Who Rescued Whom?

You would think that after working in a shelter environment for 10 years, Assistant Director of Animal Services Jamie Wilson would have tough skin after seeing so many animals come through our doors with sad stories.  But Jamie is still able to open her heart to the more “challenging” pets that we have, and she was inspired to tell her story about a recent experience with a dog named Gabby.

Gabby, and her pals Jamie Wilson and Tammy Link

Gabby, and her pals Jamie Wilson and Tammy Link

At first glance, Gabby looked like your average Siberian Husky when she arrived at the Western PA Humane Society in February 2012, but she was extremely scared and a bit aloof.  The person that surrendered her explained that he had gone to a breeder for a puppy, but felt bad that she was being used just for breeding so he took her home instead.  Once he had her home, he realized that she was not used to human interaction and that she needed much more help than he could handle himself, so he brought her to us.  While at the shelter, Gabby shied away from most of our shelter staff; however, she immediately took to Jamie, living and sleeping under her desk.Thinking that going through a rescue would give her the best chance of finding an appropriate family, Gabby was matched with a very promising home.  Jamie had to coax a hesitant Gabby into their car, saying her final goodbye; or so she thought.

One year later on January 2013, Jamie arrived at work for a staff meeting.  There, she was told that Gabby was returned to the shelter. It seemed that in the year the family had her, Gabby was still uncomfortable around them and was not able to relax. After hearing the news, Jamie said her heart broke for Gabby and that in her ten years she had never felt so attached to a dog.  She immediately went to Gabby’s kennel and broke down, sorry for Gabby that she was having such a hard time finding her perfect match.

Gabby loves Jamie!It was then that Jamie made it her mission to make sure that Gabby’s next home would be her last.  She devoted her time at the shelter to socializing with Gabby (Gabby seemed to definitely miss her on her days off!).  Gabby, shy dog that she was, even helped socialize a litter of feral puppies that were brought to the shelter. Gabby was made available for adoption once again, but with an application only so that Jamie and other staff could make sure that it was a true fit.  Later in January, a woman filled out an application after meeting Gabby. Sitting next to Gabby, Jamie read the application, and at the bottom read, “Gabby gave me kisses.”  Jamie read it out loud to Gabby, who immediately showed her approval with a tail wag! The woman brought her own dog in for an official meet and greet which went spectacularly. Gabby was adopted again on January 27, 2013.  All it took was the right person (and pet sibling) for Gabby to blossom.  She no longer hides in corners or under furniture.  She loves to play and just be a dog!

At the shelter, we always talk about having moments of “Who rescued whom?” Even though we as staff do not always adopt our favorite pets ourselves, they still leave lasting impressions on us.  Some of us, like Jamie, have a wall of photos of our success stories.  Others might just be able to tell you every detail of a particular pet.  Our feeling of success comes from knowing that when the next “Gabby” comes through our doors that we will be prepared to help them in their time of need.


WPHS Matches Senior Pets with Senior Citizens

For years, the Western PA Humane Society has taken steps to reduce loneliness in the senior population through therapy dog visits throughout the region. With millions of animals in shelters nationwide, it would be foolish to ignore the many benefits of pairing these two populations, which are so often overlooked. During Senior Pet Month at WPHS, we are especially dedicated to finding senior pets and senior people the ideal match for one another.

Click here to see WPHS adorable,adoptable Senior Pets!

Anyone who has owned an animal knows the value of their companionship; the same camaraderie absent from the lives of the many senior citizens who suffer from loneliness and depression. When senior adopters are paired with the perfect pet, activities like feeding or grooming gives them a replenished sense of purpose. This obligation to a pet has been known to motivate senior citizens to focus on their own well-being. Petting and playing with an animal, like other pleasurable activities, even increases hormone levels associated with happiness and calm.

 An animal’s presence not only provides company, but actually creates opportunities for their adopters to be social.  People who are normally withdrawn can become sociable when neighbors come to visit their furry friend. Dogs can even be an extra set of eyes and ears for seniors, giving them the sense of security often missed by those living alone.

 Beyond these more apparent perks, science has proven the health benefits of pet ownership, particularly in seniors.  According to the Center for Disease Control, owning a pet can significantly decrease blood pressure along with cholesterol and triglyceride levels, both tied to heart disease. Studies have also shown that an animal’s presence reduces anxiety and stress in their housemates, especially for Alzheimer’s patients.

 Adopting a senior pet eliminates the chance of dealing with the destructive phases of younger animals. Senior pets have already been trained, unlike rambunctious puppies or kittens, who are notorious for chewing, scratching, and having indoor accidents. Although additional training for older animals is not necessary, it can be fun and fulfilling for pet and owner alike.

November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month

Unfortunately, seniors often hesitate to adopt because of doubts that they can properly care for an animal. In reality, senior pets actually require minimal time and energy commitment.  They are happiest in a calm and quiet environment, surrounded by those closest to them. Active seniors are best partnered with an older dog who can enjoy relaxed walks or games of fetch together, while senior cats are perfect for less mobile adopters.

 For each senior citizen is a senior pet waiting for a second chance at being loved.   Regardless of their existing lifestyle, seniors with pets enjoy improved emotional, physical, and mental health. This November, WPHS counselors are especially dedicated to bringing our treasured seniors together to share their loyalty and companionship through their golden years.

by Jamie Rempel

Adventures of Gary the Foster Dog: A New Beginning

Gary, our 3-legged pit mix foster puppy, has learned to GO UP STAIRS!!! He was shy about them at first, even possibly afraid.  And I didn’t know if it would be physically possible for him to do it.

We tried treats on each step. We encouraged him, applauded any progress. Nope, he wouldn’t go.

Then one day, Ursa was going up the steps. My son went up the steps. They both stood at the top & made happy sounds. My son clapped his hands. I stayed at the bottom in case there was a problem. No go. Nope. Not doing it.

Suddenly, Gary ran up the steps so fast! I followed quickly & when he got to the top, we all rubbed him & praised him. Lots of  “Yay, Gary!” and “Good boy!”

He had done it. The one thing I didn’t know if Gary could master. But he did it with a few trial runs and lots of praise & treats. I now know that Gary can go to a home with steps, which broadens his adoptability. Yay Gary!

Don’t you know that in the middle of this fostering, I had to have a surgical procedure that stopped almost all activity for me?

But Gary was a prince through all of it. The day I had the surgery, Gary spent sleeping on the floor at the foot of my bed – very quiet, very good.  Ursa slept in the bed, of course, but Gary understood too.

That happened a few days ago and I am recovering, but in the meantime, I learned the WPHS was having an adoption event at the shelter where all animals, 6 months or older, were just $10!!! What an opportunity for Gary, but I couldn’t go and Gary would miss out!

Thank goodness for Monica Dangler, the WPHS off-site coordinator. She volunteered to come to my house & get Gary to take him to the event. Terrific! This would be a perfect opportunity for him & I think he’s learned all he needs to know from us.

It’s only been an hour since they left & Monica just called to say someone is ready to adopt Gary!!! HOW GOOD IS THAT!!!???

A half-hour has passed now & the new family has been approved to adopt Gary. This couldn’t end any better. I’m so happy to know Gary is going to his forever home & will be loved and treasured.

What a great ending to this foster. But we’ve been lucky in that all of our fosters have gone directly into loving homes. I get to know once again, the work was worth it.

And the heartache when they leave? Yes, we suffer a little heartache but it doesn’t even compare to the joy of knowing they are now safe & happy. I think back to every one with affection. I also think forward to what their world will be now.

If we’ve helped only a little bit, we’ve done our part. We only had Gary for about 10-12 days. I even was seriously thinking of adopting him myself. But my township only allows three pets. Having Ursa and Happy Cat, when I have a foster, I’m up to the limit. If I kept Gary & got a foster, I’d be in violation & I don’t want anything to endanger my fostering.

It would have been a joy to keep Gary, but no more fosters? No, I’m too serious about fostering. Now I look forward to the next little buddy who needs me and Ursa.

As always, we’ve enjoyed the ride and and are glad you came along  this time. Thanks from all of us.

If you have any questions about fostering, please leave a comment here on the blog,  & I’ll try to answer or contact WPHS Volunteer & Foster Coordinator Chris Whyle at 412-321-4625, Extension 221.

Are you a responsible guardian?

A few weeks ago I as at the dog park when a woman asked, “Are you a dog walker for a living?”. “No, why?”, I replied. “Well, your always right by your dogs watching them very carefully. So I just figured…”. I asked, “Isn’t that what good dog moms do?” I’m well aware of my dogs short comings and accidents do happen, so why not try to keep them to a minimum.

It got me thinking about what it is to be a “good dog mom”. I think it really comes down to how you perceive your relationship with your pets. Are you an owner or guardian? Do you own your pet and they or used for a specific duty or do you guard your pet like it is a family member?

Ownership has many levels. To be a pet owner, means you provide the basics. Food, shelter, water and hopefully kind treatment. There’s also being a “good owner” where you provide the basics, kind treatment, toys, a bed or couch to sleep on, your up to date on vaccinations, your pet is spayed/neutered and maybe a nice fenced yard for exercise. You might even take your dog every Saturday morning to the park to run their pants off.

I think most would like to think they are “responsible owner”. You do all of the above, but your pet gets adequate exercise for the breed, they’re  current on all vaccinations, including Bordatella, get monthly flea treatments and heartworm preventive and maybe enroll your dog in an obedience class or two. Your dog is always walked on a leash in your neighborhood. Your cat is kept safely indoors. You realize your Bunnies, Guinea Pigs, etc… are prey animals and you keep them safely away from prey driven animals.

But being a guardian is so much more. Just like it sounds like. You guard your pets from harm. You do everything a responsible owner does and then a whole bunch more. You set an example of how your pets are cared for, you allow joggers or walkers  to move past you and your dogs with ease and without being intimidated by your dogs, you don’t let your cat poop in your neighbors garden, you pick up your dogs messes, you don’t allow your pet to be an nuisance.

Whether you have a small dog, big dog, a Bully, kitty, bunny or other pet, your job is to protect them from things that may harm them. When you let your kitty outdoors, there are tons of things that can hurt or kill them, including neighbors that are annoyed by them, cars, dogs, kids and the list goes on. Do you leave your Bunny or Guinea Pig unattended in an x-pen in the yard? What would happen if a dog wondered by or even one of those neighborhood cats? Even worse, what if they got out? They are prey animals after all!

Dogs! That’s a whole other conversation. The thing with dogs is that you don’t have to just protect them from things that might hurt them, but from things they bring on themselves too. I think back to a while back when I was at the park and as I entered, I a saw this 25-35 lb Jack Russell-ish mix. I walked in cautiously because I noticed the owner was on the completely other side of the park reading and I have 2 large dogs, one of which doesn’t take kindly to bossy little dogs. The dog ran over to its mom and was hanging out so I let one off of the leash. They little dog then came over and bit my dog and started running. All was fine. Another dog walked in. That dog and mine were having a blast playing chase and hunting chipmunks. All of a sudden, the little dog ran over, bit and growled at both dogs. They stopped and looked at him, then he came back at them again. This time it was on. Luckily, myself and the owner of the 3rd dog were right there and able to grab our dogs.

The little Jack almost got eaten because he was being a little jerk. Did the owner of the Jack notice the happenings? No, because she had her head in a book. When I brought it to her attention she responded, “Oh he’s fine. He can handle himself.”  If she had taken a second to look up from her book, she would have seen he was greatly outmatched. Was she a guardian to her dog? No. If she was, she would have seen him being a jerk and leashed him or left with him. Were the other girl and myself being guardian? Absolutely, our dogs could have been taken away from us and euthanized because they hurt or killed a dog that was picking a fight with them.

My question to everyone is are you a guardian for your pet or just owning it. During this time when Breed Specific Legislation is getting a bigger grip and affecting breeds like Mastiffs, Boxers, Chows, Sharpeis, Dog de Bordouxs, Newfoudlands, Pyrenese and mixes or possible mixes of them, not just Pits, Rotties and Dobies, are we protecting our pets? I hope that this blog, if nothing else, gets everyone thinking what  can I do to be a better guardian. If we all start thinking in terms of “guardianship” instead of “ownership” then owners who are back-yard breeders, puppymill operators and dog fighting rings would be exposed for what they are.  Irresponsible. Responsible guardians would no longer worry is my dog the next dog to be discriminated against.

The Adventures of Gary the Foster Dog Continue

Gary, the 8-month-old pit bull mix, & I have spent this first week of foster getting to know each other. He learns my habits while I learn his. It’s a fair exchange, I think.

He’s teaching me how he signals to go outside & do his stuff. That’s just what I wanted. Then I can tell his permanent new “parents” what to look for. Good boy!

And he’s learned he can sit in the kitchen while I cook, but not to expect anything that he’s allowed to pick up off the floor. He sits quietly & watches, not really expecting anything except an occasional “good boy.”

Today, Gary spent the day just hanging out, learning as he goes. He learned I don’t mean the fly swatter to hit HIM!! Just flies. But, oh, he was afraid of it. I put it on the floor & let him smell it. Explore it. But he soon backed away, well, ran away. Nope, doesn’t want anything to do with that.

I told him & I’ll tell him again & again: That will NEVER happen, Gary. No one will ever hit you. He trusts and he’s “my” dog, but he is afraid to be hit. If I say “go” and point away from myself, he cowers & runs from my hand. If I say “sit” while I’m standing, he lowers his head and runs away.

He’s quick to come back with encouragement and a happy voice from me. We’ll be working hard on that. He follows me everywhere & sleeps next to me on the floor when I’m watching TV, sitting outside or at the computer. He does love me and he’s learning that I will never do him harm. If he feels insecure about something, he’ll run to me & sit on my foot or lean against me as he looks at the scary thing. Sweet baby.

Gary also spent a lot of time today playing — with Ursa or alone with a toy. He just loves to play either way. He tires himself out big time. But after a little nap, he’s ready to go again. He is just a puppy, after all.

And running at 100 mph around the yard. Honestly, if you didn’t know he had just 3 legs, you would never guess. He loves to chase a ball (always returns it too) or just run like crazy.

We had our first company since Gary’s been here. He was terrific. Not timid with them and not obnoxious either. He approached respectfully with a calm demeanor and wagged his tail and waited to be petted. How good!

Gary watches as Ursa, our own Pit, gets table scraps and he doesn’t. He’s very good about it, though, and just watches, never approaching.

As a foster parent, I think it’s my job not to encourage what might be seen as bad habits by an adoptive family. Nor do I let him sit on the furniture. That might seem cruel since Ursa is allowed, but Gary’s not my dog. A potential adopter might see those things as undesirable. Once he gets his real home, his new family can spoil him all they want. But, I feel it’s my job to make him as good as I can to increase his chances of adoption.

But, you see, everyone who fosters might not feel that way. Someone else might feel the need to foster just so the animals can get away from the shelter & get a vacation from the shelter to be hugged and cuddled. That’s okay too!!

Our dogs, cats, bunnies and other critters are fostered for reasons that are as varied as the reasons they ended up in the shelter in the first place.

If someone tries fostering & decides it’s just not for them after all. That’s okay too. Or, it might be that a person falls so in love with their foster, they just can’t part with them & end up adopting them themselves & that’s okay too, for sure!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that no style of fostering is more important or less important than another. All are needed!

Right now, it’s Gary, Ursa and me. And we’re doing just fine. He’s ready for his forever home right now. I’m just trying to make it a little easier to get one. That’s how I see my fostering job. Just a little stop on the trail home. Just a little help along the way.

The Adventures of Gary the Foster Dog, Day 3

Day 3:
Ursa, our own wonderful pit, just spent about 30 minutes teaching Gary how to play.
Yesterday, Ursa was a little reserved about playing with Gary. I watched the two of them closely while they were playing.
Gary was coming at Ursa with teeth & giving her a bite each time he lunged at her. She wasn’t going for that.
This morning, as I noticed what was going on, I began to say “no” when Gary would lunge with teeth. I blocked his muzzle a few times too.
Ursa was very glad. She really wants to play with him, but he apparently was too rough. Maybe it was that before he came here he had been playing with his same age kennel-mate in the way that puppies play – rough.
Sweet Ursa just now played with him, but on her terms. She seemed to change her attitude when she saw I was on her side, and defending her in a reasonable manner. She picked up on it. Knowing Ursa, she wanted to be reassured she was doing the right thing.
She had started the play this time. Gary was still biting at her & landing his hits pretty much. She started to roll slightly away from him & stopped him with her own muzzle. She doesn’t really bite when she plays. Just play bites. No real ones.
She threw herself on her back a few times & let him come at her. When he got there, she responded by moving quickly so he couldn’t grab her leg or her neck. She pinned him once & held him there for about 30 seconds. She really worked hard!! What a girl!
They finished their play on congenial terms. Gary is learning to play. Learning it doesn’t have to be painful for either player. Ursa is such an incredible dog. Instead of responding with a like bite, she taught him, in a few minutes, what he needs to know to become a good playmate for possibly another dog in his new family.   I just love you, Ursa! You make my job so much easier.
Just busted Gary beginning to chew on a bookcase! He had two toys he had been chewing on then apparently nonchalantly switched over to the bookcase. A good, strong “No” put a stop to it. I didn’t even need to leave my seat at the computer. He’s now napping. He seems to be just learning what he can and cannot do.
Since we don’t know anything of Gary’s background, we know nothing about what he knows and doesn’t know.
When he first came home with me, he immediately shuffled next to the trash can in the kitchen. It has a lid on it, but he was taking a sideways wiff with his little nostrils right next to that lid. “NO” I said. He turned away & hasn’t revisited it since. Good boy! He just needs to learn the rules.
I approach all my fosters with the assumption that they know nothing about living inside a house with people & other animals. I find it a necessary and helpful stance. I try to anticipate their moves BEFORE they do the wrong thing. Watching and learning their body language can really tip you off.
I’m sure everyone doesn’t look at or need to see fostering as I do. I take home dogs that needs a little “etiquette” added to their personalities. I also have taken very young ones, rowdy ones and one recovering from some trauma. Gary seems to be all of the above!
But he has the basics of living in a house. He just needs a “tune up.”
He has started letting me know when he needs to go outside! But, again, I need to watch him closely for his signal. Every dog seems to be different on signals.
Oops! Gotta run.  Gary just came into my office & looked back at me as he walked away. Must be time for an outside trip.  Odd how little things come to mean a lot.

The Adventures of Gary the Foster Dog, Day 2

Day 2:
Overnight, Gary was pretty quiet in his crate, but did break out into barking one time. I went to the crate & said “NO!” in a really deep stern voice. He sat down in there & looked at me. There was no more barking even when he heard me stirring in the bedroom when I was up for the day.
In the morning, we went outside immediately so he could do his stuff. Gary seems so used to being on a lead, that when we walk in my fenced yard, he still stays right by my side. In fact, he potties right beside me. Once, he peed on my foot! I didn’t know he was doing it at first. There isn’t any leg lifting with a 3-legged dog.
I had to go out for an appointment shortly after sunrise & Gary had to go back into the crate. He didn’t have a problem going back in. I was back in an hour & we went right outside. Bingo. He did it outside again. Good boy!
Gary delights in the boxful of dog toys, but I had to take it away as he was chewing them all to pieces. He now gets one toy at a time, then I change it before he chews it to bits. He plays very well alone or with Ursa.
Since I’m home all day, I have the opportunity to watch Gary’s every move. Great advantage.
Ursa doesn’t seem thrilled by him for some reason. She wants to play but once they engage, she’s backing off. That’s something I’ll need to watch more closely.
What I have discovered in watching him so much is a situation because he has only 3 legs. He can’t scratch everywhere he’d like to! Yes, he can sit & reach  his left rear leg up to scratch the left side of his neck or left ear, but without a right rear leg, it’s pretty hard to get those right side itches.
So……I started scratching that side for him & he was just in heaven! He leaned into the scratch. I scratched him for about 2 minutes and he seemed so relieved. He probably hasn’t had a good scratch on that side since the amputation. I was glad to help. Now it’s on my agenda – Note to self: Good scratching daily!
I needed to gas up my car, so I figured I’d take Ursa with me for a ride (one of her all-time fav things). Gary went into the crate easily. I wondered how he would be totally alone in the house, without Ursa or me. He was quiet enough as we pulled away.
Different story upon our return. When we got out of the car, oh my goodness, we could hear Gary barking and barking. Loud! Good thing my neighbors’ houses are not right up beside mine. They wouldn’t have liked it.
He was instantly quiet when I opened the door. Hmmmm.  He needs to learn to be quiet even when we’re not home. We’ll work on that.
Gary & I went to the Mall at Robinson for the usual Thursday night off-site event where some of our available WPHS dogs and cats meet & greet the public.
He was so good on the ride to the mall and so good the whole evening. We met many folks and he was quite exhausted by the end. He slept all the way home.
“Home.” Yes, it’s only a temporary home but I felt so good taking him home instead of having him return to the shelter. The shelter does everything they can to make a dog feel comfortable & loved.
But even with a great staff and lots of volunteers, a dog can’t be as satisfied as he would be to go “home.”
We can’t offer a permanent home to our fosters, but it made me feel good just asking Gary if he was ready to go “home.”  Everybody likes going home. He was so  happy to come back here — I think he smiled.
Right now, he’s asleep by Ursa on the carpeted floor. Earlier he was out running around on the grass. Hmmm… carpet and grass underfoot. Both always seems so welcome by our fosters.
Hey, little buddy, that’s what this is all about — for you to remember what it’s like to be home & to help you to be more adoptable and get that forever home.