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.