Friday, May 27, 2011

It's Hard to be Charming Inside a Cage...

Guest Blogger: Siri Espy, Animal Friends' Communications Team

In stark contrast to her name, poor Confetti has had little to celebrate lately. First, this beautiful five-year-old tortie was displaced from her home when the family’s newborn baby was discovered to be allergic to her. Then, shy Confetti was brought to Animal Friends, where the environment was just too much for her. She was frightened by the noises, unfamiliar faces, and hands entering her cage to feed her and scoop the litter box.

Overwhelmed, Confetti tried to retreat into her corner, and was a very unhappy cat. A kind volunteer took Confetti into her home for a cage break. Getting her into the carrier and the car ride were quite stressful, but the moment Confetti arrived at her foster home, she was transformed into a very different cat.

“Normally when I foster an adult cat, it takes a few days to gain their trust,” reported her foster mom. “However, Confetti was instantly affectionate and seems very comfortable in her room. She may hate the shelter environment but she would be a wonderful house cat.”

Clearly, it’s in Confetti’s best interest not to return to a terrifying environment, where her fears will also make her less attractive to potential adopters and prolong her stay. We’d love to see her go directly from her foster home to her forever home, ideally a quiet environment where she can be the only pet and soak up the love.

Learn more about Confetti by clicking here. If you think Confetti could occupy a place in your heart and your home, contact Animal Friends at 412.847.7002 to arrange a visit with her.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dash, The Highway Kitten

By Siri Espy, Animal Friends' Communications Team

Sometimes, being in the right place at the right time means everything. This was the case for motorists driving on route 279, who saw a tiny black and white kitten, tight up against the left-lane berm.

The Good Samaritans turned around, then pulled up to the same spot from the adjacent HOV lane, where they managed to pull to the side, then reach over and grab the kitten, who was too frightened to move.

Once in the car, however, it was a different story. The poor terrorized kitten, in an effort to flee the unfamiliar humans, climbed up behind the car’s dashboard. Determined to hide, the kitten bit when a hand reached up to retrieve him.

The kitten’s next stop was Animal Friends, where he was promptly named Dash, and quarantined as all animals must be when a bite has occurred. Dash was given a physical, neutered, and readied for adoption during the quarantine. He was found to be in fine health and ready to go to his forever home.

Meanwhile, the Good Samaritans who brought Dash to Animal Friends remained concerned about their furry little friend, forgiving him for biting in a moment of panic. On Saturday, the people who doubled back to pick up little Dash did it again. They hit the road back to Animal Friends, picked him up, and adopted him.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Home to Home pet Adoptions: Kody

My name is Kody. I am an 11 year-old black lab/beagle mix. calm and gentle, I'm good around all ages of people. I also like other dogs and will even tolerate cats. I just need a little time and attention and happy.
I love to run, so if you have a good yard with a runner that would be great.
PS - I roll over.
If you can help me, contact Tim at 412-758-7544 or email

Choosing the Best Leash for Your Dog

Choosing a leash for your canine sidekick can be tricky. Just take a peek at the leash selections in your average pet supply store, and you'll see why. You’ve got thick ones, thin ones, long ones, short ones, and all different types of materials. So how is a pet owner supposed to pick the right one?

Here are a few tips to help make your leash-buying decision a bit easier:

  • A 6-foot leather or nylon leash works great for most dogs. The width will be dependent upon the size of your dog, but anywhere from 1/4 inch to 1 inch should be suitable.

  • Retractable leashes have become very popular in recent years, but at Animal Friends we don't recommend using them. Reason being, they give dogs too much freedom to roam. It's harder to see what your dog is doing and even harder to control him or her from that far away, which can jeopardize your pup's safety. Plus, retractable leashes are not very sturdy and can tangle easily.

  • We also don't recommend a metal or chain link leash. It's often difficult to get a good grip on the metal leash - and can even be painful. Plus, it tends to rust with exposure to the elements, and a particularly devoted leash biter could break a tooth or two while trying to chew on the leash.

If you stick with the 6-foot leather or nylon leash, you're sure to enjoy many years of walks with your dog. You'll find a great selection at Animal Friends' on-site pet supply shop and boutique.

And as always, if you have more questions about leashes or leash behavior, please feel free to call Animal Friends' Behavior Help Line at 412.847.7070 or fill out a simple behavior question form.

Home to Home Pet Adoptions: Dory

Dory is a Beautiful Calico. She was a stray. The vet estimated her to be around 1 1/2 years old. She is very vocal and affectionate although she doesn't like being held too long. Loves to play and is a real prima donna! She and my dogs do not seem to get along so I would suggest she be in a single pet household or possibly with another cat. I've never seen her interact with another cat so a visit will be necessary if she will be the second cat in the household.

If you can help, call Judy at 412-882-7299 or email

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You Adopted a Rabbit! Now What?

“She was so cute, I couldn’t resist! Now what do I do?”

At Animal Friends, we frequently hear from callers who need guidance after bringing home their first bunny. Sometimes all of the research in the world won’t calm a new parent—especially one who’s new to the bunny world.

First and foremost, make sure your bunny has been spayed or neutered. This simple surgery alleviates many common behavior concerns and ensures a calmer, happier bunny.

Once you get your rabbit home, there are several ways you can house her: in a cage, an exercise pen or running free in a room. We recommend keeping your bunny in a smaller enclosure when you first get her home. A bunny needs to know she’s safe, so giving her the opportunity to root out any possible predators in a small area can help your rabbit feel secure. Plus, it helps promote better litter habits by giving her fewer places to eliminate.

Don’t think of a cage as something to confine your rabbit; think of it as a good way to keep her safe. Rabbits are very curious and can quickly find trouble if you let them. An exercise pen can block off any unsafe areas while giving them the space to run and play.

While your rabbit is getting to know her space, get to know your rabbit. Spend as much time as you can in her area, preferably down on the floor so you’re at her level. When your rabbit is comfortable with you in her space and has shown good litter habits, you can gradually increase the amount of floor space to which she has access. And as always, when rewarding with run-time, be sure to bunny-proof the area.

But wait. Now that you have the perfect bunny, isn’t it time to think of adding another one? A bonded pair of rabbits can help keep each other happy, healthy and socialized. Plus, you’ll be offering a home to somebunny who needs you!

To ask a question about your bunny or learn about classes for bunny adopters, call Animal Friends at 412.847.7000 or visit

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Help Pets with Thunderstorm Phobias

Many pets fear thunderstorms, fireworks, and other noises. Pets may also be fearful of storm-associated events such as a change in barometric pressure, lightning, and even smells associated with the storms.

Always remember: The owner's attitude can influence the severity of the fear. For instance, if owners themselves are nervous during storms, phobias in their pets may occur more often or become more severe.

If the owner attempts to comfort the animal, the animal interprets it as confirmation that there really is something to be afraid of. Petting or comforting is really positive reinforcement of an undesirable behavior.

Common symptoms of storm phobia include:

• hiding
• accidents in the house
• pacing
• panting
• trembling
• trying to escape
• drooling
• not listening to commands

In many cases, the fear can be managed effectively. How you can help your pet:

• Refrain from giving rewards or punishment for fearful behavior. This is extremely important.
• Project a calm attitude.
• Offer your pet a quiet, comfortable space or room to retreat to.
• Try doing something your pet likes (bringing out a favorite toy or food) ONLY when it storms
• Try desensitizing your pet by playing CDs of storm sounds during happy times. These are available at many stores that sell CDs or relaxation kits.
• Reduce the noise level during storms by creating “white noise” -- run a fan, air conditioner, TV or radio.
• Increase the amount of play and exercise your pet gets every day, but especially if a storm is in the forecast, so your pet will be tired during the storm.
• Consider a thundershirt.
• If all else fails, discuss the possibility of medication with your vet.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Animal Friends’ Chow Wagon Feeds Hungry Pets

By Siri Espy, Animal Friends' Communications Team
Poverty and hunger have hit many residents of our region hard. And in tough economic times, pets become victims as well. When income plummets, desperate people find themselves unable to feed their beloved pets, causing heartache for the owners and swelling the population of homeless animals.

In April 2007, Animal Friends took action to address this tragic situation by creating the Chow Wagon program. In partnership with local food pantries, this initiative has served the local community by making pet food available to clients who rely on these resources to feed their families. The program came out of a realization that the mission of these organizations intertwined with that of Animal Friends. Keeping the family together–both two-legged and four-legged members–is important at any time, but takes on even more urgency when the family is faced with wrenching challenges.

Beginning with a delivery of 70 pounds of food to Loaves & Fishes in Allison Park, the program has expanded to more than 20 other sites. Through the program, fewer families are forced to sacrifice their own food budgets to feed their pets or face surrendering their animals to an uncertain future.

To date, nearly 90,000 pounds of food have been donated, along with toys and treats when available. Recognizing the importance of preventing the birth of unwanted animals, information and applications for Animal Friends’ low-cost spay and neuter program are also provided to the pantries.

Most of the food provided to the organizations is donated by schools, scout troops, and other community groups. These Good Samaritans are helping Animal Friends serve the region and its vulnerable pets through bolstering these important community partnerships that keep animals where they belong–with the people who love them.

Mary Kozik, who coordinates the West Deer Food Pantry, reports that her clients are delighted to receive the food and treats for their animals. Sue Otto, Director of the Center for Hope, further explains the value of the program: “It is heartbreaking to even think someone may have to make the decision to give up a pet for lack for food. We are very thankful for this donation from Animal Friends’ Chow Wagon.”

Fran McFadden, Our Lady of the Angels Food Pantry Director, explains that 70% of the households served by her organization have pets, and are grateful for the assistance provided by Chow Wagon. She explains, “The pet food program alleviates a substantial cost for our clients and allows greater flexibility in their tight money management, as well as assisting them with the great joy of pet ownership.”

Animal Friends invites you to jump on the “Wagon” by dropping off donations of pet food, treats and toys at the Caryl Gates Gluck Resource Center. Many of our neighbors are counting on you to keep their families intact in hard times, with tail-wags of appreciation as a priceless reward for your kindness.

Click here to visit View adoptable animals and learn more about our work!

Watch a video about Animal Friends' Chow Wagon here:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"A Ferret Cat?" i.e. What is a feral cat?

Guest Blogger: Linda Snyder, Animal Friends' Communications Team

Recently, a friend of mine was talking about an unfamiliar cat that was visiting his back yard...a feral cat.

“There’s no such thing as a ferret cat,” a young woman remarked to my friend.

“Not a ferret cat,” replied my friend. “A feral cat!”

It's those kinds of conversations that remind us in the animal welfare world that we have a lot of work to do.

So what is a feral cat? He’s a cat who most likely has been born in the wild and has had little or no human contact. Because feral cats have never learned to enjoy contact with humans, most are afraid of people. Typically, ferals will run away from humans or crouch low to the ground to hide. They usually won’t eat in front of strangers, and they won’t meow at people. However, ferals can live and bond with other cats in a group called a “colony.” Colonies can be found everywhere: in cities, in suburbs, or in the country.

Not every cat wandering outdoors is feral, however. Instead, a cat trotting through your backyard could be a lost or abandoned stray cat, a cat used to living with people, or even a neighbor’s new pet. Oftentimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Unlike ferals, stray cats may be friendly to people, but this is not always true. Some strays may fear humans simply because those strays are shy or scared. Likewise, stray cats that have been living outdoors a long time could begin to revert to feral-like behavior. However, when taken to a shelter, such stray cats often can be resocialized to become pets again.

Feral cats are content living outdoors; that’s their world. Most appear healthy and don’t look ragged or dirty. After all, they’ve grown up outside and know how to care for themselves there. Conversely, a lost or stray cat that has always enjoyed a pampered indoor life but ends up living outdoors may appear unkempt or skinny.

Feral cats live wherever they can find food and shelter: a dumpster behind a restaurant, a farm where they can nibble on leftovers or a city stoop where a well-meaning individual leaves food.
In many ways, ferals are the epitome of the independence for which cats are noted, and they have tremendous survival instincts.

However, ferals can use our help in many ways: by providing them with a regular supply of food, water, and shelter, especially in winter; by educating people who might not understand or might want to harm ferals; and by using trap-neuter-return practices to humanely reduce overpopulation and prevent the killing of ferals in shelters.

For more information on feral cats, please visit our page

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Cats Have Claws...and How to Live With Them

Guest Blogger: Linda Snyder, Animal Friends' Communications Team

Have you ever thought of declawing your cat as an easy way to protect your furniture from kitty’s sharp claws? Before taking this irreversible step, be sure you understand the declawing procedure and the consequences for both you and your cat.

Scratching is a natural, healthful cat activity that doesn’t have to be destructive, and there are better ways to modify your cat’s scratching behavior than declawing.

What is declawing? It’s more than a surgical procedure to remove a cat’s nails. Rather, the veterinarian amputates the tips of the cat’s toes, cutting bones and nerves in order to remove the entire claw. In humans, this would be equivalent to cutting off the tips of your fingers at the outermost joint. Ouch!

Declawing is painful, primarily for the cat but also for the owner who sees the cat suffering after surgery. It takes seven to 10 days for a cat’s toes to heal, and during that time, the cat cannot step in grainy litter, as it might cause infection in the wounds. Thus, only shredded newspaper or similar substances can be used as litter during the healing time. Some declawed cats then develop a negative association with the litter box, which frequently leads to inappropriate soiling outside the box. Not all declawed cats stop using their litter boxes, but some do. So, think about it. If your declawed cat develops an aversion to the litter box and uses your sofa instead, you’ve traded one behavior for another that is equally as damaging and just as difficult to change.

Cats need their claws for many reasons. Claws are a cat’s main defense if attacked or if the cat needs to climb to seek refuge. When frightened, a cat may feel defenseless without claws and may resort to biting as an alternative defense. Some cat owners claim that declawing caused dramatic personality changes in their cats.

Cats also use their claws to grip when enjoying a long stretch that tones the muscles in their back and shoulders. And, as a cat jumps or walks, those gripping claws give the cat amazing agility and balance. Cats need to scratch to remove the outer sheaths of their claws.

Cats also scratch to mark territory, both visually and through scent glands among the pads of their feet.

Scratching can be a means for cats to express happiness or frustration, too. If you’ve ever come home and your cat ran to the scratching post and began scratching feverishly, be glad! Your cat is happy to see you and is scratching as an emotional release.

If scratching is a natural activity for cats, how can we prevent it from being destructive? In spite of their reputation for independence, cats can be trained to scratch appropriately, and that never involves punishment. Rather, your goal should be to redirect undesirable behavior and then reward good behavior.

First, give your cat a pleasurable surface, such as a scratching post, that the cat likes better than your sofa. A good scratching post is at least three feet tall on a sturdy base, placed in an easily visible location, to allow a complete vertical stretch. Inexpensive cardboard scratchers sprinkled with catnip and placed on the floor are popular with cats who scratch horizontally. Some cats prefer carpet or rough fabrics; others prefer sisal rope or a dried log (which looks rustic when made into a scratching post).

The retail associates at Animal Friends’ on-site supply shop can help you choose the right one for your home.

Determining your cat’s preferences will help in redirecting that behavior. Then, when your cat scratches an appropriate surface, offer a reward of treats, affection or play time.

Trimming a cat’s claws every few weeks is another simple way to curb damage from clawing. Trimming is easy if you start when the cat is young, trim only one claw or two each day or make it an activity that rewards the cat with treats. Animal Friends staff or your veterinarian can show you how to trim your cat’s claws safely. If you’re not a “do-it-yourselfer,” groomers and pet stores that offer grooming services will trim you cat’s claws, often on a walk-in basis and at reasonable prices.

Many U.S. organizations that are knowledgeable about cat behavior, such as Animal Friends and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, discourage declawing. In fact, the procedure is illegal in European countries such as England, Germany and Switzerland, where it is considered inhumane and referred to as “toe amputation.”

When you adopt a cat from Animal Friends, please remember that you agree in your adoption contract that you will never declaw your cat. Cats have claws for many purposes.

Unfortunately, kind-hearted people who love their cats but don’t fully understand the effects of declawing often regret declawing them. When you consider a cat’s pain after the surgery and the potential behavioral complications, do you really think it’s worth the risk, particularly when other solutions are available? It’s simply a matter of being patient and informed, and then retraining your cat to scratch appropriately so you can live together happily ever after, with you keeping your lovely furniture and kitty keeping those important claws.

Contact Animal Friends at 412.847.7000 if you need help in training your cat to scratch appropriately. Your kitty will thank you and love you even more!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wonderful, experienced pets age 10+ are waiting!

Guest Blogger: Siri Espy, Animal Friends' Communications Team

As we look forward to our golden years, is a comfortable, loving home too much to ask? At Animal Friends, that’s all our senior pets are asking for, as well.

At the moment, our kennels are home to a number of older animals looking for love. While puppies and kittens charm their way into our hearts with their antics, older animals tend to be more laid-back, and are often overlooked as a result. But their years of experience can make them ideal pets.

As with senior humans, many of these animals are still lively and fun-loving, looking to play, exercise, and then relax with a favorite human companion.

A visit to Animal Friends' web site ( will highlight five dogs age 10 and up:

Miss Tiny, a 10-year-old Beagle;

Jojo, a 12-year-old Jack Russell Terrier mix;

Tina, a 12-year-old Akita;

Lacy, a 13-year-old Beagle mix;

and our most senior citizen, York, a 15-year-old Dachshund mix.

A total of eight cats are age 10 or older; calico Penelope and white Belle are the oldest at age 11.

Five 10-year-old feline residents are available, including brown tabby Helix, black cats Wagner and Coco

and beautiful orange Toby.

All our senior animals are asking for is a second chance in a home where they can bask in the sun – and the love of a home of their own. If you think you have the love to give, call or stop in to learn more about our sweet seniors. You will both be grateful you did.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Foster Dog Saves Foster Dad!

Longtime volunteers Ron and Mary represent all that is good about Animal Friends. They have generously opened their home to many dogs in need of foster care to prepare them for adoption. Recently, they learned that lifesaving can work both ways.

By Mary, Animal Friends volunteer

This is not one of the top 10 reasons to foster, at least according to our manual! For reasons still unknown, Ron’s blood sugar recently dropped very quickly and very low during the early morning hours. I was awakened to the sound of him in distress and Savina, our husky foster dog, screaming, literally screaming.

I, of course, got up and went running to see what was going on. I found him unconscious, making really strange sounds and in really bad shape. The medics came and gave him sugar IVs, and after about an hour and a half he was walking and talking. Fortunately, he did not need to go to the hospital.

As soon as we were in the room and helping Ron, we covered Savina’s crate with a blanket so she would not be upset with strangers, and she lay down and did not make a sound. The blanket has never worked before to silence her. Looking back, I can’t honestly say that I would have heard Ron in time if it were not for the screaming husky.

Ron is doing fine; a little sluggish the next day, but he quickly returned to volunteering at Animal Friends.

And Savina? After saving Ron’s life, she’s no longer our foster dog. We adopted her.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Pit Bull Paradox: Myths and Facts about Pit Bulls

Guest Blogger: Kathy Hecker, Humane Officer for Animal Friends

You see them in shelters–more of them than any other breed. Most of them smile a lot, lick your face and nearly knock you down with their exuberance and joy. They’re characterized as being loyal, funny, strong and high-energy. So why are so many Pit Bulls ending up in our nation’s shelters? Why are so few adopted and so many euthanized? What is happening to this type of dog and how can we change their fate?

First, we need to let go of some of the myths surrounding pit bulls and look at the facts.

Myth: Pit bulls are a pedigreed breed.
Actually, pit bulls are not AKC-registered, and any pedigrees that come with them are strictly bunk. What we call a “Pit Bull” is a actually a mixed breed. This offshoot of other “bully breeds” has been somewhat standardized, is easily recognizable and was bred primarily for fighting. About 20 years ago, huge dog-fighting farms in the southern United States that had been breeding these dogs for decades expanded into the inner city, where there were eager buyers who were often involved with drugs, gambling and other illegal activities.

Myth: Bad breeding has left society with a lot of bad dogs.
Not necessarily. While many litters are the result of bad breeding practices by people with questionable intentions, many Pit Bulls have retained a lot of the wonderful, endearing qualities that they were originally known for. Sadly, inbreeding and over-breeding can result in more congenital medical issues, and occasionally, a sociopathic personality. But for the most part, pit bulls do very well on shelter behavioral assessments; they are social, affectionate, do not display a lot of guarding and don’t mind being handled.

Myth: “It’s all in the way they are raised.”
Well, yes and no. If you start with a normal Pit Bull puppy, socialize and train him properly, use positive, patient reinforcement techniques and provide firm leadership, you might end up with the best dog you’ve ever had! However, Pit bulls do have a genetic tendency towards aggression toward other dogs. Just as you typically can’t train the hunting drive out of a Beagle, you can’t wave a magic wand and make the bully breed something that he’s not. The aggression toward other dogs manifests itself on a scale from hardly noticeable to intense. It does require management and sadly, sometimes the destruction of the animal. Irresponsible owners and their poor stewardship do a lot of damage by not properly containing their dogs and allowing them to run at large. Pit bulls on the loose are a recipe for disaster. They’re more likely to harm other small animals and more likely to be shot on sight by law enforcement as a threat to community safety.

Myth: Pit bulls are responsible for more bites than any other breed.
Absolutely not. A recent national study found that any bite by a pit bull-type of dog received as much as 1000% more media attention than a bite by any other breed. Because of their strength, their bites may inflict more serious damage (as does the bite of any large, strong breed), but they are not at the top of the list for bites.

Myth: Pit Bulls represent the highest percentage of unwanted, homeless or stray dogs.
This is true everywhere. As much as 35% of all strays entering animal control facilities are of the Pit Bull variety. Why? Because they are bred more often. It is a very profitable cottage industry. The “rejects” who don’t fight, are sick or aren’t intimidating are abandoned on the street to be picked up by Animal Control. Only a few “pick of the litter” dogs actually get a home and live to breed again, and subsequently pass on many undesirable traits.

Myth: Banning the breed is a necessity.
Forget it. It won’t happen in Pennsylvania because it’s against the law to discriminate against dogs based on breed. And didn’t we point out that there really is no pit bull “breed?” One Ohio county attempted to ban pit bulls, but after several years found that expenses associated with enforcing the ban could drive them to bankruptcy. The money spent enforcing the ban would’ve been put to far better use by providing free spays and neuters, training classes and education. Good, responsible owners of pit bulls suffered greatly, and many moved away to avoid the destruction of their beloved family pet. (Wouldn’t you?)

In the course of our humane investigations, we see many pit bull-type dogs. Some of the ones we take custody of end up in our office, where we get to know, love and appreciate them. Most of the pit bulls we visit in the community aren’t used for fighting, and many of them have wonderful homes. Many owners will tell you that they would never own any other kind of dog–that pit bulls are the best!