A Fire Destroyed This New Jersey Town's Shelter — Then It Received a Surprise Makeover for Its Homeless Dogs

It took three years, but the Montclair Animal Shelter is back in business

George to the Rescue
Photo: Courtesy of George to the Rescue

On a usual episode of NBC’s George to the Rescue, host George Oliphant travels the country transforming homes for families facing a variety of difficult challenges. But the newest episode isn’t your usual transformation.

Three years ago in Oliphant’s town of Montclair, New Jersey, a fire destroyed the local animal shelter. All 73 of the homeless cats and dogs were whisked from the flames and smoke by scores of concerned residents and shelter staff; all made it out unharmed.

George to the Rescue
Fire at Montclair, NJ animal shelter in 2016. Courtesy George to the Rescue

Oliphant, the father of a yellow rescue lab named Sugar, wanted to do something to help. “The word ‘rescue’ doesn’t just have to be about helping somebody’s home and family,” the Emmy Award winner tells PEOPLE. “I said, ‘Why can’t we do something for this animal shelter?’ “

And so, he did. After insurance monies paid for much of the rebuilding of the Montclair Animal Shelter, a project remained for Oliphant to tackle: the transformation of a rundown outdoor back area of cracked concrete, chain-linked fences and barbed wire, ostensibly the place for the dogs to run around.

“It did look like a prison yard,” says Oliphant, “and unfortunately it wasn’t safe for the dogs to go out there.”

George to the Rescue
Courtesy George to the Rescue

In April, Oliphant and his crew joined with local landscape designers, electricians, plumbers, painters and welders volunteering their time. They ripped out the concrete and transformed the space into a bright play area with green synthetic turf for the pups to roll around on, running water for drinks, shiny white fencing, even a red fire hydrant.

In all, some $150,000 worth of donated materials and labor went into the project, with the big reveal in June. (Click here to see it and the full episode of George To the Rescue.) “It’s truly an act of love and pure generosity,” shelter director Liz Morgan tells PEOPLE. “Just unbelievable. I didn’t think it was possible.”

George to the Rescue
After photo of the outdoor area. Courtesy George to the Rescue

The episode also features an adorable doggy fashion show with actor Patrick Wilson, another Montclair resident and rescue dog dad (and one of PEOPLE’S Sexiest Men Alive 2016). “Luckily we live in a town with good people,” says Oliphant, “and we could pull this off.”

George to the Rescue
George Oliphant, left, and Patrick Wilson. Courtesy George to the Rescue

Oliphant has deep roots in the town, located about 18 miles west of Manhattan: his great-grandfather settled there in the early 1900s, and his grandmother grew up there, as well.

“To come in and do something meaningful in my town has always appealed to me,” says Oliphant. “And to do it to help the animals … It is so gratifying to help others. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to do what I do.”

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