Dr. Alicia Simoneau, Chief Veterinary Officer for Humane Pennsylvania

Spring has sprung! The warm weather will have people and pets outdoors more frequently. Be warned: temperatures like this also mean ticks and fleas will be out in full force. Here are some tips on flea and tick preventatives and reasons why prevention should be a part of your regular pet maintenance plan.

Pennsylvania is a hot spot for tick borne disease.  Some species of ticks in our area frequently transmit Lyme, Anaplasma, and Ehrlichia. Infrequently seen tick borne diseases in our area include Babesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The same ticks that transmit tick borne disease to dogs can transmit the disease to humans as well. A tick needs to be feeding for over 18 hours before it transmits disease. It is important to use a reputable product that acts quickly to kill a tick before it can spread disease. Some products will repel ticks as well. Checking animals for ticks after they come in from outside is advisable. There are many great products on the market with a variety of routes of administration. These routes include a chewable that last one to three months, collars that last up to 8 months and once monthly topical applications. Choosing the right one will depend on your pet and your preference. Products made to be effective against ticks are also effective against fleas. It is extremely important to make sure a product that is effective against ticks is specifically labeled for use in cats.

While ticks can transmit diseases that harm the inside of a pet’s body, fleas cause diseases on the inside AND outside of our pets’ bodies. Fleas are a common cause of skin disease, allergies and intestinal parasites for dogs and cats. They are contagious external parasites that can readily jump from animal to animal or can be carried by people into a home as they jump on our clothing. Wild animals coming into back yards where our pets roam is another way a yard can be a source of fleas.  Once a flea is observed it is not sufficient to bathe once and call your problem resolved. A flea treatment needs to be used for a minimum of 3 months to get rid of an infestation. This length of time is due to the life cycle of the flea. Fleas can live in an environment without a blood meal for over 3 months. Flea dips and shampoos are not recommended due to their harsh ingredients. Flea dips do not help rid the animal of an infestation because pupae and eggs are already in the environment. Bathing with a gentle shampoo made for pets is a better option for removing adult fleas. A quality chewable or topical application for a minimum of 3 months is important treatment and prevention against future fleas. Because fleas are so contagious, all pets in a household need to be treated concurrently. Fleas carry diseases such as tapeworms, and Bartonella most commonly. Not all products that are effective against fleas are effective against ticks. Cats can have particular sensitivity to certain ingredients in low quality flea products, which should be avoided.

In summary, ticks and fleas serve as vectors for human disease. Preventing these external parasites on pets is a better option than dealing with the consequences of the diseases they cause or an infestation. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the most suitable product for your pets.

 

DO: Use year round

DO: Use a reputable brand your veterinarian recommends

DO: Ensure the product is labeled for the correct body weight and species

DO: Follow label instructions closely

DO: Check your animal regularly for fleas and ticks

 

DO NOT: Use dog products on cats

DO NOT: Use flea dips or shampoos

 

 

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By: Sarah Armstrong, Animal Care Technician for Humane Pennsylvania

So many people seem confused or disgusted when I tell them I have pet rats.

“You have what living in your house?!”

“They’ll give you the plague!”

“Aren’t they super vicious?”

I’ve heard it all.

Pet rats have been domesticated since the 18th century, so it is a wonder to me that many people still don’t realize they’re a common pet, let alone a GOOD pet. Walk into any pet store that sells small animals and you’re sure to find them amongst the guinea pigs and hamsters. They come in dozens of different colors, patterns, fur types, and varieties. Celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Clint Eastwood, and even Theodore Roosevelt have/had pet rats.

So why do rats have such a bad reputation? I think the reason many people see having rats as “icky” is due to their portrayal in media. In many movies where rats appear, they are the villains. Cartoon rats are angular and toothy, with snarling, vicious smiles, while mice are small, round, wide-eyed, and cute. Toy rats, popular around Halloween, are usually pitch black with grimy fur and red eyes. And then of course, there’s Western Society’s hatred of the wild Norway Rat, who’s lived alongside humans for centuries, following us wherever we (and our trash) go.

The people that recoil in horror when I tell them I have pet rats usually change their tune after they actually meet my rats. It’s hard to see something as a cartoonish, red-eyed monster when it’s intently licking your hand or gently taking treats from between your fingers. And as more people open their eyes and their hearts to the true nature of these intelligent little animals, more are adopting them as pets.

So, here are five reasons why rats make the best pets!

1. They’re “Pocket-Sized!”

Many apartments don’t allow for large pets like dogs or cats, but will make an exception for small caged pets like hamsters and guinea pigs. So, as long as you’re not letting your rats run around unsupervised to chew on the siding, landlords will often overlook them. While a dog, cat, or rabbit will use the whole house as their territory, rats will only take up as much room as their cage does. They’re also quiet (unless you get a particularly squeaky wheel) and won’t leave the apartment covered in fur, so any musophobic guests may not even realize they’re there! And, unlike a dog, you don’t need to expend too much energy to take them out for walks or play with them. A rat will simply be happy riding around on your shoulder or sitting with you while you watch TV.

2. They’re Friendly and Family-Oriented!

Rats are incredibly social animals. In the wild, rats live in large family groups, all caring for each other and working together, and as pets they are no different. They play together, store their food in a communal storage area, take care of their sick and elderly, and love to sleep in one big “rat pile.” Unlike the more solitary hamsters, rats are designed to be social.

Rats need to live with other rats, as a human can not provide the same type of companionship a fellow rat can, but they will still bond with their humans just as readily. I often marvel at how my rats seem to understand just how big I am compared to them, yet still treat me as if I’m just a giant rat. They will groom my hands with gentle licks and nibbles, pounce on my feet, and they are very good at communicating what they want. If my rats want to be picked up they will reach up to me, if they want me to come closer they’ll tug on my sleeves, if they want me to play they’ll pounce on and nibble at my hands, if they want to be left alone they’ll push my hand away, and if they’re very displeased with a situation they will squeak!

They also know how to be gentle. Rats have very strong sharp teeth and, just like a dog or cat, can really do some damage if they want to! But their teeth are also extremely sensitive, and they use them to explore just as much as we use our hands. When a rat uses its teeth on something, it is immediately calculating what it’s biting into and how much pressure to use to avoid damaging it. I am consistently amazed at how my rats can so gently take a sesame seed out from between my fingers with their teeth, all while barely touching my skin.

Friendliness, communication, and gentleness are all great skills to have for an animal that lives in a big family in a tight space, and that’s why rats are so good at it!

3. They’re Super Smart!

Behavior experiments on lab rats have proven time and time again that rats are highly intelligent animals. While not only socially intelligent, they are also great problem solvers  and thinkers. Studies have found rats to show empathy and regret, dream, reciprocate favors, strategize, and adapt quickly to new environments. In fact, the reason they’re so often used in experiments is they’re so neurologically, physiologically, and psychologically similar to humans!

As rats are highly food-motivated and love to learn new things, teaching them tricks is a great way to bond with your rats. Rats will usually quickly learn to come when called (mine certainly know to come when I open a bag of snack mix) but some people have trained their rats to fetch, jump through hoops, drive little scooters, pull drawstrings, and run obstacle courses! I rarely have the time to attempt all that anymore, but I do like to make sure my rats at least know “spin”, “up”, and “walk” (on their hind legs.) They love showing off these tricks for treats. Sometimes if my rats see me pull out a bag of treats they’ll come running and start doing every trick they know!

4. They’re Playful!

A side effect of being both sociable and smart is that rats love to play! Unlike a hamster, guinea pig, or even a mouse, rats love to engage in play simply for the joy of it. They will chase and tussle with each other, toys, and their humans. Studies have even found that rats will “laugh” when engaging in play (though this sound is too high-pitched for human ears.)

Rats are all individuals though, some may prefer to chase a feather on a string while others want to play “tag”, and some may just prefer to cuddle rather than be rowdy. Rats are also usually most playful as babies, winding down with age. Even so, if you want the “play factor” of a dog or cat compacted into a tiny little pocket pet, then rats are the pets for you.

5. They’re Clean! 

Pet rats are domesticated. That means they’re a lot tamer and more comfortable around humans than their wild counterparts, such as the difference between a mangy coyote and a pampered pooch. Your average pet rat won’t be scampering around in the sewers and digging through the trash for scraps.

Rats actually are very clean animals. They spend a lot of time grooming themselves and each other (and their humans, too!) They like to be in a clean environment and you may even find rats creating a designated “trash area” and “poop area” in their cage, and they can be litter-trained. In fact, they consider humans to be pretty dirty themselves, and usually spend a lot of time cleaning themselves after having been handled (which I try not to be offended by.) As long as you keep their cage clean, they’ll be just as clean as a dog or cat, perhaps even more so since they won’t be outside playing in the dirt!

Cons to Owning Rats

So by this point you may be asking, “If rats are so great, why don’t more people have them? They’re still not as common a pet as a dog or cat!” Well, aside from the previously mentioned societal bias against them, they’re also not for everyone. For all their pros, there are also cons that may not make a rat the perfect pet for you.

Because rats are so intelligent and playful, they need a lot of space. Since it’s not very doable to let a rat safely free-roam around your house, they need a large cage, with multiple levels. A general rule of thumb is that each rat should have about two square feet of flat space to themselves. Depending on how many rats you have, that need for space can quickly add up! I have 4 rats right now; their cage has four levels and is taller than I am! I was lucky to find this cage for cheap, but if you want to have rats, the size and price of an adequate cage may be beyond your budget.

Since we’re on the topic of expenses, rats may seem like inexpensive pets at first, but you may find them costing much more than you bargained for when it comes to vet bills! Since rats are not cats or dogs, they are considered “exotics” and you need to find a vet trained in small mammal medicine. The cost of this specialized vet care can sometimes be more than even dog or cat vet bills. And rats will need a vet at least once in their lives as they are prone to respiratory issues and tumors, especially as they get older.

I find owning rats to be worth these expenses. I use CareCredit for their vet bills and budget for their needs. I buy Oxbow pellets in bulk so I save on food, use fleece as bedding so I save on bedding, and make toys for my rats (who tend to be more happy with a cardboard box than an expensive toy anyway… but isn’t that just the way with any pet?)

But the hardest part about having rats as pets is their lifespan. The average lifespan for a domestic rat is two and a half years. They start to slow down at around one and a half, and really show their age at two. I’ve heard of some rats living to be five or even nine, but I’ve had over forty rats in the last twelve years, and my longest-lived ones barely made it past three. For some, this can be too heartbreaking. To develop a bond with a highly intelligent, social animal only to have it pass away in a short time could be your deal-breaker when it comes to owning rats. I have met a few people who said they used to have rats but after they lost them they couldn’t go through it again.

And it is hard. Every time. But I believe that the love and joy that rats can give in that amount of time more than makes up for the heartbreak at the end. It also means that you’ll be more prepared for the next rat in need of a home. And there are always good rats in need of homes. If there aren’t any here at the Humane League, rat rescues are almost always at capacity, and you can usually find them on petfinder with a quick search.

Rats are fun, friendly, smart, and a drain on the wallet… but that’s what being a good pet is about, isn’t it? When I come home to see my rats all waiting to give me snuffly little kisses, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect pet.

 

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By: Lisa Malkin, Director of Hospital Administration for Humane Veterinary Hospitals

In 1961 Congress designated the third week in March as National Poison Week to raise awareness of poisoning risks. But did you know that poisoning prevention is an important issue not just for humans, but for pets as well?

Each year over 100,000 pets are accidentally exposed to toxins, resulting in emergency trips to the Veterinarian or calls to the Pet Poison Control line.

What are the most common poisons or toxins ingested by pets and where are they found? Not surprisingly, the greatest risk to pets are found around the home. Plants, foods, human medicines, cleaning supplies and automotive products are responsible for the vast majority of per poisoning cases reported to veterinarians and poison control centers.

Here are a few of the most common as reported by the Pet Poison Helpline and the ASPCA Poison Control:

  • Plants. There are over 1000 common plants that can prove toxic to pets. While not all toxic exposures are life threatening, it is important to take any potentially harmful exposure seriously. Lilies, Azaleas, Aloe Vera, Sago Palm, English Ivy, Philodendron, Hydrangea, Poinsettia, Dieffenbachia, and Oleander are among the leading causes of poisoning among pets and should be avoided.
  • Foods. Many common human foods may also present a poisoning risk to pets. Highest on the list are products containing alcohol or caffeine.. Caffeine-containing products such as coffee, coffee beans, and chocolate can result in life threatening conditions, including tremors, arrhythmias, seizures, and death. Other common foods pets should avoid include avocado, citrus fruits, grapes, raisins, coconut, nuts, garlic, onions, yeast dough, and any processed foods containing the sweetener Xylitol. If you believe your pet has ingested any of these substances, contact your vet or local poison control center.
  • Household & Automotive Products. Many household and automotive products also pose a poisoning risk to pets. Bleach, ammonia, cleansers, and antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol are highly dangerous to pets and should be stored in sealed containers where pets cannot access them. Many common cosmetic products—such as soap, mouthwash, deodorant, nail polish, polish remover, nail glue, sunscreen, toothpaste, and shampoo—present a poisoning risk to pets and should be stored away from places your dog or cat can reach.
  • Human Medications.   Many of these drugs are not appropriate for use in animals. Human doses of medications are often too potent to be safely ingested by pets.

In case of a Pet Poisoning Emergency:

If you suspect that your pet has ingested a toxic substance, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Call your Veterinarian, the local Vet Emergency Hospital or the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 or ASPCA Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 immediately.

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By: Leann Quire, Director of Shelter Operations for Humane Pennsylvania

Adoption events not only save lives and resources, but they attract more people to adopt. Many shelters have found that when they are nearing, or at, capacity they need more and faster adoptions to make more room to help other animals coming into the shelter and for some shelters this is also critical to prevent euthanasia. Holding adoption events can promote and increase adoption rates, which mean more lives saved. Attention grabbing benefits like reduce or fee-waived promotions paired with fun and sometimes silly themes are the perfect way to bring attention to the need for adoption. Often these events can draw the attention of media outlets and give shelters the platform to talk about why adoption is the way to go if you are looking to add a family member. Even though adoption has become one of the most common ways for people to find their new furry family members, there are still many people who opt to purchase from pet stores or other concerning avenues, like puppy mills. Any ability for shelters to discuss the benefit of adoption saves lives.

What are adoption promotions? Adoption promotions are when a shelter will reduce or waive adoption fees to garner the attention from the public in hopes of increasing their adoptions. They are typically held on weekends, but some are during the week. They can last anywhere from a day to even a week or month. While these events are generally held on site at the shelter there are some that are held off site. The shelter will tie in a theme like holidays, big events (like the start of school), current events or movies, etc. to help draw attention and make the event more fun. Fundraising plays a huge part to cover costs to hold the event and cover the adoption costs. If you are interested in sponsoring one of our adoption events you can contact our Director of Development, Lauren Henderson, at Lhenderson@humanepa.org to discuss options.

Not only do these events help to get animals adopted faster, which means saved resources for the shelter, reduced risk of stress, illness, or even euthanasia for the animal, but these events often bring attention to longer resident pets who may have been previously overlooked. I’ve witnessed many of our longest resident animals going home during adoption promotions and stay in their forever homes. Which brings the next important topic, controversy and concern surrounding adoption events.

Some people have concerns that these events increase return rates and draw people who have corrupt intentions to adopt. The majority of data supports that animals adopted during adoption events tend to stay in the home. Many reputable animal welfare organizations and pet related organizations such as Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Maddie’s Fund, Best Friends, and the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science all found from conducting different studies and reviews that over 90% of the animals adopted from these events remain in their original homes, which means the return rate is actually less than the average for most shelters during normal adoption times. Studies also showed that waived fees did not devalue the animals and the adopters were just as attached to them as they would have been had they paid the full adoption fee.

It is important to note that our process for adoption does not change during these events. We are still requiring proper identification and information from the adopter and our staff are still performing the same extensive counseling. The animals up for adoption have all of the same vaccines and treatments as animals who are up for adoption during a normal day. Adoption events are not a reason to jump into adopting if you have not put enough thought into whether you have the proper lifestyle and time to devote to your new pet. You should also make sure all family members are on board with this big decision. While we want to draw more attention to adoption we do not want anyone to rush their decision or adopt an animal that is not a good fit for them.

Be patient and expect to wait a little longer when coming to the shelter during a promotion. There may be lines or more traffic than normal. Especially with current restrictions on the number of people allowed inside our shelter at one time due to the pandemic you may need to wait outside or in your car throughout parts of the process.

Adoption events are win-win because animals find amazing homes and the public are drawn to adopt and get added benefits to adopting like reduced or waived fees and sometimes goodie bags. Our Humane League of Lancaster shelter has an exciting event coming up for St. Patrick’s Day in which all of our cats will be $3.17 on Wednesday, March 17th thanks to our wonderful friends at Citadel Credit Union. We hope that we can find homes for many of our wonderful furry friends and make some space for the quickly approaching kitten season that can often overwhelm the shelter. Maybe you will find your next family member during one of our adoption events.

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By: Jacqueline L. Connolly, DVM for Humane Veterinary Hospitals

Lyme disease is caused by the spirochete bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, and is transmitted through the bite of infected ticks.  Not only is this disease one of the most common tick-borne illnesses in the United States, but it is also zoonotic – meaning it can infect both humans and animals. According to The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a large number of reported cases are in the northeast region, putting our furry family members in Pennsylvania at a greater risk.

Lyme disease is most commonly transmitted by the black legged tick (Ixodes species), after prolonged feeding (>24-28 hours). Over the span of 2-5 months, the bacteria will migrate to the skin, muscle, joints, lymph nodes and kidneys which can result in serious illness. Therefore, tick prevention is the key to keeping our pets protected and Lyme disease free.

Clinical Signs                                                                                                                        

Clinical Signs of Lyme disease vary with the patient and the stage of the disease. Initial infections may cause fever, lethargy, anorexia, lymph node enlargement, and muscle and joint pain.  Many pet owners will notice limping, a reluctance to move, and joints that are warm to the touch.  In more serious and chronic infections, the bacteria can infect the kidneys, causing ‘Lyme nephritis’ or kidney failure. Some studies suggest this may occur more often in Golden retrievers and Labradors.

Once infected with Lyme disease, dogs generally remain infected for life and can have continued flare-ups that require treatment.  Others may never show clinical signs, or may even clear the infection on their own.

So when do we test and treat for Lyme? This has been a controversial subject in veterinary medicine.

Testing

If your pet has shown any of the clinical signs of Lyme disease your veterinarian will order a blood test to determine if he/she is Lyme positive.  One of the commonly used tests is a SNAP 4DX, which also screens for heartworm disease and two other tick borne illnesses. This test is generally done at every annual exam to ensure your pet is healthy and on proper prevention.

If your dog is Lyme positive, a urine test and comprehensive blood test may be advised. This is an important step in making sure your pet does not have a more serious form of Lyme disease, Lyme nephritis.

To Treat or Not To Treat

Treatment is not always recommended for Lyme positive dogs.  If your dog is showing clinical signs, your veterinarian will prescribe a 3-4 week course of an antibiotic such as Doxycycline. In more severe cases, your veterinarian may also prescribe medications for pain.  Symptoms of Lyme disease should resolve within the first week of treatment.

In non-clinical cases, your veterinarian will recommend additional tests to determine kidney function. If your dog has protein in his/her urine, or evidence of kidney dysfunction, antibiotics will be prescribed. If laboratory tests are all normal, your veterinarian will continue monitoring with yearly physical examinations and bloodwork.

The general consensus at this time, is that treatment with antibiotics in pets that are asymptomatic is not necessary. Treatment may put your dog at risk of possible side effects from the antibiotic, such as vomiting and diarrhea, with little benefit. As medical professionals, we take antibiotic resistance very seriously, and do not want to overuse these medications when they are not needed.

Prevention

Keeping your dog protected from ticks year round is the best way to prevent Lyme disease. There are many products on the market including topical and chewable monthly preventatives and collars. Some products are more effective than others, which is why it is important to speak with your veterinarian about which products work best.

For patients at a greater risk of contracting the disease, your veterinarian will give a yearly Lyme vaccine. High risk patients include dogs that live in endemic areas (northeast region), those with outdoor lifestyles, and those who frequently visit wooded areas such as with hiking, camping, or hunting.

Checking your dog for ticks can help limit the amount of time a tick is on your pet, and therefore decreases the probability of transmission.  Black legged ticks can be very small and hard to find especially if in the groin, between the toes, inside the ears, or under the tail.  A thorough check of both yourself and your pet should be conducted when coming in from outside.

At Humane Veterinary Hospitals we understand your pet is a member of your family. Please make an appointment if you have any additional questions regarding your pet and Lyme disease. It is our goal to keep your pet healthy and free from disease for many years to come.

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by: Karel Minor, CEO/President of Humane Pennsylvania

There is a risk in charitable service work to decide what people need and who needs it without actually asking them.  That makes sense since as service delivery organizations, we are generally experts at what we do and we have the experience to think we know who needs that vital service.  The only problem is we are often wrong.

While charities are different from for-profit businesses in crucial ways, imagine how well a great business would survive if it didn’t seek out a better idea of what their customers wanted and instead just kept giving them the same, great old thing.  You don’t need to imagine too hard.  Just think of Blockbuster Video.  Their business model no longer worked in the world of digital access to entertainment and they didn’t change to adapt to new consumer desires.  And now they are gone.

Some businesses do adapt and change to pursue the preferences of their customers.  Netflix started as a company that mailed(!) you DVD’s(!!) of movies through a tiered subscription service(!!!).  Can you even  imagine now waiting to get an envelope with a physical copy of a movie in it based on whether you paid enough to have one, two or three movies at a time?  That would be a ridiculous model now, but it helped kill off Blockbuster.

Netflix was almost killed off when video on demand made it possible by faster internet speeds.  But instead of being the next Blockbuster, they figured out what people wanted next.  They became a giant of today, not a relic of yesterday.  Imagine if they had just stuck to their guns and their old business model without surveying the needs of the marketplace.

It’s a lesson I take in my charitable world for two reasons: 1. Netflix figured out what people wanted and how to give it to them, and 2. Netflix didn’t abandon one model to chase the next new model.  They transitioned to a new one while still embracing the old one effectively.  It turns out the still mail out DVDs.  Who knew?  A for-profit company may go out of business when their product becomes obsolete, like the whale oil companies went out of business with the rise of petroleum alternatives.  Or if they are lucky, they can transition into new markets, like Netflix did.

Charities face issues of obsolescence, too.  The “March of Dimes Movement” is an old standard example of how a charity can respond to changes.  The March of Dimes was founded to fight polio.  When a vaccine allowed the US to completely overcome the disease, they had to decide what their purpose was since they couldn’t exist to fight a disease that no longer existed.  They turned their focus to fighting birth defects, and still exist with that focus today.

Unfortunately, charities are often bad at surveying what the real needs of the day are, as well as who needs them.  We say we don’t sell products, we provide critical services, so we don’t always learn from the lessons of the for-profit world.   We are sometimes so wrapped up in our work we don’t look outward to see what is changing in our industry.  That doesn’t make a charity bad, it just means we are kind of bad at doing that.  What I think is bad is when we make the mistake of not actually asking people what they need and how they need it delivered to be most effective.

When we decide in advance what the need is and who needs it, we are likely to provide the wrong services or services that are right, but delivered in the wrong way.  We might be right to think this or that group needs this or that service.  Or we might be wrong, and we may be ineffective or end up applying Band-Aids when a cure or, better yet, a prevention is within our grasp.

How do you determine what people – or animals – need, you ask?

Humane Pennsylvania just conducted a full survey sent to every one of the 30,000 households in the City of Reading to determine the needs of pets and their caretakers, thanks to the generosity of the Giorgi Family Foundation.  The survey, which was developed with the assistance of experts from Penn State University, provides an extremely high confidence interval and low margin of error.  We are still crunching the numbers with the help of experts from Albright College (we love higher ed!) and will be sharing them soon.

The goal was to see what the community thought they needed, what they felt they didn’t have access to, or what pet related issues they felt caused stress for them or their family.  We asked everyone, not just “poor” people or this group or that group.  We asked all people.

The answers were surprising.  A lot of it made sense.  People at lower incomes shared that they had a harder time affording the cost of food and veterinary care.  But we also saw that a large number of people at higher income levels, levels which are not generally targeted by “charity” veterinary services, expressed concern of these costs, too.  And that these costs had resulted in an inability to pay for or to have to choose between pets and family necessities.  It turned out far more people may need help than we thought or were even attempting to help. To quote Big Bird, “Asking questions is a good way to find things out.”

Fortunately, this has served to reinforce the work Humane Pennsylvania has been doing to ensure that meaningful access to veterinary care and other supports are available to all, through a continuum of services.  Until now, we just didn’t have the data to prove it.  To quote a t-shirt, “In God we trust. All others bring data.”

Humane Pennsylvania is dedicated to helping animals and people, in old time-tested ways like adoption and in new ones like community access to veterinary care, supported by fact and data.  We try to do it by redefining the problems we seek to overcome, not by predefining the problems and solutions.  We do it because we know it’s the best way to help the most animals and people, in the most cost effective and impactful way.  We know we can love animals and hug puppies and kittens, and also be rigorous and face ever-changing realities and needs in our community.  We think doing one well requires doing the other well, too.

We also do it because we want our organization, and the entire animal welfare sector, to go the way of Netflix, not Blockbuster Video.

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Be the Change

January 18th, 2021 | Posted by Chelsea Cappellano in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)
By: Leann Quire, Director of Shelter Operations for Humane Pennsylvania

Changing a life doesn’t require an incredible amount of wealth or time. If you have compassion and a desire to help, then YOU can change a pet’s life! January 24th is Change a Pet’s Life Day and we couldn’t be more excited to tell you the ways you can celebrate this day. Change a Pet’s Life Day was created to bring awareness to animal welfare and encouraging pet adoption. While I could find a reason to tell you on ANY day why it is important to support your local animal shelters and rescues, it seems even more appropriate to talk about the importance of this with the upcoming designated day.

Animal welfare has come a long way in education, advocacy, and reduced euthanasia rates, but there are still many animals finding themselves in shelters and in need of homes. So, how can you help be a part of changing a pet’s life?

Adoption

Looking to add a furry, slimy, or feathered friend to your family? Check out your local shelter or rescue group. Many animals of all shapes, sizes, personalities, and species are looking for loving homes. When you adopt, you aren’t just changing the life of the animal you will be taking home, but you will also change the life of the animal who needs that open space in the shelter.

Fostering

Many people don’t foster because they fear they could never give them back. We do see many foster families end up keeping their foster pets and making them a permanent part of the family. However, many others find it very rewarding to be able to provide a place for an animal out of the shelter, and many times increase their care by providing medical or behavior intervention, and then see that animal get a wonderful home. Some of our fosters have helped HUNDREDS of animals over the years. Hundreds! Even helping just one makes a significant difference. You can choose to temporarily house animals who need some extra TLC and time away from the shelter.

Volunteer

Ellie Scheurich, our Canine Behavior Specialist, said it best when she wrote the following about our volunteers: “Thank you for volunteering your time to help us find homes for all the animals that walk through our shelter. Thank you for spending your weekends or evenings at events helping us raise money to continue our mission in helping as well as saving as many fur lives as possible. Thank you for showing up in the snow, rain, and hot summer to walk, play, and train our dogs. Thank you for coming in regularly to help clean the cages alongside our busy staff, with a big smile on your face while giving chin scratches to a cat that hissed at you the week prior. Thank you for answering phones, greeting adopters, and staying long hours just to help the staff assist our community. Thank you for wearing your heart on your sleeve and helping us continue to do the work we all love at Humane Pennsylvania. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Volunteers play a huge part in our mission and they also play a huge role in changing a pet’s life every single day. While the pandemic has changed the way to volunteer, there is still a need and they are just as important as ever.

Donating

Non-profits operate solely off of the donations from the community. Any amount helps. Donating money helps the organization continue to operate the lifesaving programs that change pet’s lives every day. Donating products is also very helpful! Check out our wishlist on our website to see which items we are in need of on a regular basis.

Shout your support from the rooftops!

Funds tight from the pandemic? Busy raising young humans to become future life changers and your “free time” is limited? Allergic to animals so unfortunately they can’t be in the home? No problem! YOU can still change pet’s lives. Sharing social media posts helps raise awareness and spread the word for shelters looking for homes for animals or that are in need of specific donations. Attend events! Some in person and virtual events held by shelters and rescues don’t cost money to attend. Attending events helps you to learn what your local shelter is doing in the community and shows other people just how many people support the organization! Encourage your friends and family to adopt and support their animal shelter.

Also, show support for animal welfare workers. They work tirelessly to help and need lots of support to continue to show up and keep doing what they do!

Talk about your own story.

Have you adopted or visited a local animal shelter and had a great experience? Tell people about it. Write a review. These things can all change an animal’s life by bringing awareness to how wonderful it is to adopt and support your local shelter organization.

Hopefully you found that changing a life is easier than you may have originally thought, but I can tell you with certainty you will find it is even MORE FULLFILLING than you could have ever imagined.

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By: Karel Minor, CEO/President of Humane Pennsylvania

I’m sure by now you are tired of having people tell you, as if you don’t know, what a tough year it’s been.  So I’m not exactly going to do that.  I think Humane Pennsylvania has been pretty lucky, or blessed, depending on your inclination.

So far we’ve only had a single employee test positive, although we fear a second is on the way, despite several quarantines based on government guidance due to emergent symptoms.  That places our infection rate as a staff at less than half the 4%+ rate in Berks and Lancaster Counties, which I’ll chalk up to a very mindful staff in their personal lives and very rigorous safety protocols in their professional ones.  And we are certainly grateful of our fortune given that our two counties have lost 1,130 lives to COVID so far.

We are equally grateful that we did not have to lay off a single employee from our staff during the economic hardship our community faced and is facing.  Thanks to exceptionally good planning and financial management on the part of our finance team, the benefit of Federal pandemic funds, amazing generosity from our donors and supporters, and some dumb luck, we managed to respond to the expanded and unexpected needs of animals and people in our community by stepping up and expanding services, not standing down and cutting services.  This wasn’t easy and we, like so many charities and businesses, are still going forward one day at a time under ever changing circumstances and restrictions.  I honestly didn’t think we would have managed as well as we have, when all this started in March.

We kept taking animals in and adopting them out, with occasional pauses and slowdowns reflective of mandates and safety needs.  We kept seeing clients at our two public hospitals, even though we had to facilitate it mostly through curbside.  We kept up our audacious Healthy Pets Initiative in the City of Reading and adjacent municipalities, although greatly impacted by conditions.  We had to cancel, postpone and change most of our fundraising activities and events, and while some were complete losses, some proved to be surprisingly successful as we learned how to cope with our new reality.

Moving forward we still expect at least three to six months minimum impact in 2021 before we can approach anything “normal”.  We enter 2021 with a lot of trepidation.  We don’t know if there will be additional Federal support of businesses, like the PPP loan to grant funding that literally kept us from laying off half our staff and closing some of our doors.  But with recent history now to guide us, we keep an optimistic eye to the future, matched with careful planning and action, and organizational rigor.  If you’ve ever read Jim Collins’ book, Good To Great, we are trying to embody the Stockdale Paradox.  We are planning for the best but preparing for the worst.  And if the best doesn’t come as soon as we’d like, we won’t lose hope.  I hope you won’t either.

So, with a hopeful attitude, I’d like to give you a brief retrospective of 2020 with some of our notable accomplishments on the ground at Humane Pennsylvania, as well as our best guess of how we will be tackling an uncertain 2021….

The Reading Center for Animal Life-Saving:  In 2019 we demolished our old shelter in Reading to create the next phase of our work on behalf of animals in Berks County.  The new facility will be a combination adoption center and community veterinary center, built on the human wellness and urgent care model.  It’s a groundbreaking new approach made possible thanks to a joint vision by our staff and board, and the financial generosity of the Giorgi Family Foundation. They kick started the expanded vision through a stunning grant to Humane Pennsylvania.

In March, all construction was halted by order of the Commonwealth.  Although we were designated an “essential” operation, through some gap in logic the building which would support those operations was not.  Ultimately, before we could figure how to appeal the no appeal designation, construction was allowed to begin again. Precious weeks lost turned into months of backups and delays.  Fortunately, our amazing builder, Purcell Construction, got things back up and running. We expect to have full access to the new facility right after the New Year.  It will still be three months or more before we can open to the public as we outfit the facility with veterinary and animal care equipment and get all the furniture in.

After that, we don’t even know when we will be allowed to open to full capacity (c’mon, vaccine, work your magic!). However, we fully expect that when the weather is warm again, we will be debuting the new animal welfare jewel of Reading and Berks County.

Animal Services:  Despite the pandemic’s impact, we kept the doors open and took in homeless and stray animals as always, and adopted them out to loving forever homes.  In fact, as I type this, we are in our 6th day of our 12 Days of Adoptions promotion, and we’ve already adopted out every dog we have (!) and are trying to empty the entire shelter of every dog, cat, and critter by Christmas!  Our adopters have been great as we’ve had to shift between models, changing from phone adoptions and direct delivery, to outside, appointment only adoptions, open door, socially distant adoptions, and back.  Sometimes in the same week.

Vet services have only been able to operate at an 80% level, due to curbside services required by the state vet board and our sanitation protocols.  That’s still a lot of animals being helped, but we’d really like to return to our full capability.  We’ve also been able to continue our community vaccine and microchip clinics in Lancaster and Berks Counties, although these are also much harder to manage and dramatically reduce our targets.  All these services are designed around direct and close contact with pets and their people.

Maybe the program which succeeded beyond our expectations was the COVID response pet food distribution facilitated through Spike’s Pet Pantry.  The PA State Animal Response Team and Berks EMA activated the Berks County Animal Response Team, which is directed by Humane Pennsylvania, and asked us to be the lead agency in charge of coordinating emergency food distribution for Eastern PA.  We had a plan in place, we had the capacity built as part of the Giorgi Family Foundation grant, and we were willing.  Whether we would be able was the question.  Thanks to the hard work of our amazing staff and volunteers we were able to receive and distribute over 300,000 pounds, about 1.2 million pet meals, since March, plus tons of needed supplies.

From the farthest north to farthest west counties in our Commonwealth, Humane Pennsylvania delivered or distributed pet food to dozens of organizations, school districts, and food pantries, which in turn shared with countless more.  Our Spike’s Pet Pantry quickly went from being a small local effort serving hundreds to a regional program serving thousands, perhaps tens of thousands.  Organizational capacity and our work to build it made the difference. It has been gratifying to help so many animals and people, but to also have our plan and execution of a bold model proven effective.

These are just a few of the bigger happenings from this past year.  There have been so many more, too numerous to list, big and small, worth mentioning.  Fundamentally, they all stem from the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers, and the generosity of our donors.  It because of this that I have undaunted optimism for what is to come in 2021.

We know that by hook or by crook the new Center for Animal Lifesaving will open to the public.  We are also pretty hopeful that we can get back on track with our paused capital campaign with a goal of ending the year with the entire building paid off in just three years.  Did I hear you wonder aloud how you can help?  Well, for less than a cheap cup of coffee (92 cents a day) you can join Spike’s 700 Club, a special giving club limited to just 700 members, or be one of the 200 Tilly’s 200 Club members ($1.83 a day).  If we filled just these 900 donation spots, we’d complete our campaign once and for all!  Join me as a founding member!

We are expecting to be able to ramp up our Healthy Pets Initiative program services to make up for lost time and get thousands more animals’ sterilized, vaccinated, and microchipped, in both counties!  And we really look forward to throwing the doors wide open for full adoption services and veterinary services again the moment we are allowed to and can do so safely.

Our success bringing over a million pet meals to hungry animals has inspired us not to lower our expectations in the future.  Keep an eye out, we will have a big, furry, audacious plan to share within the coming year, and we are going to need your help.

We really can’t wait to get back to our normal events and fundraising model.  The cancelled Pints for Pups, the virtual Walk for the Animals, and the virtual Art for Arf’s Sake Art Auction ranged from a total loss (Pints) to a surprisingly successful 60% of target for the Art Auction (a big shout out to our amazing volunteer Art Auction committee and Lauren Henderson and Chelsea Cappellano in our Advancement department for swinging that minor miracle).  Even with their success, we came out literally hundreds of thousands of dollars under between lost event and operations revenue.  We can continue on that trend.  Fortunately, we don’t think we will.

In 2021 we have flipped the Art for Arf’s Sake Auction permanently to November, which seems like a safe bet at this point for an indoor event, and the return of the MEGA-Pints for Pups will be in mid-summer, which seems like a pretty good bet for an outdoor event.

We’ve also flipped the Walk to permanently be a spring event, currently scheduled for May, 2021.  However, if there are any outdoor gathering restrictions still in place in May, a September live Walk is still in the cards.  Keep up to date and please sign up for the Walk for the Animals like the world is getting back to normal, because we think it will!

I cannot thank you enough for working your way through 1,800 words and for sticking by Humane Pennsylvania and the work we do on your behalf, even during troubling times.  I hope you and your family have been safe and will remain safe.  I cannot wait until we can see each other in person again.  I hope next year we don’t have to talk about what we’ve overcome, but instead can share what we’ve accomplished together to build the best community anywhere to be an animal or an animal caretaker.

Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a happy and healthy New Year from everyone at Humane Pennsylvania.

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By: Maddy Marker, Animal Care Technician for Humane Pennsylvania

The paw-lidays are fast approaching and if you are anything like me, pets get presents too. Holidays can be stressful. You are constantly looking for the right gift for your aunt, your friends or even a coworker. Because we are so easily consumed by gifts, glitter, sales and finding the right outfits we often times overlook our 4 legged friends. Here’s a guide to help you pick the best and safest products this holiday!

  1. Busy Bowl: Do you have a pet that eats too fast? How about a pet that seems less interested in their food lately? Try a busy bowl! Busy bowls are great toys that pose as an everyday item. Animals who eat too fast may end up with an upset stomach which can cause vomiting. Busy bowls are meant to help slow them down. They now work a little harder for their food trying to get all the pieces. On the opposite end, busy bowls are used as enrichment in most shelters! Because the animals have to work for their food, it can make eating a fun game.
  2. Red Barn Bones: These bones are great for enrichment! If you have a dog who really enjoys peanut butter or cream cheese, these bones are the perfect gift! They come in different flavors and sizes but they also have hallow ones that you can fill with whatever you want. Red Barn Bones are also nice because you can freeze them and they’ll last a little longer.
  3. Kong: Similar to the Red Barn Bones, kongs can be filled with peanut butter or whatever else you choose to make a fun treat for your dog.  They can also go in the freezer for a cool snack later on.
  4. Training treats: If you have a high energy dog or even a dog that loves to learn, training treats are the way to go. During your holiday break, you can spend some time with your pet and teach them a few tricks you’ve been wanting to. Training treats come in all flavors and sizes so picking out the best one for your furry friend can be fun!
  5. Beds: Does your pet prefer to lounge instead of leap? If so, getting your pet a new bed will make their lazy Sundays so much better. There are tons of beds to choose from and some stores let your pet test them out first.
  6. Slow Drink Water Bowl: A slow drink water bowl works wonders for pet owners who have pets who drink water too fast. Most slow drink water bowls will have a large piece that floats in the center of the bowl and allows water through at a slow rate. This allows you pets to drink but not too fast that they may get sick.

Let’s be honest, going to the pet store can be confusing. There’s so many options, isles and tons of products to choose from. It’s easy to pick all of the things that are on sale, especially if you are on a tight budget. Remember, sale does not equal safe! Below, you will see a list of gifts and things you should try to avoid for your pawsome friends.

  1. Rawhides: Rawhides are hard chews for dogs of all sizes. They are made from leather industry’s leftovers. These chews can pose a threat to your dog’s health. Rawhides, when chewed on break off into hard medium-small pieces. The problem lies in their digestibility. Rawhides are not easily digested by dogs. Along with them being hard, they also tend to break off in sharp shards. These shards can be very dangerous for dogs especially when trying to be digested.
  2. Wood: Similar to rawhides, wood isn’t easily digested by dogs. Not only do they pose a threat to the dog’s stomach but when chewing on wood, it can begin to splinter. A splinter doesn’t seem too dangerous but one small splinter can get infected and cause more health problems, especially in older dogs.
  3. Tinsel: Who doesn’t love decorating the tree with tinsel? It’s shiny, beautiful and adds such a wonderful holiday glow to the room. If you love tinsel, don’t panic! This doesn’t mean you can’t put tinsel on the tree, it just means be careful with it. Tinsel is often times more of a threat to cats but I’ve seen dogs who confused it for spaghetti too. Tinsel isn’t meant to be digested by animals. It can get caught or build up in your pet’s stomach and cause serious health issues. Try not to make tinsel a toy for your furry friends. Avoid playing with tinsel and avoid using too much tinsel too.

It can be tricky picking out the right thing for your animals. Now that you are fully equipped with ideas, get out there and have fun howl-iday shopping for your pets!

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

This December has the Healthy Pets Initiative Team, the Community Outreach leg of our organization, launching Targeted Pet Wellness Services.  “Targeted Pet Wellness” is veterinary care offered to specific audiences we’ve identified as in need of access to basic vet care for their pets.  The end goal is keeping more pets healthy and with the people who love them.  

If you recall, we’ve been providing pop-up Vaccination/Microchip Clinics.  With COVID, these morphed into Drive-In Vaccination/Microchip Clinics, offering the same services in a different set up that provides social distancing.  The Drive-In clinics are open to any pet owner in our community, and make  the two most important  vaccinations (rabies and distemper), plus microchipping, all affordable and reasonably easy-access.  We offer these around town in 3 seasons of the year, and a generous grant from the Giorgi Family Foundation permits us to offer them at a pay-what-you-can rate.

Our Target Pet Wellness Services are geared slightly differently.  When we planned the pop-up/Drive-In Clinics we of course considered the needs of our community’s pet owners, taking into account which pet owners would utilize those services.  Then we took the next step, considering who wouldn’t be able to utilize those clinics, and why.

What community outreach programs all over the U.S. have realized- and what data has proven- is that most pet owners want to do the best they can for their pets.  If given opportunities, pet owners make use of those chances to do more for their pets- if they can.

In planning the Targeted Pet Wellness Services we paid attention to which pet owners were missing in large numbers from the Drive-In Clinics.  That let us identify the following subsets of pet owners:   individuals and families facing homelessness, survivors of domestic abuse, and a portion of our community’s veterans.  We thoughtfully tried to list what stops those distinct populations from bringing pets in for care.  Situations vary, but that list includes facing a lack of the following; permanent housing, money, transportation, phone and/or internet access, domestic violence, information as to where to bring a pet for medical care and how often to do so, available time to get to a vet while during business hours, and even the simple fact of having too much on one’s plate.

For example, for a family facing homelessness, it may seem out of reach to find a veterinarian, book an appointment, drive to that appointment, and pay for it.  Complicate that example by not having easy access to the internet to find and contact a vet, having car trouble, and knowing every penny counts and there are other more immediate needs pressing.  Suddenly, what some of us take for granted becomes impossible.

Whenever a program anticipates where it may fall short of its intended goals and develop alternative options, the more likely it is to be a success.  Targeted Pet Wellness Services eliminates hurdles.  This program creates free, walk-in appointments at a location where those pet owners are already going for services. We are paving the way for more pets to get the care and services they need: that’s success overall!

We planned carefully to make these services the best they could be for this selected audience- but we asked for help with our homework:  Humane Pennsylvania is partnering with regional organizations to best connect with those pet owners who are having trouble accessing pet medical care otherwise:  Hope Rescue Mission (where we will be available to any clients of the organizations of Berks Coalition to End Homelessness), Veterans Coalition of Pennsylvania, and Safe Berks.  They’ll help us reach some of the most vulnerable human populations, and therefore help us assist the most vulnerable pet populations.

Each month on specific dates and times, our team will set up in the parking lot areas of these organizations.  We’ll provided to the pets that need them:

  • Physical examinations for dogs/cats
  • Rabies vaccinations
  • Distemper vaccinations
  • Intestinal deworming
  • Flea/tick treatment
  • Ear cleaning
  • Ear mite treatment
  • Sanitary trims
  • Nail trims
  • Microchip implantation and microchip registration
  • Collar, ID tag
  • Leash/carrier
  • Pet food
  • Toys and other items as we have available (e.g. pee pads, litter)

No appointments are needed; any pet owners using the services of these organizations are welcome to bring their dogs and cats to our team as “walk-ins.”  Every client will have a chance to talk with our veterinarian and team about their pet’s health and needs. The team will also be available to share basic behavior suggestions or assist owners in identifying novel solutions to issues they may be facing given what else may be happening in their lives.

Our team is really excited about the Targeted Pet Wellness Services.  It’s stacking the odds in favor of keeping more pets healthy and with the families that love and cherish them.

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