MDC Charity Spotlight: Ava Smith

Ava by Casey Brooks for

When she’s not busy shooting major campaigns for brands like Givenchy, Theory, and Tommy Hilfiger, you can find the ever-gorgeous Ava Smith caring for foster dogs.

Working closely with the foundations Stray from the Heart and Animal Lighthouse Rescue, Ava has fostered 10 dogs so far from a no kill shelter in Puerto Rico called El Faro de los Animales. She and her boyfriend, Ryan Schira, recently made a special trip to Puerto Rico to work directly with the shelter and regularly volunteer at local adoption/fundraising events in the United States. The foundations do not have shelters in NYC, so they rely on fosters like Ava to take in dogs they consider ‘adoptable’ while they wait for potential adoptees to take them.

We caught up with Ava to find out more about the amazing work she has been doing outside the world of fashion, read more in the interview below..


Could you tell us a little bit about how you got started fostering dogs/ the work you’ve been doing?

—-I starting volunteering with a dog rescue group back in 2009 as a way to be around dogs without the full commitment of adopting a rescue. I looked at the ASPCA, ACC and The Humane Society in New York but settled on a much smaller foundation that seemed like it could use any help I could offer. I began by volunteering at events and helping with airport pickups – we’d meet the dogs that arrived from our main shelter in Puerto Rico (sometimes as many as 10 at a time) and would work out who could drive certain dogs and drop them off to their permanent or foster homes. We were like bus drivers doing a route, but with puppies, making drop offs along the way. At this time I also figured I could handle taking on a foster dog of my own. I’ve had over ten dogs in the last 5 years that have since been adopted and are now in forever homes.

It must be hard giving the dogs up after you’ve had them for so long?

—-Yes and no. You certainly bond with each dog individually but you also know the goal is to find them a home. It’s bittersweet; you’re sad to give them up but ecstatic they finally found a family.

Could you share some of your memorable stories/experiences fostering and working with Animal Lighthouse Rescue?

—-Each pup leaves us with so many memories, I could go on for hours with stories about each one-they’re like characters straight out of a book! I think the strongest memory I carry with me now though is that of the actual shelter in Puerto Rico, where each of those characters came from. It’s the “mother” of the dogs and finally seeing where they all came from explains so much about why they are the way they are. It’s a place that’s impossible to forget.


What was it like going to the shelter for the first time?

—-You can’t really prepare for visiting a shelter like El Faro. It is its own kind of entity, beautiful and sad, existing out of necessity and functioning out of the kindness of a few very dedicated people. It’s quite literally a haven in the jungle, where you have to drive up an unmarked dirt “road” to the top of hill where you’ll find clusters of small fenced in shacks with dogs in them. The more time you spend there, the more you learn about each individual dog and their sad story, and it’s forever imprinted into your life’s agenda. I don’t know that you can visit a place with such hope but limited resources and not want to do what you can to help. Being the only no kill shelter in Puerto Rico, it’s an incredible undertaking to try and find homes for every single animal, but you can’t ask for anything less. And that sticks with you.

How do you manage foster care with your busy schedule?

—-I think many dog owners would agree that the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is perfectly applicable to a dog as well. You really need to have a good network of people close to you that can help out. My boyfriend Ryan takes on a huge responsibility when I have to travel because he becomes the single parent, while when I’m home we can split the responsibilities more. We have wonderful neighbors and family that step in if we both need to travel, and we work with a doggy day care, Camp Canine, in the event no one else is available. Most people like to help out; it’s for a good cause and I think where there is a will to support fostering and adoption, there is a way. If I can do it with my crazy schedule I’d think most people can, you just have to be committed to it.

What advice can you give to someone who’s thinking about getting a pet/dog?

—-Make sure you know what you’re getting into! Often people don’t think the decision through and aren’t prepared for the responsibility that having a pet entails. You may even want to try fostering one just to see how it goes. They are all adorable and worship you for taking them in and showing them love but your lifestyle and a specific dog’s needs must match up. Sometimes we focus more on a specific breed that we think we adore, but that’s shopping for a dog backwards. You wouldn’t marry someone purely based on their looks and the same goes for a dog; the personality matters! With that being said, I’m sad every time I have to give one up but I know that ultimately they are going to a place where they will be happier because we really focus on getting the right dog with the right owner.

There are tons of places in New York you can volunteer to walk dogs, foster or even adopt so I encourage everyone to google a few rescues and pay a visit!


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