More than thirty years ago, two animal rescue organizations had a dream ~ a dream to establish a permanent shelter for homeless animals. The Bergen Animal Rescue, Inc, (BARI), under the guidance of their president, Russell T. Custer, had been fund-raising for years to raise the necessary means for building a shelter. Based in Teaneck, NJ and the surrounding towns, BARI was made up of mostly business people, who individually rescued animals and tried to find homes for them. Although they had the funds, BARI was unable to find a town that would allow them to build an animal shelter. The Ramapo Animal Refuge, Inc. (RARI) was the vision of Rosary Thomas, and a dedicated group of volunteers from the Oakland, NJ area. They fostered dogs and cats in their homes, fundraising to cover their expenses, and operated a telephone network for screening adopters.
In 1978, the two groups decided to merge and pool their resources. BARI had the needed funds and RARI had the manpower and a good relationship with the People of Oakland. Their dream and hard work became the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge, Inc. (RBARI). A small piece of property with a turn-of-the century farmhouse was purchased on Route 208 South next to 84 Lumber. When 84 Lumber needed the property for a driveway, another piece of property with a garage building was purchased by RBARI and the house was moved several hundred feet north. In 1981, thanks to the generous bequest of Mrs. Lillian Lammens of Ridgewood, RBARI was able to pay off some of its mortgage and complete the needed renovation of the garage into an animal shelter. In the fall of 1983, our Gift Shop opened on the first floor of the old farmhouse.
As is the case with many organizations, RBARI underwent growing pains. Foremost among them was to reach an agreement about shelter policy. Some Board members felt that the only way to make a dent in the animal population was to try to find our shelter animals homes, but then euthanize them after a period of time to make room for new animals. Others felt RBARI should focus on quality rather than quantity - give adoptable animals an unlimited stay, and to only use euthanasia in cases of severe health or behavioral problems. The latter group won out and the shelter has come to be known as a "No-Kill" shelter.
In 1986, the State of New Jersey dropped a bombshell on RBARI; the planned construction of Interstate Highway 287 would take 40 feet off our property and cut off our access to Route 208. After 3 years of negotiation, and a fortune in legal and engineering fees, RBARI was compensated with an equivalent piece of property and fees. Work on the property, including a new access road "Shelter Lane" was completed in 1990.
After an extensive capital campaign and fundraising, the old RBARI shelter was razed. The staff worked out of trailers (where the animals were housed) on the RBARI grounds. A new, two-story building was built on the site. In January 1999, the new building was dedicated and adoptions have been increasing ever since.
The Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge looks forward to the future with confidence. RBARI keeps in step with new technology available to shelters, has established a humane education program, and hired a full-time dog trainer. RBARI serves the needs of our community and the animals in our care. The RBARI staff, Board of Directors, hundreds of Volunteers, and our generous supporters will continue the dream of the founders of our organization.