Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Animal Friends presents: Riggs!

Has having the kids away at school left home a little too quiet? Are you looking for a lively companion to energize your empty home? Look no further, we have an endearingly obnoxious companion to remind you that you are needed and loved! 

Years of ignoring whiny children should set you up perfectly to train Riggs, a very handsome, very vocal Lab/Chow mix who could use some help learning “shush.”  Like demanding toddlers, handsome Riggs has learned that people often respond to being loudly prodded, and he enjoys the attention of people so much it has become a constant behavior.  A family that will ignore the incessant canine vocalizations, “Mom, Dad! Treat, Walk!” will help him learn that a quiet nuzzle can be just as effective. Don’t worry, we don’t expect Riggs to completely break the habit – you’ll still know that he’s there!

Riggs does settle down, especially for scratches behind the ears and on his bum, but he prefers to settle on the floor next to his favorite human instead of alone in a crate.  In previous homes Riggs has protested solitary confinement by escaping a crate and nosing through unlatched doors, although he has recently learned to be comfortable in a crate.  Riggs did well with a family who was rarely away, bonding and becoming his Dad’s sidekick before he became too ill to care for Riggs and brought him back to Animal Friends.

At seven years old most dogs would be looking for a soft bed beside the fireplace to relax and snooze.  Riggs will happily use the bed, but as a platform to de-stuff his toys!  Don’t worry, he will still look adorable as he sticks his backside up at you during play. Riggs is no couch potato, so he could be your next great hiking buddy.  He’s as excited about the next car ride as he is about playing!  He rides nicely, however, and will continue to be the perfect gentleman on your walk unless he gets too close to yummy forest creatures or cats. 

Riggs is great at sharing food and toys with his trusted companions, but he doesn’t seem to trust other dogs or new people.  A few treats, new toys, and some loving patience will help him get used to those pesky college students, the mailman, and the neighbors, but we think younger children might be a little too much for Riggs to handle in a home – after all, he is still learning to be well behaved himself!

Interested in meeting Riggs? Please call the Animal Friends Adoption Department to set up an appointment for a visit – 412.847.7002 – or email us at

Friday, February 27, 2015

Protect Your Pets Before Disaster Strikes

Guest blog by ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker, originally posted on

Just because most disasters strike with little or no warning doesn’t mean we can’t effectively prepare for them. But while a lot of attention has been devoted to disaster planning for people, disaster planning for pets is all too often left out of the conversation, with tragic results. September may be National Preparedness Month, but the truth is we should always be preparing –with both ourselves and our pets in mind—so we can always be ready.

As experts in both disaster preparedness and response, the ASPCA is very aware of this peril. Following Hurricane Sandy, we assisted more than 30,000 pets in New York and New Jersey, distributing nearly 40 tons of pet supplies to impacted pet owners, and sheltering nearly 280 displaced pets. This summer, we released our first-ever ASPCA smartphone app, which includes disaster preparedness and pet survival tips, a tool to store and manage your pet’s vital information, as well as practical tips and a customizable kit for recovering lost pets.

We put a lot of effort into keeping pets safe, but the biggest role belongs to their owners. Yet, according to a national ASPCA poll, more than one-third of cat and dog owners don't have a disaster preparedness plan in place, and only one-quarter say their animals are micro-chipped. In the Northeast, nearly half of dog owners and cat owners say they don't know what they would do with their pets in an evacuation, while slightly more pet owners in the South – where hurricanes are more common – are aware.

This lack of preparedness can have dire consequences. During Hurricane Katrina, approximately 10,000 animals were evacuated, but less than half were reunited with their families, according to Dr. Dick Green, our senior director of disaster response.

These outcomes aren’t inevitable. Let’s work together to share and take advantage of these valuable suggestions from our veteran rescuers:

  • Make sure all pets wear collars and tags with up-to-date identification
  • Microchip your pets and register the chip. It may be their ticket home if they become lost
  • Build a portable pet emergency kit with items such as medical records, water, pet food, medications and pet first aid supplies
  • Affix a pet rescue sticker to your windows (Get a free one here)
  • Have current photos of your pets on hand
  • Arrange a safe haven for your pets in the event of evacuation, and never leave them behind
  • Identify ahead of time where you’ll bring your pets -- whether it’s a relative’s house or a pet-friendly hotel -- because not all emergency facilities accept animals
  • Remember: any home unsafe for people is also unsafe for pets

Here’s a list of items pet owners should include in their pet preparedness kits:

  • Pet first-aid kit (ask your vet what to include or click here for a list from the Humane Society of the United States)
  • 3-7 days' worth of canned or dry food
  • Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans work well)
  • Litter or paper toweling
  • Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
  • Disposable garbage bags
  • Pet feeding dishes
  • Extra collars or harnesses, as well as an extra leash
  • Photocopies of medical records – or you can store them on the ASPCA App
  • A waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires (make sure to regularly replace expired food and medicines in your kit)
  • At least a week’s worth of bottled water for you and your pet (store in a cool, dry place and replace every two months)
  • A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
  • A flashlight
  • A blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet)
  • Recent photos of your pets (in case you are separated and need to make "Lost" posters)
  • Especially for cats: A pillowcase as a crate alternative, and large bags for supplies, toys, and scoopable litter
  • Especially for dogs: Extra leash, toys and chew toys, a week's worth of cage liner

Even if conditions are safe enough to stay home, you may still need to calm pets scared by lightning and loud noises. Prepare a small, safe space in which they can be comfortable, consider closing curtains and shades, play classical music or white noise to muffle the sounds, and most importantly, keep them inside.

Like most humans, animals don’t respond well to chaos. With hurricane season not ending until November, it’s critical for pet owners to be the true “first responders”— knowing just what to do when their beloved companions need them most.

For Pennsylvania-centric links and information, please click here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mondays with Myrtle: The fifth in an occasional series

It's been a while since we've checked in with Myrtle but today's update comes straight from the cat's mouth!  Myrtle (with the help of her foster mom Katie) wrote to us recently to update us on how she's doing!

Hi everybody!   Just wanted to let you know how things are going!

I have been in my foster home for about 3 months now and things have really changed.  I am no longer in my “foster room” and I have free roam of the whole downstairs!  It was a little scary at first, but now I know every nook and cranny and it is nice to be able to neb around and go wherever I want.   My 2 favorite spots are the heating register (boy, it is cold in Pittsburgh!) and wherever my foster mom is. I like to follow her around and check out what is going on - and she always stops whatever she is doing to give me little head rubs and chin scratches.  It took me a while to realize that she wasn’t going to hurt me, but now I even let her kiss me on the forehead and I don’t squirm too much when she picks me up.  

I had a lot of brothers and sisters to get used to and at first I didn’t know what to think of them.  But now I know they are really pretty nice.  I like to watch them - especially crazy Whiskey - and I even let Ginseng share my heat register.

Even though I can’t hear my foster mom when she comes homes, everyone else can, and I just follow them and I greet her at the door every evening.  My belly tells me when it is time to eat in the morning and I am always waiting at the bottom of the steps for her to come down. My foster mom says I am one “Smart Little Squirt”.  At feeding time, I have my own special bowl and my own special spot in the kitchen with everyone else! My mom is always sneaking me extra food because she says I am still a “skinny minnie” and need to get a big fat belly like Mr. Simon Cat!  

So, everything is going great and I am getting braver every day! I can’t believe how much better things have gotten since I came to Animal Friends! The medical department is still keeping an eye on me to make sure I am doing okay - and even though I really don’t like going to visit them and give them a hard time, I feel very lucky to know that they love me and care about me.

Maybe I’ll have that big fat belly with my next update!
Thanks Myrtle (and Katie)!  We've very glad to hear you're doing well and that you're on your way to finding a forever home to call your own!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Enrichment Fun with your Rabbit

Guest Blogger: Suzanne Denk, Animal Enrichment Specialist       

Here are some great ideas to keep your hopper happy and mentally stimulated.  Enrichment isn't just all fun and games!  Keeping your rabbit's mind working is an important part of owning a rabbit.
•  Hide treats or hay in a cardboard egg carton
•  Weave newspaper strips or sisal through the bars of his pen
•  Make a tunnel with a cardboard box by cutting off the ends

•  Free form craft paper or newspaper into a tunnel. Roll edges of tunnel to secure.


•  Fill a paper lunch bag with hay
•  Give a small towel for bunching and tossing
•  Read a story to your rabbit
•  Toilet paper tubes with fringed edges are fun to toss and tear
•  Make a paper fan and clip to the bars of his pen
•  Make a pellet pierogi:  Using the paper liner from the timothy pellet bag, cut a circle from brown craft paper or newspaper.  Fold the circle in half.  Place pellets, hay, or a treat along the fold.  Roll the edges of the paper to seal and form a pierogi.   
• Challenge him with a puzzle feeder.  Puzzles are not just for dogs & cats!
• Give your rabbit a small sandbox filled with a deep layer of shredded newspaper for digging.
• Provide balls with bells, baby key rings, a plastic slinky, or wooden blocks.  Rotate toys regularly to keep them new and interesting.  

Foraging game:  A rabbit in the wild must hunt for his food.  This little game will encourage a rabbit to exercise while searching, sniff to follow the trail, and think to find the treat.  Stimulating the olfactory sense stimulates the brain.  

• Show the rabbit the treat then hide it: in your hand, under your leg, behind a toy.  Let them sniff out the treat. 
• Make a trail of fresh greens across the room, hiding some of the pieces.  You may use a Romaine lettuce leaf, parsley leaves, or a few pinches of dry organic botanicals.
•  If the bunny makes quick work of the trail, you can take one leaf and slowly drag it along the floor to leave behind its smell.  Hide the treat at the end of the line and see if the rabbit will use its nose to follow the treat.  Too easy?  Hide the treat in a paper lunch bag. 

 Enrichment activities…
•  Reduce stress
•  End boredom
•  Give the opportunity for the pet to think and use his mind
•  Direct a pet’s energy to appropriate activities
•  Provide a chance for the pet to use all of the senses
•  Improve quality of life with variety and mental stimulation
•  Benefit physical and behavioral health
•  Build confidence
•  Only take a few minutes each day
•  Are fun for people and pets!

Note: Always supervise your pet so you know he can play safely with a new item

Rabbit Enrichment with Behavior Training

Guest Blogger: Laureen Dzadovsky
Originally published in a Chicago House Rabbit Society newsletter

Rabbits are quite fascinating. As we learn more about them, we find ways to enrich their lives as well as enriching our own. Bunnies respond very well to positive reinforcement - typically in the form of treats although your rabbit might respond to being petted, pellets, lettuce or some other type of treat. You may have heard it said that bunnies need playtime not only for the physical exercise but also for mental exercise. Another way to exercise their minds is through behavior training (aka clicker training) to challenge and stimulate them. Spending time with your bunny while working on behavior training can be a wonderful bonding experience for you both.

Behavior training can take on many forms and can be geared towards your bunny’s personality. A very active rabbit might do well with jumping on and off a box or back and forth over a jump. A more timid rabbit may respond well to a desensitization type of training where you would use the training to get your rabbit used to being groomed or having his nails clipped or going in and out of the carrier.

I have begun the process of training my bunny to help him out of his comfort zone and get him out playing a little more. It takes a combination of clicking and treating that is quick and requires some coordination but after a few tries it can be just like second nature. Since I’ve started working with him, he has decided to add in his own extra behavior (which I now make sure he does fully before I give him his treat!) of turning in 2 circles when I close his play area for the night. I look forward to future training with him because it’s been such a rewarding experience for us both. And who knows, maybe he’ll be doing obstacle courses next!

There are so many other aspects to behavior training other than targeting. Bunnies can recognize cues, they can be lured with a treat, they can learn to discriminate between objects and plenty more. It just takes a little time, a little patience and an interest in enriching your bunny’s life (as well as your own!) to see progress.

For more information about rabbit behavior training visit:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Happy World Spay Day

On this, the last Tuesday of February, World Spay Day shines a spotlight on the lifesaving power of spay/neuter and the need for affordable services, particularly in under served communities.

Nearly 3 million healthy and treatable cats and dogs are put down in U.S. shelters each year (including nearly 20,000 right here in Allegheny County). That’s one every 12 seconds. These are sweet pets who would have made great companions. Internationally, millions of stray animals roam the streets. Too often, governments deal with this overpopulation through cruel means, such as poisoning, electrocution and shooting.

We at Animal Friends know the only way to end unwarranted euthanasia of companion animals is through aggressive spay and neuter programs. Spay/neuter is an effective and humane way to save animals’ lives. Spaying (for females) and neutering (for males) are common surgeries veterinarians perform to stop animals from having accidental, surplus litters. 

Our Low-Cost Spay/Neuter department works with our community to offer affordable spay and neuter surgeries. In addition to offering low-cost surgeries on-site at our shelter, we partner with many community veterinary clinics. Last year, Animal Friends altered over 10,000. We hope to alter another 10,000 in 2015.

Together we can solve the problem of pet overpopulation. If you know a friend or family member that could benefit from our vaccine clinics or spay/neuter services, please tell them to visit or call 412.847.7004.

Thank you to for information found in this blog.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Psychological Effects of Pets are Profound


I once faced a sickening defeat. After a day and a half of an intensive scuba class, diving too deep, too fast produced pressure in my ears, causing dizziness and nausea. I was forced to quit. Next, I realized I was too vertiginous to drive home.

Despairing, I lay down on the blanket that protects our car’s upholstery from our border collie’s dirty paws. As I inhaled Sally’s scent, calm washed over me. Within a half hour, the dizziness eased enough for me to drive.

We animal lovers have long known that, no matter what life may bring — sickness, sadness, or radiant health — pets make us feel better. Numerous studies have documented astonishingly wide-ranging effects. Cat owners enjoy a 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk. Watching swimming fish lowers blood pressure. Stroking a dog boosts the immune system. Now researchers can explain the source of our companion animals’ healing powers: Our pets profoundly change the biochemistry of our brains.

“This is science that supports a truth the heart has always known,” Meg Olmert writes in her book “Made for Each Other,” a synthesis of more than 20 years of work on the biology of the human-animal bond. She singles out one neuropeptide: oxytocin, a brain chemical long known to promote maternal care in mammals.

Oxytocin levels rise in a mother’s brain as she goes into labor, and produces the contractions that deliver the baby. Once her infant is born, just the sight, smell, or thought of the baby is enough to trigger milk letdown (a fact that has caused many a new mother to ruin a blouse.) Humans have known for millennia that this affects animal mothers, too: Ancient Egyptian tomb art shows a kneeling man milking a cow with her calf tethered to her front leg.

But oxytocin’s powers are not, as once thought, limited to mothering or triggered only by labor. Nor is it confined to females, to mammals, or even to vertebrates. Even octopuses — who not only lack breasts, but die when their eggs hatch — have a form of oxytocin called cephalotocin.

Oxytocin causes a cascade of physiological changes. It can slow heart rate and breathing, quiet blood pressure and inhibit the production of stress hormones, creating a profound sense of calm, comfort, and focus. And these conditions are critical to forming close social relationships — whether with an infant, a mate, or unrelated individuals — including, importantly, individuals belonging to different species.

In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last June, Japanese researchers sprayed either oxytocin or saline solution into the nostrils of dogs, who then reunited with their owners. The owners were told not to interact with their dogs, but those whose pets inhaled oxytocin found them impossible to ignore. Statistical analysis showed the oxytocin inhalers were far more likely to stare, sniff, lick, and paw at their people than those who had saline solution.

Oxytocin is not the only neurotransmitter companion animals call forth from our brains. South African researchers showed that when men and women stroked and spoke with their dogs, as well as doubling the people’s blood levels of oxytocin, the interaction boosted levels of beta endorphins — natural painkillers associated with “runners high” — and dopamine, known widely as the “reward” hormone. These neurochemicals, too, are essential to our sense of well-being. A later and larger study by University of Missouri scientists also documented that petting dogs caused a spike in people’s serotonin, the neurotransmitter that most antidepressants attempt to elevate.

So it’s no wonder that pet-assisted therapies help troubled children, people with autism, and those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and drug addiction. Pets help normalize brain chemistry.

“By showing how interacting with pets actually works,” says the Missouri study’s lead author, Dr. Rebecca Johnson, “we can help animal-assisted therapy become a medically accepted intervention” — one that could be prescribed like medicine and reimbursed by insurance.

All animals appear to have cells directly under the skin that activate oxytocin in the brain. So gentle touch — from grooming your horse’s coat to making love with your spouse — is a powerful trigger. But so is simply thinking about someone you love, whether it’s a person or a pet. And in fact, a small study published this fall at Massachusetts General Hospital found that MRI scans of women’s brains lit up in the same areas when shown pictures of their pets as when shown pictures of their children.

But here’s the best part: It’s mutual. We effect the same physiological changes in our pets as they do in us. As I lay on that blanket in our car, soothed by Sally’s scent, I remembered how my best human friend, Liz Thomas — whose column you will read next week — once quelled desperation and fear in another border collie named Tess, Sally’s beloved predecessor. I was away tending to my dying mother when Tess, a rescue with separation anxiety, suffered a stroke-like illness. For the first time in her life, she was confined overnight at the vet’s. Liz knew just how to help. She came to our house, retrieved my barn coat, and took it to Tess’s hospital cage. Tess inhaled my scent and instantly, her ears folded and the terror fell from her face. She let out a sigh and relaxed.

Mourning A Pet Isn't What It Used To Be

By Monica Collins


A close family member died in June and, as winter approaches, I still can’t shake the grief. I brim over with tears in a flash; I search for his face on streets and in parks we used to go; I keep his belongings scattered around the house. I grapple with the fact he’s gone forever after 16 years of daily companionship. I miss my dog Shorty so much.

I guess some shrewder wag might advise me to get a life. My West Highland terrier was just a dog after all. Find another. There are bigger worries in the world. But few rattle me as deeply as Shorty’s passing.

Many who have loved and lost animals share this pain. Heartache over a deceased pet has become more openly expressed and more socially acceptable — particularly as the definition of “family” has expanded beyond mom, dad, and 2.5 kids.

Hallmark, the greeting card company that tracks our sentimental occasions, produces a burgeoning pet sympathy line. “There has been a growing consumer demand for cards offering condolences for the loss of a pet, reflecting the fact that Americans often view pets as members of the family,” says Hallmark spokeswoman Jaci Twidwell in an e-mail.

Those who work closely with grieving pet owners say they also see a change in public expression. The Animal Rescue League’s Mike Thomas, the supervisor of the Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery in Dedham, says people once buried their animals or visited the graves with the hope no one recognized them.

“When I first started here, people looked over their shoulder and they seemed kind of embarrassed with what they were doing, but today it’s altogether different,” he says.

Thomas has worked at Pine Ridge for 44 years. He’s witnessed a lot of heartbreak expressed with fervor or contained with stoicism. He remembers one mourner who lay on the ground and wailed for about 15 minutes. “I thought I was going to have to carry her back to the office,” he recalls.

‘I know I’ve come to the right place when people meet me at the door in tears.’ Betsy Johnson, veterinarian

On an autumn morning at the pet cemetery, there is no keening but many reminders of recent visits. A small pumpkin sits on the grave of “Tanya,” which reads, “1972 to 1978, once upon a time there was a very shaggy dog.” The marker for “Buttons Bernstein” features both a Star of David and a Christian cross. Perhaps the most eloquent stone belongs to “Dewey, 1898 to 1910. He was only a cat but he was human enough to be a great comfort in hours of loneliness and pain.”

Thomas hasn’t counted how many mortal pet remains are interred at Pine Ridge. He estimates 20,000 since the cemetery opened in 1907.

If there’s odd reassurance in the outdoor sanctuary of repose, the Rev. Eliza Blanchard’s pet loss circles offer non-denominational support. Blanchard, a Unitarian Universalist, describes her ministry as “spiritual care for animal caregivers.” At a pet loss circle, bereaved humans of all ages have a chance to openly remember their fallen four-footed companions. The next gathering is Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. at First Parish in Brookline.

Blanchard believes the growing candor in mourning an animal started with the baby boom generation, that insistent demographic bulge: “We’ve never been a generation to keep our needs and desires under a bushel.”

She suggests boomers “brought animals closer to our domestic life.” Whereas the family dog or cat once wandered far afield during the day — and slept outside or in the garage at night — today’s pet occupies the heart of the home. “So when they get sick and die, we witness the suffering of our animals at home.”

Such was the case with Shorty. During the last months of his life, he was in Angell Animal Medical Center twice. The diagnoses varied from liver disease to chicken allergy to swollen gall bladder. As I moped and hoped for a cure, Ben, my partner who also loved Shorty greatly, would put it to me bluntly: “Look, he’s an old dog. He’s been failing for a long time.”

Finally, when our old dog stopped eating for days, I had to make the dreaded call to a veterinarian who came to our house to put Shorty out of his misery. “I know I’ve come to the right place,” says Dr. Betsy Johnson of Lincoln, “when people meet me at the door in tears.” Thus we greeted this vet on a mournful mission.

Shorty died in Ben’s lap wrapped in a favorite blanket. His death mask appeared to be a smile. I said my final goodbye as Ben carried the body out to Johnson’s truck. I worried neighbors would see the corpse but a woman who had recently moved in next door provided a perfect grace note. She happened to walk by and immediately assessed the situation. Putting her hand on Ben’s arm, she said, “I am so sorry.” That simple affirmation from a stranger provided unexpectedly soothing balm.

When I recently met Johnson at the local Starbucks for an interview, I barely recognized her, having met just once while in extremis. She has a calm demeanor and speaks softly about the pet grief she has witnessed and known herself.

“I’ve got personal experience with my own dogs. I’ve done a lot of reading about it,” she says. “I see a lot of people who are dealing with grief.”

She describes the anguish of losing Fritz, her smart Doberman mix — who would nudge her shoulder from the back seat whenever he spied the McDonald’s golden arches — at a dicey time when her family life was in tumult. “I felt I could lose the house but not my dog. And a year later, I lose my dog. It was like my world tumbled down. It was far worse than anything else I had been through.”

Many callers to the Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline (508-839-7966) wrestle with the guilt of feeling worse about a pet’s death than a human relative’s. Dr. Claire Sharp, the professor at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine who supervises volunteer first-year students staffing the hot line, believes heartache is profound because pets transcend family fractures and everyday vagaries.

“Pets are there for us through everything,” she said. “Having a pet often makes our lives immediately better.”

Yet, the end of life for a pet can cause deep rifts, provoking arguments about costs and inconveniences of treatment or timing of euthanasia. Pet Loss Hotline students meet regularly with a mental health professional to assess their counseling skills. Ultimately, the callers mainly seek affirmation they did the right thing for their deceased animals.

“It’s hard to rush grief along,” says Sharp. “When people realize they’re not alone and they made the right decision at the time, there’s reassurance.”

Before Shorty, I didn’t like animals. I avoided and distrusted them. I was that griper on my condominium board who complained about the dogs. Now, I wonder how I can ever live without one.

“No, you don’t have to feel embarrassed,” says Johnson. “Losing a pet is as strong as losing a mother, a brother, a spouse. I think the tough part is having people say, ‘Oh, it’s just a dog.’ ”

Monica Collins writes the syndicated column, “Ask Dog Lady.” She can be reached at

Animal Friends offers pet loss support to those who are grieving the loss of a furry family member. In addition to monthly, non-denominational Candlelight Remembrance Services, and a Pet Loss Support Group, we offer reading materials online and ways to memorialize the love you have for your pet.  Please visit our website.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February is Adopt-a-Shelter Rabbit Month at Animal Friends

Did you know that rabbits are the third most-adopted companion animal? And for good reason! To start, they are quiet and clean creatures making them an excellent roommate for apartment life. They can be litter-trained and roam freely throughout your home (after it’s been bunny-proofed of course!). Classified as lagomorphs, rabbits are incredibly intelligent and social. There are 47 breeds of rabbits recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association and each of them can live to be 8- to 12-years old.

At Animal Friends, we’re celebrating Adopt-a-Shelter-Rabbit Month for all of February. So even if you’re not quite ready to add a bunny as your newest furry family member, you can get your bunny fix by becoming an Animal Friends’ rabbit volunteer!

Through our Rabbit Volunteer Program you’ll learn how to recognize certain behaviors and how to care for the buns and the basics of handling them. You’ll provide socialization, exercise and enrichment. In doing so, you can help to stimulate the rabbits’ brains to prevent boredom and to get them more comfortable with being handled and petted – all which aids in making them more adoptable!

Rabbit volunteers have the option to do many things at Animal Friends. There is always a need for volunteers at our Bun Runs and off-site activities. You can spread your knowledge and love for buns into the community to try to bring in more rabbit adopters. Volunteers are also needed to write bunny bios, become a foster guardian or even just to groom them. There truly is something for everyone.

Even if you don’t have the time to dedicate to being a rabbit volunteer, please stop by Animal Friends to see our shelter rabbits in action at our weekly BunRuns on Saturdays from 2:30-4 p.m. It’s such a joy to watch them run and play and to see how much personality they have. For all you know, it could be love at first rabbit!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mondays With Myrtle: A Christmas Purr

Guest Blogger: Katie Tontala

I have been fostering Myrtle for about a month now and we are making nice progress.  She is spending less time in her bed and I often find her sitting in her crate and checking out the antics of my other cats.

I have been trying to find a way to find other ways to get her engaged and finally hit the jackpot…Myrtle is secretly a girly girl and loves to be combed!  Now when I enter her space, she comes to me-not always looking for treats, but waiting for me to grab the comb so she can brush her face.  She then pirouettes around so I can brush her little bum too! She is so cute!

We had a very nice Christmas.  I felt kind of sad that she wasn’t ready to celebrate the festivities with us downstairs, so I brought the festivities to her.  I decorated her space with garland and bows and made sure that Santa filled her stocking with goodies and treats.  And of course she got extra tuna!

Our plan for the next week is to see if she is ready to venture out of her crate.  I will continue to use positive reinforcement techniques to show her that being outside her crate is not a scary thing. We will take things slowly and go at her own comfort level. 

On a closing note, of all the wonderful blessings I received this holiday season, I have to say that Myrtle gave me the best present ever.  A few days ago, she waddled over to me, and as I was scratching her little head, I heard it….Myrtle gave me a little purr.  It was sweeter than any holiday music and brought tears to my eyes.  It has been a hard journey for her thus far and she has worked so hard to overcome her fears.  She is such a brave little girl.

While our bi-weekly series of blogs has ended, Myrtle's journey continues! We will keep Myrtle's fans up-to-date on her and let you all know when she finds her forever home.  A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the care and keeping of this special little cat. Go Team Myrtle!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pets For Life: A lookback at 2014

Pittsburgh’s shelters and rescues are always overflowing with adoptable pets awaiting their forever homes. These organizations—including Animal Friends—are working around the clock to find homes for the pets in their care.

What if we could stem the tide of pets entering shelters by providing pet owners with the vital resources they need to keep the animals they love? This is where Pets for Life comes in. In January 2014, Animal Friends partnered with the Humane Society of the United States to launch the Pittsburgh satellite of the nationally-acclaimed Pets for Life program. This program targets under-served neighborhoods by providing free, quality spay/neuter
surgeries, pet supplies and basic veterinary services to empower pet owners to keep their pets in a loving home. Based on a community assessment, Homewood was selected as our first Pets for Life target neighborhood.

With the recent completion of the 500th Pets for Life spay/neuter surgery, we thought we’d take a look back at our first year and share some of our favorite stories.

Miracle, a poodle mix, was discovered by Pets for Life volunteers as they canvassed the Homewood area trapping cats.  After a short discussion with Miracle’s family, the volunteers found that Miracle had been living in a back bedroom, too frightened to come out from underneath a bed. The family was at a loss of what to do for her and relinquished ownership to Animal Friends.  Miracle was in poor shape when she arrived.  But after her matted fur was shaved and her rotten teeth removed, Miracle was a new dog with a new name, Harriet!  Harriet went into foster with Animal Friends’ Enrichment Specialist Suzanne and stayed put.  She’s now known as the “Big H” in her new home and gets along fabulously with her canine sibling, Snowflake.

Harriet and Snowflake, an Animal Friends' alum

Another success story is that of Bella, a young, Maltese mix who came to Pets for Life volunteers with a broken front leg. Bella’s leg had been in a cast twice but was not setting correctly. Bella’s family could not afford the price of the surgery that Bella would need to fix her leg.  They were told to euthanize Bella. Not accepting defeat so easily, Bella’s family heard of Pets for Life and went to our second outreach program in September.  They asked for help and Pets for Life rose to the occasion.  

Bella shortly after her life-saving surgery

A local veterinarian offered to take a look at Bella.  While she could not save Bella’s leg, she offered to remove the broken leg, giving Bella a second chance at life.  Bella is doing just fine now with three legs and a family that loves her.

We are looking forward to even more success stories in 2015.  

If you’re interested in working with Animal Friends’ Pets for Life program, please contact Carol Whaley at 412.847.7094 or

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Travel Tips

A special thanks to our friends at the San Francisco SPCA for these great holiday travel tips!

'Tis the season, and we know many of you will be traveling soon. If you’re planning to travel with your pet, we have tips to help make the experience easy and enjoyable! Regardless of how you’re traveling, ensure your pet is micro-chipped and wearing a collar with tags, just in case he gets lost.

Airline Travel
• It's generally considered safe to bring your pet with you in the aircraft cabin, but we don't recommend having your animal flown in the cargo hold. It's incredibly stressful for pets, and although most animals arrive safely at their destination there are enough accidents that a pet guardian should think twice. All of these incidents must be reported to the government, and in November nine animals were lost, injured, or died during air transportation.
• If you’re traveling in the cabin with your pet let her become familiar with the carrier before the trip begins, and line it with a towel to provide comfort. Also bring enough food and water to keep her comfortable throughout the flight.

Car Trips
• Most cats don’t like to travel—it’s stressful for them, so if you have the option, leave them at home with a caretaker.
• Pack a spill-proof water bowl, your dog’s regular food, any medications he takes, and his favorite toys.
• Bring some long-lasting edible chews and durable chew toys, too.
• Dogs should ride in a crate in the back of the vehicle, or wear a restraining harness. And cats should always be in a carrier—you don’t want your cat under the brake pedal when you’re driving!

Click here for more tips on keeping your pets safe and happy this holiday season!

Holiday Pet Hazards: Keep Your Pets Safe This Season

By the staff at Petagogy

‘Tis the season for decorations, parties and food galore! It is a festive time with lots to smile about, but as you prepare your home for your holiday festivities keep in mind some simple safety measures to help keep your four-legged family members safe.

Christmas Trees and Holiday Plants
Cats and dogs may be (very) interested in the tree, and why not—it’s a little bit of the outdoors inside on those cold winter days. If your furry family member is interested in the pine tree in the corner make sure it is secured. A hefty cat on a branch or an excited jump by a pooch could topple the tree on to more than just the neatly wrapped boxes underneath. Also, keep holiday plants off the ground as many seasonal plants, including holly, mistletoe, poinsettia, lilies, as well as Christmas tree water, can be toxic if ingested by your pets.

Be mindful of low hanging decorations. Jingle bells, tinsel, lights and ribbon might look like toys to your pets. A gentle swat with a paw could lead to chewing and swallowing, which could lead to an emergency trip to the vet. Tinsel especially is thin and sharp and can easily wrap itself around the intestines or ball up in the stomach once ingested. This advice extends to your New Year’s decorating as well; balloons make great decorations, but don’t make good toys for pets. Pets can get hurt or scared if they pop, and possibly choke on or swallow the fragments. Balloon ribbons can also be a problem, particularly for cats who tend to enjoy chasing and chewing on them. Ingesting ribbon can cause vomiting or intestinal blockages.

Holiday Feasts
A highlight of the holiday season is the food. Serving sweets to your guests? Keep them up high out of your pet’s reach. Chocolate and artificial sweetener (xylitol) are very bad for your pooch (although chocolate can adversely affect cats, most have no interest in it; more than 90 percent of chocolate toxicity calls to the Pet Poison Helpline are for dogs). Grapes and their dried cousins—raisins—are also common in holiday foods like fruitcake and appetizer platters but are hazardous to pets.

Additionally, although a few bites of plain turkey or vegetables are fine, the spices, sauces and butter used to make the turkey and sides delicious for your guests are not, so keep leftovers out of the dog bowl and encourage guests not to feed pets from their plate. No turkey or ham bones either—once the bones have been cooked they pose a serious hazard for your pets. Raw, uncooked bones are safe, but when they are cooked they become hard and can crack, splinter or be come lodged in the throat.

Holiday Guests
Family and friends may be coming to visit over the holidays or perhaps you are planning a holiday party. Guests may enjoy a holiday libation and can become lax about making sure doors and gates are closed, may leave their adult beverage within your pet’s reach, or may even feed your pet something they shouldn’t have (like foods containing chocolate, grapes or raisins)—all of which can be dangerous to your furry friends. Additionally, make sure houseguests keep suitcases and personal items off the floor and out of your pet’s reach so they can’t access anything unsafe like medications (or chew up your guest’s shoes and socks!). In situations where your party guests may not be pet savvy or they may not make the “best” decisions, it might be best to keep them separated in another room for the evening. Also, make sure they are wearing current ID tags and are micro-chipped in case they escape during the flow of guests in and out of your house.

Gifts for Your Pet
People love to spoil other people’s pets and may want to buy something tasty for your furkids. Be cautious; not everyone reads FDA warnings and may be unaware that certain chicken jerky and other treats made in China have been making pets sick. If you don’t trust the brand or know where the ingredients are sourced from, be gracious but don’t risk giving it to your pet just to be polite to the gift-giver. I promise your pet won’t rat you out.

If you think your pet may have eaten something toxic, call pet poison animal control immediately. Keep these resources handy as a precaution:

• ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435, ($65 per incident fee)
• Pet Poison Helpline: (855) 764-7661, ($39 per incident fee)

Petagogy (pronounced pet-uh-go-jee) specializes in premium and natural pet foods, treats and supplies. Petagogy is located at 5880 Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. Store hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm and Sunday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Learn more at

Mondays with Myrtle - The third in an occasional series

Guest Blogger: Katie Tontala

I was so thrilled when I heard that Animal Friends' medical staff had gotten Myrtle’s health issues controlled and felt it was safe for her to continue on the next step of her journey - going to a foster home.  I couldn’t wait to bring her home and felt it was befitting to do so on the day before Thanksgiving.

Myrtle was not very happy with me the first few hours after I brought her home. I knew she was very frightened - who wouldn’t after a long car ride, getting settled into a new crate with new smells and new faces.  There is a beautiful little poem that that talks about the deep peace that fills an animal the first night they are taken into a foster home and how they sleep deeper than they have ever known. After a few hours, I peeked in on her and found her curled up in her little bed, her little head tucked into the crook of her arm and I knew we were going to work this out.


I spent a lot of time the first few days just sitting by her crate and letting her know that I wasn’t a threat and ignoring any hisses or growling that she sent my way. Knowing we had to get a trust established, I made no attempt to touch her. 

Since we don’t know for sure what she can actually see,  I applied a scented hand cream every time I was near to help her recognize that it was the same person nearby...and to associate that scent with good things.

From the work done by her team at AF, I knew Myrtle was a tuna junkie so I knew I had a way to bring her out of her shell. It didn’t take long.  By the third day, she was approaching me when I opened the door of her crate and sticking her little nose into the spoon with the smelly tuna. A little cat who loved food - a girl after my own heart!

At the time of writing this post, it has been about 10 days since she has been in foster and we are making great progress.  We have a routine established and she waddles to the edge of the cage whenever she knows I am in the room (whether it is feeding time or not).  I open the crate door and give her little scratches behind the ear and along her cheek.  Then she smells the can in my hand and waits (impatiently) for me to put the food in her bowl.  

This is the joy of fostering - being able to give that consistency, that one-on-one time and sense of security a quiet home can bring.  Making differences on small step at a time.  Myrtle and I still have a ways to go, but, as a foster mentor once told me, "You have to love fostering. Where else can you volunteer in your pajamas?"

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chow Wagon Reaches 200,000 Pounds Delivered!

The Animal Friends’ Chow Wagon has passed the 200,000 lb. mark in donations of pet food and treats to 23 food pantries and one Meals on Wheels’ group!

Animal Friends’ goal is to constantly expand the assistance we give to the pet-owning community. To that end, a fledgling program began on a “wing and a prayer” on April 16, 2007 and was lovingly christened Chow Wagon. Animal Friends' Chow Wagon celebrated its seventh birthday this year and my how we’ve grown!

Our first year saw us welcome four food pantries into the program.  Today, we are actively helping 23 food pantries and one Meals on Wheels’ group by supplying pet food and treats for their pet-owning clients. We also provide help to individuals, other shelters and feral-cat-colony caretakers. Chow Wagon assists between 400-600 families per month. Awesome? You bet!

Most of the credit for the success of this program goes to the Pittsburgh community whose belief and support of this mission has been vital. We are forever indebted to the folks who bring a bag or two of pet food to Animal Friends when they visit, to school groups and scout troops who have enthusiastically collected pet food throughout the area and to the many businesses and corporations who have held Animal Friends’ Chow Wagon drives.

Chow Wagon – like all programs at Animal Friends – is committed to building, nurturing and respecting the animal-human bond. We take great pride in being able to provide for the well-being of companion animals and to offer mutual assistance between people and their pets.

 “We have two clients with seizure alert dogs. They both rely on getting food monthly for their pets, not only because they are their companions, but because their dogs allow them to live a healthier and more stable life.”
-    Food Pantry Coordinator

We truly appreciate this. Our pantry’s clients, especially the seniors and those on disability, frequently request food for their animal companions, and it’s good when we can assist them. Good for the animals! Good for the humans! Win, win!
-    Food Pantry Coordinator

The Animal Friends’ Chow Wagon is very thankful to all who generously donate for it is not what we give, but what we share!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why Adopt...Our Story

Guest Blogger: Joe Thornton, Volunteer

Having grown up with animals, mostly dogs, my wife Michelle and I knew that one
day we would have a four-legged family member of our own. So in late 2005, we had
decided it was time to bring a dog into our home. At that time, we had never considered
a shelter dog, so we looked into local breeders of Chocolate Labs.  As you can imagine, all of the puppies were stinkin' cute and it was hard to decide, so we left it up to the puppies.

Playing and holding each one, there was one that made our decision easy. She was the smallest of the girls, and was the first puppy to lick Michelle's cheek.

So our decision was made. We named her Mocha Bean.

The holidays passed and it was the second week in January, we were able to pick up Mocha and finally bring her home. What a wonderful day that was!

 Wrapped up in a blanket, Michelle held Mocha on our journey back home from Center Township. Mocha was such a joy to have puppy running around the house. She loved zooming around the first floor, making us laugh, and then curling up on our chest, head, lap, oversized bed...or wherever she felt most comfortable. With the fun came many sleep deprived nights of Mocha crying in her crate, and taking her out to go potty in sub-zero temperatures. Needless to say, we couldn't wait for Spring to come around.

Spring came and we got to enjoy her retriever instincts playing ball, and running around
in the backyard. But when Mocha was 15 months old, she had to have knee surgery for
a luxating patella. This was hard on us because we had to keep her calm and restricted
for 8 weeks, but she was still young and full of energy We survived, but Mocha's
activity went from running like a young, healthy dog, to slow controlled walks. Two
years later in 2010, Mocha once again had to have surgery on the same knee for a torn
ACL. More restrictions, and even a longer recovery...14 weeks. Now a little older but
still full of energy, Mocha was becoming very sheltered due to our fear of her injuring
the same knee or her other one. We would take her on walks, but she was never able to
chase and retrieve balls again, which she used to love dearly.

In the clear...we thought. At her annual checkup in April 2012, our Vet noticed that
Mocha's heart rate was racing to 120 bmp, then dropping to 40 bmp(normal is 70-80
bmp). Concerned, our Vet suggested that we see a Cardiologist at PVSEC. Quickly
making an appointment, Mocha was diagnosed with a heart condition that required
her to have a pacemaker. Pacemaker?!? We didn't even realize they did things like
this. But at this point, there was nothing we wouldn't have done for our Mocha. So we
scheduled her surgery, and for the next 2 weeks, there were many sleepless nights again
concerned that Mocha would pass in her sleep.

So in May 2012, Mocha had her pacemaker placed, but that opened her up to other
heart issues that were managed with 6 heart meds, 6 times a day. For the next several
months, we had many visits at PVSEC to monitor her condition, adjust medications,
emergencies, and follow up appointments. In November 2012, Mocha was doing great.

But on January 14, 2013, our lives changed forever. Everything that morning seemed
to be fine. Michelle and I were both home, Mocha had eaten her breakfast, and things
were normal...though we thought. While Michelle and I were in the kitchen, we heard
a loud bang, turning around to see our loving Mocha going into cardiac arrest. Picking
her up, and giving CPR while rushing to the hospital, there was nothing we could
do...our pride and joy of 7 short years had tragically died in our arms.

Absolutely lost without her, we swore we would never get another dog and go through
this pain again. Since our companion and most important thing in our life was
tragically gone, I made a promise to Mocha that I would spend my empty days helping
homeless dogs feel the love and compassion that she received from us. So because we
had spent so many days/weeks at PVSEC, I had decided to volunteer at Animal Friends.
So on my first day of dog handling classes, the instructors brought a German Shepherd
mix into the room, and her name was Mocha. Almost in tears, she came over to me and
sat at my feet. I remember the one instructor tried to call her, but she would not move
from me. That day I knew our Mocha was with me and that I was in a good place.
Volunteering helped me cope with Mocha's loss, filled that emptiness in my heart, but
most importantly helped the sheltered dogs get through their days living alone in a

Not realizing how much our Mocha impacted everyone's lives, each event seemed
a little less enjoyable, and gatherings became very emotional. But over the weeks and
months, our dear friends and family supported us and said that there are more animals
that could benefit from the love and compassion that we had unselfishly given to our
Mocha. Convincing ourselves they were all right, we felt we had to get through that
year without having Mocha in our lives and then decide what we were going to do.

Knowing we were not going to buy from a breeder, but adopt a loving dog looking for
their loving family, I had always kept my eyes open. So many dogs came and went,
and we could have easily taken any one of them. There was one in particular that caught my eye. She was a one and half year old jumpy, mouthy Pit Bull mix named Flora. But since she had kennel cough, she was not available for adoption for several weeks, so I just spent time with her and worked on controlling her excitement. 

Getting closer to the holiday season, Michelle and I were not looking forward to
decorating, visiting, parties, etc. We were missing our Mocha, and did not want to deal
with all the joy. Having trouble sleeping, I had asked Michelle if she would consider
adopting before Mocha's year anniversary arrived in January. Showing her pictures of
Flora, Michelle agreed that we needed to adopt for our well-being, and for Flora's benefit
of finding her loving home.

So on November 29, 2013, we adopted Flora and she rescued us. Now Cayenne Pepper,
she has been a huge inspiration to us. She has graciously filled that emptiness since
Mocha's passing, and has given us so much joy and love. Cayenne will never replace
Mocha, nor do we want her to, but she is creating her own set of memories for Michelle
and I to cherish along with Mocha's.

So to answer the question, Why Adopt? Adopting an animal and watching them
become part of your family is an experience too few of us know. Sheltered animals
patiently await their loving families, but too many do not get that opportunity to
experience what being a family member feels like. They live their lives being labeled
a sheltered animal, or even worse a sad statistic. But through adopting, we give them
a new home, family, identity, and purpose in life...and they deserve nothing less. In
return, they rescue us from dark times in our lives, they restored our family values, they
make us laugh, they keep us young, they never judge, and they give us unconditional

Rescuing one animal isn't going to change the world...but the world will forever change
for that one animal. Adopt today!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mondays with Myrtle - The second in an occasional series

Guest Blogger: Margie Higginbotham, a Team Myrtle member

I have a soft spot for cats that are down on their luck. The elderly, the infirm and the lonely all tug at my heart. When Myrtle came to Animal Friends, she was all of these things.  How could I refuse the chance to be on “Team Myrtle”?

Myrtle had a behavior plan to follow which involved certain signals and behavioral techniques to help her reach the ultimate goal of trusting people again. We quickly found out that food was a great motivator for Myrtle.  

Myrtle was not so fond of human hands coming into her space, so I fed her chicken and tuna from a hand-crafted spoon with a very long handle. We started our journey with the cage door closed and the spoon sneaking in between the bars.  

When the hissing and growling stopped, we graduated to an open door with my hand sliding farther and farther down the handle of the spoon. One day, I even got a hand sniff – yes!

The next visit, I got a greeting at the cage door – another victory! The last time I worked with her, she touched my hand with her face.

Now, Myrtle has found a foster home with an outstanding Cat Behavior Team member and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her.

It’s my hope to hear about the next leg of her journey to her forever home.