By: Karel Minor, President/CEO of Humane Pennsylvania

Did I get you again?  It works every year.  Of course, as a 501c3 charity, Humane Pennsylvania does not and never has made endorsements in elections.  While there are political action and politically partisan animal welfare groups out there who legally can and do make endorsements, we are not one of those. I’m glad we aren’t.

Why?  Because we are here to help animals and the people who care about them.  As soon as we pick a side, any side, we lose the other side.  Instead of picking sides, we pick issues.  What policies and laws will best help animals, animal caretakers, and the organizations which work on their behalf?  That’s our focus exclusively when we wade into “political” discussions.

Humane Pennsylvania knows that every elected official and every candidate is a potential ally on issues important to our work.  That’s why we engage with all of them, regardless of policy affiliation.  It turns out donkeys, elephants, and greens all have cats and dogs at home.  If ever there was a constituency that crosses party lines, it’s the animals who share our lives.  That’s why we have the support of elected officials of all stripes and parties.

Does that mean that it doesn’t matter who you vote for?  Of course not.  Heck, I’m as partisan as it comes – personally.  Professionally, my ultimate goal is to work to have any candidate of any persuasion to be right on the issues important to animals, and if it’s because they are a little afraid of voters, that’s OK.  It’s what I call the “furry third rail”.  If every candidate would all be as pro-animal welfare as they are pro-Grandma and apple pie, we could vote for whoever we wanted knowing that we’d only have healthcare, government spending, and our personal favorite number on the Bill of Rights to fight over.

Not many people are single issue voters so it’s not even reasonable to expect people to vote exclusively on animal issues.  Instead, we ask you press the candidates you support in your party to be good to animals and do things which makes the work of Humane Pennsylvania and our peers to be easier, not harder.  When we get two great animal welfare candidates running against each other, animals win – no matter which candidate wins.

For those who are interested in learning about the animal stance of candidates, all you need to do is Google “Animal Issues Endorsements” or something similar.  You’ll get more information than you ever wanted on endorsements based on cat and dog issues, farm animals, wildlife, or platypus conservation, whatever is important to you as a voter.

We share more than we don’t with one another, no matter how loud things get at election time.  One of them is a love for the animals that share our lives.  Go ahead and vote.  Then go hug your pet and remember that more people have a pet to hug than will ever vote for any politician.  It’ll make you feel better about the world, and about the idiot next door with the sign for the candidate you can’t stand.

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by Katie Bergeman, Animal Care Technician for Humane Pennsylvania

As soon as you hear team building what comes to mind? Do you see a bunch of people hand in hand trying to figure out a problem? Team building is meant to bring individuals together to accomplish the same goal. Incorporating team building into a meeting or event can not only help staff get to know each other but can also help make that meeting or event not so much of a drag. But how can you get people excited to participate in a team building activity? By choosing the most appropriate activity to do for your group.

Activities range in time, number of participants, equipment needed and the overall message or take away from it. If you have a group of 40 people and your activity needs equipment for each person, maybe try finding a different activity that would work better for a larger group if you don’t have the means to get the equipment. If you have only 20 minutes for an activity before a meeting, making sure you have enough time to set up, explain and actually execute the activity is really important. Trying to do an activity meant to be an hour long in 20 minutes could just add unneeded stress and frustration to the group. The other thing to keep in mind is how well your group knows each other. Some activities do involve holding hands, being blind folded, sometimes even lifting people up. So gauging the comfortability of the group beforehand is important.

At the Humane League of Lancaster County, we have monthly meetings to ensure everyone is up to date with important information, procedures and events. I was given the great opportunity to use my background knowledge from college to provide team building activities to my fellow employees before the meetings. I tailor the activities for the group size and timeframe. When we had new employees hired, I would gear the activity for more of an ice breaker activity. One activity that I did was called “The Toilet Paper Game”. This activity involved taking a toilet paper roll (to save on toilet paper, I used small pieces of paper) and passed it around the group, telling them “Take as much as you think you need”. Of course I got questions like “why?” or “what do I need it for?” but all I replied was “take as much as you think you need”. So naturally some people took a whole bunch and some more cautious people only took a couple. Once everyone had their pieces then I said that for every piece you need to tell us one fact about yourself. Some people we learned four facts about them and others we learned twenty plus facts about them.

On the other hand when we had more senior staff and knew each other pretty well, I geared the activity more towards team building. One activity that I facilitated at one of our staff enrichment days, was called “Minefield”. This activity involved a minefield of different objects. We used safety cones, frisbees, crates and anything to create an obstacle. From there I split the group in two and handed each group a blind fold. The objective was to get everyone through the minefield blind folded. The teams could decide to all work together, pair up within the group or potentially have one person lead everyone through the minefield. As a facilitator, I had to change up the course as they were going through and I also noticed that one person from each group stepped up to lead everyone through. So in order to get more involvement within the group I told the ‘leaders’ that they had to remain quiet for a little to encourage other people to step up to guide other people through. Everyone made it through the minefield unscathed.

Team building has definitely helped improve the morale in the shelter. It’s tough working in the animal care industry but when you have an amazing team to support and help you, you can get through it! We are constantly learning from each other and growing together. By doing these team building activities, it may seem just like fun but there is so much more. As a team, we are learning about each other, trusting each other and working together to solve a common goal. All of which can be translated and used in the shelter.

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By: Dr. Jackie Connolly, Associate Veterinarian for Humane Veterinary Hospitals

 Imagine you are a cat; living your best life on a sunny windowsill, thinking about when your human’s are going to bring you your next meal.  Suddenly your owner places you in an unfamiliar carrier, puts you in a moving vehicle and brings you to a place where they touch your ears, look in your mouth and poke you with needles. Scary right?  Now imagine you are a dog, about to go for a car ride. You are so excited to go to the park, but then your owner pulls up to the scary building where they trim your nails. You hate having your paws touched, especially since a few times the nail trim really hurt! Your owner pulls you by the leash and through the door as you try your hardest to pull in the other direction. When the nurse goes to pet you, you start to urinate because you are so scared of what they might do.

For many years we did not consider the emotional health of our pets, even in the veterinary setting.  Now, we know that we can do so much better to keep our patients free from anxiety and stress during their visit.  Through open communication, proper planning, and the use of toys and treats, we at Humane Veterinary Hospitals know how to make your pet’s experience at the veterinarian a good one.

Identifying Fear and Anxiety

 Since our patients cannot speak to us, we have to rely on behaviors to identify fear and anxiety.  When dogs and cats are stressed, they show many nonverbal pleas for help before reaching the point of ‘fight or flight.’   These behaviors may include shaking, tucking their tail, ears back, tense body, enlarged pupils, showing the whites of their eyes, yawning, or avoidance.  As with humans, fear may not always be rational and once our pets feel they are in danger, it can be difficult to tell them everything is going to be ok. If my patients are running from me, urinating on themselves, or trying to bite, continuing to push them is the worst thing I could do.

Luckily, our animal care team can identify these behaviors, as well as common stressors, and take action before they become a problem. We can also use rewards and distractions to keep our patients calm in uncomfortable or painful situations.

Communication

The first phone call you make to the veterinarian is the best time to voice any behavioral concerns you have with your pet. This is especially important if your pet has certain “triggers” for fear such as other dogs, men, loud noises, carriers, stainless steel tables, nail trimmers, etc.  Some pets may even have a history of lunging, biting, and scratching (the ‘fight’ response of fear) and may require sedatives for their visit.  By discussing your pet’s behavioral needs with our receptionist or nurse, we can make accommodations such as, scheduling at a less busy hour, or for a longer appointment slot. We can also address these behavioral concerns at the time of the appointment to make sure your next visit is even better!

Communication is a two way street. Our team will make it a priority to explain to you what needs to be done or what cannot be done given your pet’s emotional state. Our staff are trained in animal behavioral and body language, allowing us to identify when your pet is feeling stressed or anxious. The goal is to identify what works best for the individual patient and to make the experience positive.

Planning for Your Visit

Fear and stress in our patients may start as soon as they see their carrier or are put into the car.  As we know from dealing with stress in our own lives, it can become exponentially worse the longer we are in the situation. If a patient enters our hospital already stressed, this makes it even harder for us to ensure a positive experience for them. The good news is that there are things owners can do at home to help.

It helps to keep our canine patients retrained during transport so they do not become car sick or feel unstable. Non slip liners can be used for their comfort. Training your dog to sit calmly in the car before making a trip to the vet’s office can also be very helpful. The use of classical music, phermone sprays, and puzzle toys can also help keep your dog distracted and free from stress.

Cats are very sensitive to loud noises and changes in their environment, especially new smells and people. It is best practice to get them used to their carrier as a kitten, and leave it out at all times.  Though the use of pheromone sprays (Feliway), toys, and treats, the carrier can be made into a ‘safe space.’ I recommend my clients purchase a hard carrier that opens easily from the top. This allows our patients to feel secure, and makes it easier for us to do our examination where they feel safe.  Keeping a soft, clean blanket in the carrier and placing a towel over the carrier can keep our feline friends comfortable and allow them to hide.  Owners should never force cats into carriers or attempt to wrangle a cat who is biting or scratching. Always call your veterinarian if you are having trouble, so we can figure out a new plan that works.

The Power of the Food Reward

At the Humane Veterinary Hospital, we use peanut butter, squeeze cheese, hard treats, whipped cream and even baby food to keep your pet happy.  Sometimes this means putting peanut butter all over the wall during an exam, putting treats on the scale, or putting cheese in a muzzle. This allows us to do a physical exam, get a blood sample, or treat an ear infection without having to use heavy restraint or cause the fight or flight response. In some patients anxiety medications or sedatives can be used to improve your pet’s overall experience.  We also use pheromone sprays, towel wraps, and classical music.  Our nurses and doctors will record what works and what doesn’t work for each individual patient including their favorite foods, places they don’t like being touched, and if they do better with certain staff members.  We also offer ‘happy visits,’ or visits that allow you to bring your pet in as a training exercise, where we shower them with food and love and avoid any of the scary stuff. By doing this we can make sure that at each appointment, they are as excited to see us as we are to see them.

Focusing on keeping our patients free from fear while at our hospital is one more way we can keep them healthy. It allows us to do a more thorough examination, and get diagnostic procedures done in a timely manner.  We love when they greet us with tail wags and kisses and are committed to helping you make that happen.

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By: Suzanne D’Alonzo, Community Outreach Programs Manager for Humane Pennsylvania

Perhaps you’ve been to a drive-in movie.  Surely you’ve gotten fast food through a drive-in restaurant.  Maybe you have recently attended a drive-in graduation?  Well, Humane Pennsylvania is happy to give “Drive-in” a whole new meaning!

Since late spring, we’ve resumed serving our community with a new form of affordable, accessible pet care:  the Drive-in Vaccination/Microchip Clinic.  Our previous vaccination clinic offerings were walk-in models, with many people gathering in the same room- clearly something that had to be tweaked once COVID-19 struck.

Wanting to hit the ground running, we contacted other shelters and health departments that had been offering drive-in vaccination services for years to see how they had operated such clinics.  Using their tips, as well as some of their “lessons learned,” our clinics have gone smoothly.

The clinics are now popping up around Reading.  They started in our own Humane Veterinary Hospital parking lot, but it’s made sense to move them to various locations, just as we did with our original vaccine clinic model.  Each new location has the potential to expand our audience, which is just what we want:  the more people that know about the Drive-in Clinics, the better!  Different spots also mean that we get the chance to create positive new relationships with other businesses and organizations in the community, and that always opens opportunities.  For example, we’ll be in the parking lot of Nightclub Reverb for one of the October clinics (thanks, Reverb!).  Nightclubs previously had been overlooked, not coming to mind as an obvious shelter or vet hospital connection.  This gave us the chance to ask, “why not?!”  Their parking lot is a great space for our Drive-in Clinic, plus their neighborhood and their general audience are pet owners too!

So, what’s the goal of our Drive-in Vaccination/Microchip Clinics?  To get as many dogs and cats vaccinated and chipped as possible, of course!  Drive-in Clinics let us offer affordable, accessible vaccines for some of the diseases that are most dangerous to our pets.  (We’re able to provide Rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats, DA2PPV for dogs and FVRCP for cats.)  And the microchipping increases the chance that a lost pet gets reunited quickly.

It’s a Pay-What-You-Can model that lets us provide services to everyone.  Our cost is about $10 per service.  Pet owners who can pay for the services their pets receive helps cover our costs.  The pet owners who contribute a little more help us to provide services to those who can’t pay anything.  And for those pet owners who can’t afford to pay anything, it’s free; we happily vaccinate/microchip those pets too.

Pet caregivers register ahead of time, online or by phone.  This lets us keep the flow of cars going as they arrive.   Our team of staff and volunteers check clients in, line up the cars, review previous vet records, and confirm the vaccinations and/or microchips that will be given.  We serve dogs and cats on separate dates, so kittles don’t have to hear barking (we know the car ride is tough enough).  In turn, pets are taken to the vet’s station, vaccinated and/or microchipped, and placed back in their car before they know it.  Owners conveniently and safely stay in their vehicles, with the whole process taking only minutes.

Opening up Drive-in Clinic options can really be a game changer for pet owners.  It’s another tool in the toolbox for taking care of pets.  For some of our clients this is their only opportunity for veterinary care for their pet at this time.  For others, pets may get the “basic” vaccinations from us, letting their owner sock away money for additional vet care, like a dental cleaning or other vaccines their pet may need.  With COVID’s impact, our clinics are seeing an even wider range of clients, and we’re here for them all.

We’ll continue to explore how we can best serve our community.  With so many things that are currently in flux, it’s likely that we may tweak the Drive-in option or introduce new options.  What won’t change is our commitment to working towards every pet getting what they need to be happy and healthy and at home.

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Weeble: An Adoption Story

September 1st, 2020 | Posted by Chelsea Cappellano in Uncategorized - (6 Comments)
By: Laura Gibbs, Animal Care Technician for the Humane League of Lancaster County

In January of 2017, a man brought a small cat in a laundry hamper into our shelter. He said he found her on the side of the road. She was near death: pale, sick, severely emaciated, and she couldn’t walk or stand. She also had the worst ear infection I had ever seen.

After a thorough exam, our medical team was uncertain if she was going to survive. Regardless, we had hope. She was put on a strong regiment of antibiotics, and I opted to bring her home into foster care with me. I named her Weeble after those toy commercials back in the 90s, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”

For the first few weeks, Weeble’s care was almost around the clock. She needed medications, regular cleanings for her ear infection, and general help getting around. But through it all, she was a trooper who purred constantly and was always down for a cuddle and a head bonk. She had won me over, pretty quickly to be honest, and I promised her that if she made it through this, I would adopt her.

Then, almost a month into her stay with me, came the scariest night. I noticed something wasn’t right— she was very lethargic and just not herself. I took her temperature and my heart sank when the thermometer read 105—I ended up taking it three times in case I was wrong. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if she would make it through the night. But I stayed up with her; I had the window open in the room she was staying in with a fan on (in the middle of February) and covered her in bags of frozen peas to try and get her temperature down.

Thankfully, Weeble made it through the night. That morning, I took her to the shelter to see what we could do and get her on the path back to recovery. I will be forever grateful to my coworkers that day—she was very touch and go and her fever kept spiking, but they got her through it. A couple days and a tearful reunion later, Weeble was back at my house.

Over the next few weeks, Weeble seemed to be feeling better, so I started to introduce her to my crew at home. She and Henry (my blind cat) became inseparable and could often be found curled up in his favorite igloo bed together (while Henry groomed her). It was during this time she was well enough to be spayed, and during surgery, our vets found a large polyp that they removed and a cleft palate that they fixed. After she healed from surgery, Weeble started to play and play hard—and almost two months to the day when she was brought in was the first time she did stairs, this also happened to be the day I adopted her.

Then, Weeble very suddenly took a turn for the worse. She again became very lethargic and had an extremely high fever. We had taken her to the veterinary hospital the day before, but this time it would be different. Although her fever broke, this illness was one too many. I stayed up with her all night again, and at 4:55am in the morning, Weeble passed away.

This is not the end of Weeble’s story. She still lives on in our hearts. I even got a tattoo memorializing her, and I think of her almost every day. She taught me determination—like when I saw her play so hard she would pant and when she did steps for the first time; she fell down but got right back up and did them again. She taught me courage—for a cat that was found on the side of the road, she had to go through a lot of medications and ear cleanings multiple times a day all while she purred and made biscuits. And she taught me how to simply be happy—because I think, at the end of the day, for those good few weeks, that’s what she was… simply happy.

It’s been two years since Weeble has passed, and I wouldn’t trade the two short months I had with her for anything. I know firsthand how hard it can be to adopt those hard luck cases, but it’s always worth it… especially when you realize that you’re giving them a real chance at happiness. While you may not have them for long, for these animals, it’s all the time in the world. The rewards and the lessons they teach us outweigh the sadness they leave when they cross the bridge.

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What is Heartworm?

August 24th, 2020 | Posted by Chelsea Cappellano in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)
By: Lisa Malkin, Director of Hospital Administration for Humane Veterinary Hospitals — Information provided by the American Heartworm Society
  • What is Heartworm?

Heartworm is a preventable, but serious and potentially deadly, parasite that primarily infects dogs, cats and ferrets.

  • How is Heartworm transmitted?

Heartworms can only be transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, young heartworms called microfilariae enter into that mosquito’s system. Within two weeks, the microfilariae develop into infective larvae inside the mosquito; these infective larvae can be transmitted to another animal when this mosquito takes its next blood meal.

The infective larvae mature into adult heartworms in approximately six months. During the first three months, the larvae migrate through the animal’s body, eventually reaching the blood vessels of the lungs. During the last three months, the immature worms continue to develop and grow into adults, with females growing to lengths of up to 14 inches. The worms damage the blood vessels, and reduce the heart’s pumping ability, resulting in severe lung and heart disease. When the animal shows signs of illness due to adult heartworm infection, it is called heartworm disease.

  • How can I tell if my dog has Heartworm Disease?

If your dog has been recently or mildly infected with heartworms, he/she may show no signs of illness until the adult worms have developed in the lungs and signs of heartworm disease are observed. As the disease progresses, your dog may cough, become lethargic, lose his/her appetite or have difficulty breathing. You may notice that your dog seems to tire rapidly after only moderate exercise.

  • Where are Heartworms found?

Geographically, heartworms are a potential threat in every state as well as in many other countries around the world. All dogs, regardless of age, sex, or living environment, are susceptible to heartworm infection.

  • What pets should be tested for Heartworm Disease?

Because heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, any pet exposed to mosquitoes should be tested. This includes pets that only go outside occasionally. Remember that mosquitoes can also get into homes, putting indoor-only pets at risk as well.

  • How the Veterinarian tests for Heartworm Disease?

Blood tests are performed by your veterinarian to detect the presence of adult heartworm infection (>6 month old infections) in your dog. The antigen test is most commonly performed, and is very accurate in dogs. Antigen tests detect the presence of adult female heartworms, and antibody tests determine if your pet has been exposed to heartworms.

Further tests, such as chest radiographs (x-rays), a blood profile and an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart), may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis, to evaluate the severity of the disease, and to determine the best treatment plan for your dog.

All dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection, and this can usually be done during a routine visit for preventive care.

 

Following are guidelines on testing and timing:

  • Puppies under 7 months of age can be started on heartworm prevention without a heartworm test (it takes at least 6 months for a dog to test positive after it has been infected), but should be tested 6 months after your initial visit, tested again 6 months later and yearly after that to ensure they are heartworm-free.
  • Adult dogs over 7 months of age and previously not on a preventive need to be tested prior to starting heartworm prevention.  They, too, need to be tested 6 months and 12 months later and annually after that.
  • You need to consult your veterinarian, and immediately re-start your dog on monthly preventive—then retest your dog 6 months later. The reason for re-testing is that heartworms must be approximately 7 months old before the infection can be diagnosed.

Annual testing is necessary, even when dogs are on heartworm prevention year-round, to ensure that the prevention program is working. Heartworm medications are highly effective, but dogs can still become infected. If you miss just one dose of a monthly medication—or give it late—it can leave your dog unprotected. Even if you give the medication as recommended, your dog may spit out or vomit a heartworm pill—or rub off a topical medication. Heartworm preventives are highly effective, but not 100 percent effective. If you don’t get your dog tested, you won’t know your dog needs treatment.

 

  • If my dog tests positive, how can my dog be treated?

Heartworm is a progressive, life-threatening disease. The earlier it is detected and treated, the better the chances that your pet will recover and have less complications.

As with most medical problems, it is much better to prevent heartworm infection than to treat it. However, if your dog does become infected with heartworms there is an FDA-approved treatment available. There is substantial risk involved in treating a dog for heartworms. However, serious complications are much less likely in dogs that are in good health and when you carefully follow your veterinarian’s instructions.

The American Heartworm Society recommends testing pets every 12 months for heartworm and giving your pet a heartworm preventive 12 months a year.

For more information, visit: www.avma.org or

American Heartworm Society   www.heartwormsociety.org

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By: Suzanne D’Alonzo, Community Outreach Programs Manager for Humane Pennsylvania

Our Community Outreach Team meets many pet owners facing complex issues, and Spike’s Pet Pantry lets us repeatedly connect with clients.  Before social distancing protocols were put into place, we knew a fair amount about the pets, situations, and families of our pet pantry clients.  We’ll get back to a time when our client connections will again be more interactional and conversational, less transactional.  And thinking about the conversations that currently have to be skipped as we limit client interactions got me thinking about conversations I’ve had.  And I realize I’ve learned a lot from those I serve.

Spike’s Pet Pantry clients are motivated to find ways to meet their pets’ needs.  While every client and their situation is unique, similar threads crop up in the stories:  pets are considered family and the fear of not being able to provide weighs on pet owners.  No matter the situation that led them to our program, our pet pantry clients have a variety of ways to stretch their limited resources.  They do their best and that keeps their beloved pets in their homes.  Frankly, it’s impressive.

It’s also universal.  A colleague is publishing his multi-city study of how pet owners cope with pet food insecurity.  The lessons I find here in Berks and Lancaster counties match those of pet owners around the country.  Effort and ingenuity keep animals in their homes and out of the shelter system; that’s a win for everyone.  Knowing details about how owners provide for their pets means our program has important facts.  Having these details means the opportunity to improve our program so it’s the best fit for pet owners in need.

Owners tell us about how they forgo other purchases so they can provide for their pet.  Sometimes it’s the stuff that makes life easier- pre-made meals from the grocery or a restaurant after a tough week, a favorite treat, or a little something new.  Sometimes it’s a tougher decision, with pet owners juggling which bills get addressed right away or deciding which prescriptions can wait.  It’s usually about making things work on a fixed income, even creating a timeline for purchases of all the things that are needed- the family’s food, school supplies, gas for the car, pet food, etc.

We hear about future plans for purchases of pet-related items- which stores have what on sale, what coupons can be used, the best places for online pet-supply shopping, etc.  That might leave room for vet care or grooming supplies when they’re needed.  Often it comes down to strategy: supplement pet food with what comes from Spike’s Pet Pantry, purchasing only a small amount if the month’s allotment isn’t enough.  Or consolidate pet supply purchases, getting only a larger, cost-effective bag for when more food is needed.  Switch to a cheaper brand when possible.  Save some of the brand or flavor a pet really likes in case it’s needed to convince pets to eat a flavor they don’t like, so no food goes to waste.  Many creative ideas are shared with us and we see the amazing budgeting people use for their pets!

Clients will stretch dog food by adding cooked rice, sometimes vegetables, to their dogs’ meals.  They’ll convince finicky cats to eat with a few choice bits of their own dinner meat added in.  And we’ve learned about how pets other types of pets’ meals get managed when things are tight (did you know the best place to get a bale of hay for a rabbit?  I didn’t either until I got the scoop).  We also know that pet owners will skip meals themselves or share whatever they have with their pets if they aren’t able to secure an ample amount of pet food.

I’ve heard clients trading babysitting favors with relatives for a bag of dog food.  I’ve known owners to jointly purchase a big bag of pet food and split it, benefiting from the savings of bulk buying. Others borrow money or directly ask for pet food from friends or relatives.  I know folks who “share custody” or have sent pets to temporarily stay with an ex or a relative so pets’ needs get met.  It all works: the pets get fed and are still with the people who love them.

We even hear about some of the choices that, initially, seem to make less sense but that are logical in the long run.  Some of our clients may have long walks to get food home, or may be facing an eviction or upcoming move, or may have trouble lifting or storing larger amounts.  These are times we’ve come to realize when pet owners may need to take smaller quantities than they’d like to, or, when purchasing additional pet food, have to purchase smaller quantities at higher prices given their circumstances.  I recall one pet owner who knew she would likely be living in her car between rentals and did not have the space for a large amount of pet food.  Another had to get a ride from a friend while the friend made work deliveries.  Only so much would fit in the car at the same time as the other delivery items.  Yet another was a senior citizen taking care of her older sister.  Her elderly two dogs and cat were her world.  She was only able to lift about 5 pounds at a time, and she planned carefully as to how she could manage to get, then unload, a larger amount.

Since Spike’s Pet Pantry permits someone other than the client to make the monthly food pick up it’s pretty common that neighbors come together, sharing a ride.  That saves on gas, letting limited funds be wisely used.  There are a number of clients who pick up for relatives- one vehicle that will make the circuit between granny’s, an uncle’s, and home.  This works to get pet food to those who don’t have reliable transportation, who don’t have the time to make it to our pantry, or who physically cannot get out to pick up supplies.

I’ve been inspired listening to clients share what works for them.  I hear different perspectives, and one is not more “correct” than another.  Some clients who own both a dog and a cat will skip getting food for one type pet if they still have a supply at home, in hopes this helps everyone in the program get what they need.  I find this seems common with pet owners of a single cat or a petite dog.  Other clients go home with with the maximum we are able to provide, even if they still have some food, in hopes they might skip coming the following month if they have enough.

Pet owners facing pet food insecurity are doing a good job with what they have.  As I continue to meet clients- and get to know them, their families, their pets, and what’s happening in their lives- I really appreciate what they tell us.  Sharing your life and its challenges is uncomfortable, which makes the information all the more valuable.  Understanding how solutions to challenges can be cobbled together holds lessons.  It’s that information that help us modify and improve current programs.  It also lets us consider future projects or programming that could further assist wonderful pet owners who are finding ways to keep their pets in their homes!

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By: Lexi Vollmer, Animal Care Technician at the Humane League of Lancaster County

Bringing a new cat home is an exciting experience and one that should be positive for all involved. In order for the transition from shelter to home to go as smoothly as possible your new kitty friend should be given a decompression period. You may be asking just what does that mean exactly? A decompression period is a low stress time where you set up your feline companion in an area where they will feel safe and secure as they adjust to their new environment. A whole new house or apartment, people, sights, smells, and maybe even other animal housemates can be overwhelming for any animal.

So what steps are needed to set your cat up for success? The first step, preferably before the new arrival comes home, is to designate a room for the new addition. This can be a bedroom, bathroom, or other smaller space where the cat can feel safe and isolated from the rest of the house at first. This room should contain a litter box, food, water, toys, and places for the kitty to hide if they want to. This will help to establish where the cat can find all their basic necessities in a quick and easy manner. No searching the whole home for the litter box or food. This room will also provide a space where the cat can acclimate to its surroundings gradually. Being thrust into an entire large area, especially after being more confined in a shelter, can be a shock to the cat.

The physical environment is just one aspect of your cat’s new life, they must also adjust to the other occupants of the home. If there are other pets in the house, it is a good idea to take the carrier your new cat came home in and leave it out for your established animal(s) to smell. Scent carries a wide array of information for dogs and cats. By leaving the carrier out with the scent of the new cat inside, you are giving your other pets the least stressful introduction to their new friend. This way no animals have to invade each other’s personal space in order to get the initial information via smell. Another soft introduction between pets can happen at the door to the decompression area. This door serves as a visual and physical barrier, limiting the stress involved with interactions. However, the animals can still smell and hear each other under the door. This is helpful because the fear of meeting the other animal is reduced due to the safety of the door.

When it comes to slow introductions, it is not just other pets that need to give the new kitty time to adjust. Try to keep the number of people interacting with the new cat to a minimum at first. Too many people coming in and out before the cat has adjusted can be stressful and make the cat more likely to hide. Try to put yourself in their position, bounced around from place to place, and now a bunch of strange people keep invading your space and interacting with you before you have gotten a chance to settle in. That can be quite overwhelming for anyone or animal. It can be hard, resisting the urge to show off your new feline friend, but just give them a little time and eventually they will be ready to introduce themselves to your friends and family.

A question you may be asking at this point is, how long do we give a cat to decompress? And that is an excellent question. It will vary from cat to cat, each has their own personality, experiences, and comfort levels. All these factors play a part in how fast they will adjust to a new environment. For some cats it may be as quick as a day or two, for some more shy cats. A few weeks. To know when it is best to open your cat up to the rest of the home will depend on their body language. Is the cat confident, coming up to you when you enter, or trying to make a break for it when you open the door? If so, this can indicate that they are feeling comfortable and are ready to explore more of the living space. Allow them to get a feel for the rest of home, but still keep their room set up as a safe space in case they need a place to get away if stress rises.

Once your new cat has acclimated to their new environment you can change the placement of their litter box, food and water if you no longer want it stored in the decompression room. These items should have the cat’s scent on them by now, making them easier for the cat to locate them when needed. It also helps to show your cat where you have moved these items to. Now that your new cat has been fully integrated into the household you can watch your kitty really come into their own. Sometimes even after a proper decompression period. It may take weeks or even months for a shelter animal to display their full personality. You may begin to see small quirks pop up or watch as your more timid cat opens up and gains some confidence. As with most things, the transition back into a home takes time and patience, but the reward for both you and your new cat is tremendous.

From personal experience I can say this process can surprise you. I brought home my first cat last summer (as a foster fail). She began in my bedroom. The very first thing she did was hide under my bed. I wanted to interact with her badly but didn’t push it, just put her dishes under the bed so she could eat where she felt comfortable. The next morning I was in for a huge surprise. I woke up to her curled up in my chest, purring up a storm. For context, she was not the nicest resident in the shelter so to see this side of her actually made me cry. The longer she stayed the more I saw the traits her previous owner had described come out. She loves cardboard scratchers, climbing up high where she shouldn’t and knocking items off of said high places. After a week and a half I slowly began to bring her on trips downstairs to meet my family’s other pets. She had never lived with other pets before and was very scared. The way she manifested her fears and insecurities was by being the biggest baddest one in the room. To be honest, getting her accustomed to the other animals is still an ongoing project. I think her biggest breakthrough was when she met a second foster, a small but spunky kitten. My cat was confused and grumpy at first. But gradually became interested and even tried to play with the kitten near the end of its stay.

Now, I have a cat that was quite a handful from the get go, so her journey is taking longer and I expected as much. That be said, every cat goes at their own pace, and most likely will not take nearly as long as my knucklehead is. Being in tune with your cat and their comfort level is key to gauging when it is appropriate to progress through the steps of decompression with your new cat companion.

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By: Heather Lineaweaver, DVM for Humane Veterinary Hospitals – Lancaster

Many of us currently spend the majority of the day at home with our dogs.  They, of course, enjoy the extra attention and time spent with their family, but this can lead to stress and anxiety when the family returns to work and school. Signs of separation anxiety can include excessive barking, crying, pacing, drooling, destructive behavior, and acting withdrawn.  Taking preventative steps now can help ease the transition back to a normal routine.  Basic strategies will be covered here; however, if your dog already has a history of or is under treatment for separation anxiety, you may need to contact your veterinarian for a more tailored plan.

A good first step is to take 10-15 minutes each day to work on basic commands.  If your dog does not already know it, teach a “bed” or “crate” command that you can use before leaving.  Give praise and attention whenever they go there on their own to reinforce the behavior.  This way, they have a predictable, comfortable place to go when you leave. A favorite toy or blanket can provide additional comfort. If it’s not already, the designated area should be out of sight of the door.  For dogs that are food-motivated, you can give them a Kong stuffed with a mix of food and peanut butter or a treat dispensing toy to distract them from your departure. It’s important that they associate you leaving with something positive.

Another way to make your departure more positive is to practice with treats.  Do all of the things you normally do to get ready to leave  – put on shoes, pick up keys, grab your purse or briefcase, etc. – while giving small treats.  Repeat this a few times each day.  Your dog also needs to become used to being alone, so leave the house for increasing amounts of time. At first, you can just go out side for a few minutes, then come back in.  Gradually increase this to several hours.  Make sure you send them to their bed area before leaving.  Also, it is extremely important to not make a big deal out of your departure or your return.

Hopefully, the above tips will help ease your dog’s transition when you return to work.  If your dog develops signs of anxiety despite your efforts, additional training techniques and possibly short-term anti-anxiety medication will be needed.  Your veterinarian can assist you with additional strategies as needed.

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The Stories Behind The Need

July 15th, 2020 | Posted by Pam Keeler in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Humane Pennsylvania’s community outreach team is all about helping people in our community take better care of their pets. We start from a baseline of no judgment – our mission is not to shame people for what they can’t provide but to step in and fill gaps where needed, whether that’s offering free food, hosting vaccine/microchip clinics, or providing other essential services. In many instances, to describe these services are “lifesaving” is not an exaggeration.

Very often, though, we hear people say “if people can’t afford to care for their pets they shouldn’t have them”.  That sentiment is of course rooted in good intentions – after all, without proper care the animals suffer. But it misses the larger point — pets aren’t luxury items reserved for the privileged few.  And many times the people who wind up needing our lifesaving support are truly lifesavers for their pets. Here are just a few examples:

One of our Spike’s Pet Pantry clients currently has 6 cats and 3 dogs. That would be a lot of pets for someone who has a considerable amount of disposable income, let alone someone who barely scrapes by, so it would be easy to say “what a foolish, uncaring woman she must be to have taken on that many animals!” But if you were to dig deeper and actually ask about her story you’d find that she never set out to acquire any of those pets — each one was either abandoned or needed a new home because their existing owner found themselves in an even worse financial position than hers. Taking those animals into her home was an act of kindness.

A recent addition to Spike’s Pet Pantry’s client list is a young couple who had no intention of taking on the expense of an animal but heard a tiny kitten struggling to escape from a storm drain and just couldn’t leave him behind. The free services we’ve been able to provide allowed them to save that kitten and ensure he has a permanent loving home.

Then there’s the road crew worker who comes to Spike’s Pet Pantry still in uniform to get free pet food.  She was able to make ends meet with her 2 dogs and 2 cats, but now that her son and daughter-in-law have had to move in with their own 3 pets because they lost their jobs, money is just too tight. Without our help, their family would have lost something even more precious than just their income – they would have lost their beloved family members.

It’s easy to judge from the outside – it’s a lot harder once you start learning peoples’ stories.  Every day we meet exceptional people who are going to great lengths to ensure the best possible care for their animals.  We are grateful that we can be their safety net.  And we are grateful to each and every one of you who has donated your time, money and contributions of food and supplies to allow us to continue serving others.

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