Beth Stern: A Model Activist

Beth Stern has felt a kinship with animals since her youth, and always had an idea she’d devote a good portion of her life to animal rights. The model and North Shore Animal League America spokeswoman grew up surrounded by rescued cats and dogs, not to mention chicks and guinea pigs, in her Pittsburg home. “I think it’s in my blood,” Stern said in an interview with Haute Living. “My mom, my dad, my two brothers—we’re all animal lovers. I think we love animals more than most people.”

But Stern’s route to NSALA was a circuitous one. She quickly built an impressive modeling career upon arriving in New York, and it was those runway skills that led her to NSALA. “It happened by accident,” Stern says, when in 2006 her agency mentioned that NSALA had requested models in couture gowns to hold adoptable puppies at its annual luncheon. Any doubts her booker had about Stern’s willingness to meld couture and canines were allayed that day: “I didn’t leave the runway until every last animal was adopted,” Stern says.

Port Washington-based NSALA already had a sterling reputation, having grown into the world’s largest no-kill animal shelter since its humble beginnings in 1944. But Stern’s practically genetic devotion to the animal rights cause, combined with her fetching looks and high fashion profile, made her an obvious candidate for League ambassador. (As for the contentious methods deployed by PETA in its campaign against the fashion industry’s love affair with fur, Sterns says, “everybody has their way of spreading the message, but at the end of the day we are all united in our love for animals.”)

That Stern (née Ostrosky) was dating King of All Media Howard Stern at the time—the two married in 2008—and could broadcast NSALA’s message to his millions of radio listeners made her all the more forceful an advocate. Howard is notorious for many reasons, among them germaphobia, but the shock jock and new America’s Got Talent judge sheds his neuroses around animals. “He’s as hands on with the pets as I am,” Stern says. “I think he has a lesser phobia of animal germs than he has of people.” The couple own Bianca, a bulldog whose 10th birthday they marked by tattooing her name on their arms.

If such fervor suggests that Bianca monopolizes Stern’s animal affections, consider the work, much of it unglamorous, she puts in at NSALA outside of luncheons and media appearances. “I’m there when puppy mill rescues are brought back to the League; I help with the clean-up process and get them ready to be adopted,” she says. “So really it’s all-encompassing for me.”

Stern and NSALA’s work has extended beyond the metro New York region to relief efforts in areas struck by natural disasters. Shedding a light on the animal toll wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrates the scope of the League’s mission, and has brought some very welcome surprise guests into the Stern home. “Howard and I adopted a seven-year-old cat that was living in a shelter in Alabama when the [April 2011] tornado hit,” Stern says. So we went to the shelter that was demolished, expecting to not see one animal alive, and there was a cat walking around the rubble. I was there when that cat arrived in Port Washington just a couple days later and fell in love with him. He had severe pneumonia and they didn’t think he was going to make it. I told them he was going to come home with me.”

Stern discussed disaster preparedness in her 2010 book Oh My Dog, and is sensitive to the subject since the waterfront East End home she shares with Howard is among the first to be evacuated in extreme weather. As for another Hamptons idiosyncrasy—the spike in abandoned pets left behind by a seasonal population—Stern says she is “absolutely appalled that anyone would even think about doing such a deplorable thing. I dare anyone who has done this to tell me to my face!”

NSALA stays true to its cause, and Stern is a tireless representative of it. She’d hosted the 2012 Bideawee Gala raising money for animal welfare the night before we spoke with her, having subbed in at the 11th hour for Adrian Grenier when the Entourage star pulled out (provoking Howard’s on-air ire the next morning). And she would be attending a NSALA luncheon the next day.

As for the long-term future, Stern is not averse to expanding the animal component of her and Howard’s family. “Bianca deserves all of my attention right now, but down the line I’m willing to open our home once more.” Inspired by NSALA, Stern ends by saying that in five years she’d like to open her own shelter in the Hamptons. “My work for, and with, animals is just so rewarding,” she says. “It’s the best part of my life. It really is.”

Photography by Howard Stern