Wilton resident Mary-Jo Duffy has loved animals all her life, and her decade of commitment to the Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue (ROAR) will result in her receiving the  2017 ROAR Community Star Award at its ROAR with Laughter gala fund-raiser at BMW of Ridgefield on Saturday, March 4.

Duffy, a professional dog trainer of about 22 years, became a ROAR volunteer in March 2007. Before then, she volunteered at Westport’s Humane Society branch.

When the Humane Society shut down for renovations, said Duffy, she was approached by a client who asked if she had ever been to ROAR and suggested she check it out.

“I kept hearing about it, and finally, I walked in one day and I was just like, ‘Wow. This is not like any other shelter I’ve ever seen,’” said Duffy.

ROAR is “very small” compared to other shelters, she said.

“It’s very small, very intimate. Because we don’t have hundreds of animals, they are really doted on,” said Duffy.

ROAR has about 12 dogs and 12 cats currently up for adoption, and each incoming animal receives veterinary care, including spaying and neutering, if needed.

“We have what we call the ‘Ritz Carlton” of animal shelters. The floors are heated for the dogs — it’s really pretty lovely,” said Duffy. “We’re very lucky to have a lot of resources.”

ROAR, which receives no state or federal funding, operates solely because “people are generous,” said Duffy, including Wilton-based Blue Buffalo, which donates pet food to the shelter.

“Sometimes it’s hard because we wish we could do more,” said Duffy, “but what we focus on is quality and [making] sure the animals find new homes that are good for them.”

Duffy was asked to join ROAR’s board of directors in 2008 and then served as its president for two years.

As president, Duffy said, she learned “learned a lot,” but also learned that her services were “more valuable hands-on with the dogs than sitting around at a table.”

Therapy program


Today, Duffy runs ROAR’s therapy program.

“We have about 30 active teams. I do all the screening and training, and then my partner-in-crime, Didi Tulloch, helps me coordinate,” she said.

Through the program, dogs are trained and prepared “to go out into the world,” said Duffy.

“We only train about six to eight teams a year, because by the time we get the training done, six months have already passed.”

Because of this, Duffy said, “we decided to keep it small and grow it up at an appropriate rate.”

Pets for Vets


Duffy also helps run ROAR’s Pets for Vets chapter, which started about two years ago.

Pets for Vets is a national organization with chapters all over the country, and Duffy said ROAR’s is “one of only six or seven shelter chapters.”

Duffy said she agreed to help with the program after Tulloch approached her about it a few years ago.

“I said yes, and then five months later, we made our first match,” she said. “It was on Memorial Day weekend, which was really cool.”

Duffy said Pets for Vets has been “amazing” but “really hard work.”

“I’m not a mental health care professional and some of these folks are dealing with some pretty serious issue like PTSD, depression and anxiety,” she said. “But my job as the trainer is to identify a dog that would be a good fit for the veteran.”

Duffy said the veterans don’t get to pick their dogs — “they have to trust us” — and so far, ROAR had made about six successful matches.

Award


Duffy, whose love of animals dates back to childhood, isn’t exactly sure why she’s receiving this year’s ROAR Community Star Award, but said she hopes it’s because she does “good work.”

“I love this place and they know it, and I definitely feel part of the ROAR family,” she said. “Even though I’m unpaid, they still consider me staff.”

ROAR Director Allyson Dotson said she has a good idea why Duffy is this year’s award recipient.

“Mary-Jo and I started around the same time as volunteers. Mary-Jo came into ROAR about 10 years ago with all this expertise behind her, and wanted to help in any way that she could,” said Dotson.

“She committed to doing what she could and said, ‘You guys could do a therapy dog program,’ which was in its infancy, and offered to take that on.”

Everything Duffy has done for ROAR, said Dotson, “has been at her own expense.”

“There’s never been payment — it’s always been just out of wanting to help us, and ROAR has grown exponentially,” she said.

Duffy’s dedication, hard work and commitment to ROAR is why Dotson believes she is receiving the Community Star Award.

Unlike other board presidents, who haven’t “stayed committed to the organization” after serving, Dotson said, Duffy did.

“She came right back in and grew the therapy dog program into the 30 or so teams we have now,” said Dotson.

“Her commitment is above and beyond what anybody else has come in here and done, so it’s time to reward her.”

ROAR with Laughter gala


The ROAR with Laughter gala will kick off with a cocktail party at 6:30, followed by dinner and an open bar.

Entertainment will include Cab & Co. and comedian Moody McCarthy, a New York City-based stand-up comedian who has been on Last Comic Standing, America’s Got Talent and many late-night talk shows and SiriusXM.

There will also be a silent auction open to the public, allowing those who can’t attend the event to bid on more than 25 items, including two VIP tickets for Live with Kelly and The Chew show; a deluxe Adam Broderick spa package; U.S. Open, New York Rangers, and Mets or Yankee tickets; and a case of La Amante Malbec wine. Bidding will take place up to 9:30 via 501auctions.com/ROARwithLaughter.

A live auction will include tickets to the Stephen Colbert show; a weekend at the whimsical Winvian Resort, including a romantic dinner with wine and complimentary BMW transportation; a five-course dinner with wine at the James Beard House, including round-trip limo transportation; a 2017 Thanksgiving Day parade package including four seats at Macy’s 34th Street VIP viewing stands, along with a complimentary Affinia hotel room; and rounds of golf with carts for five area golf clubs.

Tickets to the gala may be purchased at 501auctions.com/ROARwithLaughter.