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Long before Jill Rappaport became know for her animal advocacy, the NBC correspondent was already saving the lives of pets in need.
“I always had rescue dogs growing up,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was the kid that would come home with a stray, even if it was a little mouse.”
Now an award-winning animal advocate and author, Rappaport is teaming up with celebs including Betty White, Lindsey Vonn and Emmylou Harris for her new special Best in Shelter, which aims to raise awareness for homeless animals and to help them find their forever homes.
“Right now there are almost 8 million animals in shelters across the country,” says Rappaport. “And half of them will never make it out.”
But her show isn’t just about the plight of homeless pets.
“When people walk into a shelter, they tend to go for the cute little puppy,” she says.
“The special focuses on the underdogs of the shelter world. The seniors, bully breeds, special needs animals and the mutts. They have the most difficult time getting a forever home.”
But when they do get adopted, Rappaport says there’s nothing quite like it.
“They know when they have been dumped, and they can smell euthanasia around them,” she says. “Then someone comes in, picks them up, gives them a bath and kisses them – they know when they have been saved, and they thank you every day for it.”
And currently with five rescue dogs of her own, Rappaport knows the wonderful feeling firsthand.
“Animals add so much joy,” she says. “You are never lonely when you have your pets around you and there is just a bond there and you can’t put it into words.”
Best in Shelter with Jill Rappaport aired on NBC 4 New York on Saturday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. ET, as well as on NBC-owned television stations and NECN.
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