"The situation is desperate, and I need help," Clair told Best Friends. Within a day, a team of 14 had arrived to set up triage units. After health assessments, animals were referred to local vets for treatment.
Whalen was protective of her pets and critical of her employees, Clair said.
"Every time I would find a good adoption and good home, there was always something wrong with it," Clair said. "I couldn't find a home good enough for her. You could volunteer for a year and not realize what was wrong, because she was careful to let you see only the good part."
"She had a good heart," she said. "Things just got away from her."
The Best Friends team began by separating species and setting up fencing and dog runs.
"We put a nice cover up for the dogs," Best Friend's Mountain said. "They were able to get into the open air that they haven't seen for a couple of years."
Best Friends has not decided the facility's future, but volunteers like the Thomases are urging the group to establish a sister sanctuary at Pets Alive. The organization is known for its animal education and protection programs.
That could cost upward of $5 million.
"We are still trying to pay the bills," said Mountain, who has reached out to 3,000 Pets Alive donors and adoptive owners for help.
So far, homes have been found for more than a dozen animals. Lorna Stuart-Jones, 51, of Allentown, N.J., adopted two paralyzed dogs, Zoe, a border collie, and Lucky, a poodle.
"When we drove away, the air was blowing in Lucky's face and he was putting his paw out the window," happy to say goodbye to the tumbledown facility, Stuart-Jones said.
Maryjane Robertshaw, 57, of Yorktown, N.Y., adopted an 8-year-old Newfoundland mix. "They have done an amazing job," she said of Best Friends.
No one is happier than the Thomases, who have pledged to call their "rich and famous friends" to raise money and will meet with the Best Friends board this spring.
As a child growing up poor in North Carolina, Thomas too often witnessed the "wanton abuse and ignorance" of pets.
"You see it all over New York City, too," he said.
"It could be like a paradise," Thomas said. "When we went up to visit last time, it was like the heavens had parted."
Click here to reach Best Friends and find a link to Pets Alive.