Lepelis, and Heather Edwards and Nancy Remler, who she had met while volunteering. In 2002, Trinkle and her husband, a partner at Deloitte, moved to an 11-acre property in Hopewell to accommodate her ever-growing roster of animals. They gutted an old barn and created a 3,500-square-foot kennel capable of holding 40 dogs. Since then, the group has rescued 3,000 animals.

AANJ’s policy is to take animals sight unseen. “It’s always a surprise when I see them,” Trinkle says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, you need your eye removed, you need an x-ray, and the six of you need to be spayed and neutered.’”

Sizable veterinary discounts are essential to keep AANJ going. Nassau Animal Hospital has a contract with AANJ to provide a 50 percent discount on surgeries and routine veterinary care. Even with discounts, veterinary and recovery expenses consume 49 percent of AANJ’s $172,000 annual budget. (Half the budget comes from adoption fees, 40 percent from individual contributions, and 10 percent from grants.)

Each rescued animal is spayed or neutered, given veterinary and dental care, and groomed. The rescue-to-adoption process costs AANJ about $500 per animal, excluding cases in which surgery is required. Yet the group charges adopters only $300.

“We charge what the market will bear,” Trinkle says. “We compete with local area shelters that offer low adoption fees because they have multimillion dollar endowments or funding from local municipalities.”
Unlike shelters run by states or municipalities, animal rescue groups receive no public funding and are run almost solely by volunteers, who often reach into their own pockets to pay for surgeries and recovery care. The Trinkles have invested close to $100,000. “We could have done a lot of nice things with that money,” she says.

In 2006, Trinkle was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even while enduring 30 rounds of chemotherapy, she never missed a day at AANJ. “I could barely walk from one end of the room to another,” she says. “But I would crawl out to that kennel, and that was what sustained me. It pulled me through.”

Brutal cases of abuse and neglect, like that of Angelique, have often pushed her to the edge of compassion fatigue. “I’ve seen so much human depravity, and, yes, sometimes it’s discouraging,” she admits, cradling a brown Chihuahua recovering from facial reconstruction surgery. “But I also get to see the best in humanity. When I see people open their hearts and homes to a thirteen-year-old blind dog, it balances out.”

For more information on Animal Alliance of New Jersey, please visit


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