This week is National EMS Week! To celebrate, we wanted to shed light on some of the amazing first responders throughout Berks County and surrounding areas, as well as the animals that keep them motivated to help save lives!

First, we have Sarah Galbraith, an EMT for Western Berks Ambulance Association whose favorite companion is her cool cat, Randy Savage!

  • Tell us a little bit about you and your pet.
    • “Hello! My name is Sarah Galbraith. I’m an EMT for Western berks and I’m the proud Mom of a cute little 2-year-old cat named Randy Savage. Randy’s favorite activity is laying inside the window to watch birds and bunnies. We have to make sure our screens are properly secured at all times lol.”
  • How did you find your pet, or should I say how did your pet find you?
    • “About 2 years ago, I felt like I was stuck in a rut and usually felt very alone. I went to the local shelter to consider a pet and saw Randy. I fell in love instantly. He was found as a stray and brought in. He was sick at the time so he was separated from the other cats and he had a scar on his eye. They were guessing he was about 3 months old so he was still pretty small. I’ve always loved black cats so when I saw him, I just knew that I couldn’t leave without him. Best decision I ever made.”
  • After a long day on the job, what does your pet provide for you?
    • “My cat comes and greets me at the door when I come home no matter what time it is. This is something that sounds so minuscule but I look forward to it every day. Just hearing him run down the steps to see me always puts a smile on my face, no matter how my day went!” 
  • When you have had to deal with a more difficult call or encounter, how does your pet help you cope?
    • “My cat is generally like your stereotypical cat. Everything is on his terms. The majority of the time he just stares at us from far away, judging. But I think animals can sense our moods and know when something is off. There are days that I come home feeling so defeated and don’t want to deal with anything but then Randy comes and greets me. He’ll stick around and stay close to me. He’ll convince me to play with him and without even realizing it, I’ll start to feel better. He’ll remind me that I have to feed him so then I’ll make sure to eat as well. Caring for him reminds me to also care for myself.”
  • Have you ever experienced any animal encounters on the job?
    • “I love when there are animals on a call! Well, friendly ones at least. I find it interesting to see what kind of pets people have!”
  • Have you ever had any positive personal or professional experiences with Humane Pennsylvania/Humane Society of Berks County?
    • “I, unfortunately, have not but I look forward to their opening. I’m thinking about getting Randy a friend :).”

Next, we heard from Platoon Shift Supervisor for the City of Allentown, part-time Paramedic with the Wester Berks Ambulance Association, and dog dad to 3 amazing pups, Philip Banks!

Being part of the EMS life is harder than most can handle! You see people at perhaps the worst times in their lives — when they are extremely sick, injured, facing death, or even when they are at rock bottom. Most times the comfort you provide, besides the medicine and treatment, is all people need. When I come home from my shifts, it takes a while to unwind and clear my mind from everything that’s been encountered in my shift. I come home and before I can get the door open, my pups — Koda, Bella, and Hunter — are usually whining and crying because they can’t wait for me to come in!

As soon as the knob is turned, there are noses sticking out the crack of the door. After dinner and some playtime with the pups, it’s time for bed. They can never sleep close enough! They surround me and lay so close to me with their heads on my chest! The love and affection they provide, perhaps knowing the things I see during shifts, makes it so easy to drift off and sleep! It’s truly something I look forward to every day when I get home from work.”

We also heard from Teresa Weaver, Owner/Handler of Skip – a certified KPETS Therapy Dog. Skip provides comfort to first responders in crisis!

“Skip is a purebred Golden Retriever, born in July 2016. I’ve had Skip since he was a puppy and have been his trained KPETS handler since he was one year old. His acquired specialty is being a first responder and crisis therapy dog. Below are a few of the activities with which Skip has been involved:

  • Frequent visits to local fire, ambulance, hospitals, and police stations.
  • Crisis events for First Responders & Emergency Room Staff.
  • Community service events with fellow first responder friends.
  • Crisis response events for several high schools that have dealt with student deaths
  • Emotional support programs for at-risk youth.
  • Berks County DA Office/Children’s Alliance Forensic staff visits and special request assignments
  • Assemblies at local elementary schools with Reading Fire Department & Berks County Sheriff’s Department to help educate children on the various purposes of working dogs.

Skip does so much to bring joy to people in the community and I am so honored to be his dog mommy!”

Finally, Kristin Racis, EMT-B at Western Berks Ambulance Association, shares her favorite things about her furry companion, her dog Keeley! 

  • Tell us a little bit about your pet.
    • “Keeley. She just turned 3 years old on May 9th. Keeley is a Pitbull mix. Keeley loves being outside. Whether it is for a hike/walk, doing yard work around the house, playing, or simply just lying in the sun. As long as she is outside, she has no care in the world!”
  • How did you find your pet, or should I say how did your pet find you?
    • “I adopted Keeley my senior year of college when she was 6 months old. I found her at a rescue shelter online. They adopt and foster their dogs out to the east coast for a greater chance of a new home. They shipped Keeley to me and I picked her up in Harrisburg. Adopting Keeley was the best decision of my life. She helps me in so many aspects of life, she doesn’t even know!”
  • After a long day on the job, what does your pet provide for you?
    • “Working EMS can be a very stressful job at times. We see people in their most vulnerable state. A day or night of work can be tough. I think one of the reasons why I wake up every day and continue to serve my community and help people in need is because of my dog. She instantly gives me peace of mind and makes me forget about everything bad that happened as soon as I walk through the door. Just the instant smile, love, and happiness she provides as soon as she sees my face just lights up my world — there’s no other explanation. She is a great company. I think everyone who can, should invest in some type of animal. They really are great for emotional support.”
  • When you have had to deal with a more difficult call or encounter, how does your pet help you cope? 
    • “Dealing with difficult calls with the job and happen almost every day. Keeley helps me by distracting me. Her love, her kisses, her wanting to play and go on walks. All of this helps me clear my mind and let go of that day’s stress and worries. She greets me and jumps on me and is just so excited to see me. It’s like she hasn’t seen me in weeks! It’s another reminder that I am cared for and I am needed.”
  • Have you ever experienced any animal encounters on the job?
    • “I have not experienced any encounters on the job where an animal needed help, but have heard stories and they seem very tough.”
  • Have you ever had any positive personal or professional experiences with Humane Pennsylvania/Humane Society of Berks County? 
    • “No, I have not had any encounters at all with Humane Pennsylvania/Humane Society of Berks County but I am looking forward to visiting the new building in the future.”

Thank you to all of the first responders that put their life on the line in order to save ours! Your hard work and dedication do not go unnoticed and we’re so happy you have furry friends to help you get through the toughest of days! If you or anyone you know is in need of a companion as amazing as the few mentioned above, please visit us at https://humanepa.org/adoption/.

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Being associated with a hardworking, dedicated employee like Aida May makes us proud. Her contribution and commitment to our work are unmatched and, without her, this journey would certainly not be the same. On behalf of Humane Pennsylvania, Happy 10 Year Work Anniversary! To show our appreciation, we sat down to learn more about Aida and the impact she’s made – here’s what she had to say:

  1. What do you love most about working for The Humane League of Lancaster County?

The difference we’re able to make in people’s lives every day. It’s a different experience here. We’re able to come in and help everyone, whether it be re-homing their pet, finding them a new pet, or even situations where they come to us for resources when they’re not able to financially care for their pets for medical reasons. That’s probably the greatest thing — being able to keep the animal in their home.

  1. What keeps you motivated to do the great work you’ve been doing for the past 10 years?

I would say just seeing the difference in some of the animals that come to us, like Ned for example. I’ve seen him come in with matted hair and underweight and just not in the best condition. Now he’s 100% different. So you see these animals, whether they’re bottle baby kittens or underweight adult dogs, and the care that the team here puts into them and the general dedication from the public. It really helps and we’re able to turn it around for these animals and get them into loving homes.

  1. Are you a dog person, cat person, or critter person?

I’m a cat person for sure!

  1. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?

I would say definitely both of my first and current supervisors. Becky – she worked with me when I first started here and I had no experience. I worked in retail prior to coming here. I had pets growing up, but no experience with animal welfare, and she really molded me into what I am now. And of course, Leann. She has helped me grow so much, from working as a tech to now being in a managerial position. It’s something that I didn’t even know I could do, but she helped me grow and helped me make decisions that led to my continued growth within the organization.

  1. What’s one thing you’re learning now, and why is it important?

I’m constantly learning about the medical aspects of the shelter. That’s something that’s a pretty big passion of mine and it’s something that’s always evolving. I love working with our veterinary team and learning about why our animals are feeling certain ways and what we can do within the shelter to help them. That way in future cases, it helps me make decisions in regards to what the next step would be for the animal. Does it need immediate care? Can it wait until our veterinarian and I have a minute to calm the animal down?

  1. What do you see as your biggest accomplishment since your start with HLLC?

My biggest accomplishment would be: starting with no experience when I first came into the shelter and being able to move up within the organization. I started as a temp in the front office, left for a little bit when I had my first child and then I was hired back, full-time, as an animal care technician. I was a tech for a few years and now I’ve worked my way into a supervisory role with the rest of our team. I’m always amazed by how far I’ve come within the organization. It’s a great organization, and I love that we’re able to see people grow within it.

  1. What’s one of your favorite Humane Pennsylvania memories from the past year?

Hmm, from within this past year? This has definitely been a crazy year but I would say, even with Covid-19, we were still able to help with transports from hoarding situations and we were able to work alongside other locations. I love that we were able to make a difference despite COVID and still keep the ball rolling. We continued helping our community and anywhere else that it was needed.

  1. Do you have a favorite animal at the shelter currently? If so, who?

My favorite would have to be Vincenzo! He is an FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) positive cat that has been with us for a little while. He came to us after a caretaker outside of the shelter noticed that he had some pretty severe wounds and his eyes were not in the best condition. I really loved watching him come around. He was so shy when he first got here and now he just makes biscuits everywhere. I love him. He’s so sweet and, after months of medical care, he’s finally ready for adoption.

  1. What’s a task you love doing around the shelter?

I would say anything that involves being hands-on with my team. They’ll typically call me when we have cats that are a little bit harder to handle. I love working with the team. I spend a lot of time in my office, with paperwork and stuff to do, but being able to help them when they’re giving vaccines or just giving them an extra hand with anything, in general, makes me happy.

  1. What three words would your coworkers use to describe you?

I would say compassionate and understanding and patient.

  1. What’s one fun fact about you that we might not already know?

I own a pretty wide variety of animals. Of course, I have my cats and I have a couple of dogs. I have an axolotl, which is a Mexican Walking fish. I have guinea pigs and beta fish as well.

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Brandea Taylor, Animal Care Coordinator for Humane Pennsylvania

It was August 11th, 2016. I was scheduled as an Adoption Technician and was called up for an incoming dog. I walked into the front lobby and there she was — cold, wet, and shaking. The man who found her was holding her tightly in his arms. His wife walked me through how they stumbled across her that afternoon while they were walking out to their truck. They found her curled up underneath it in the parking lot. Unsure of what to do next, they decided to bring her to us. I thanked them for helping her as we slowly exchanged her from his arms to mine.

I carried her back to her new bedroom in our kennel, where she was greeted by several barking dogs. The louder it got the more she started to shake. I placed her on a big fluffy comforter, opened her cage door, and placed her information card in the slip on the front of her cage door. She sat up, looked in the direction of the door, and ran outside. I made it a point to walk past her kennel several times that day to see if she was acclimating okay. Each time I saw her curled up in the outside part of her run, I walked around and placed a blanket on that side to make sure she remained comfortable. “You don’t want to lay on the hard cement, Anastasia.” She stood up and walked as far away from me as she could.

Another week went by and we didn’t hear back from any rescues that we reached out to. All the while, I was working on gaining Anastasia’s trust. By the end of the second week, I was able to get Anastasia out of her kennel on her own without forcing her. This is when I realized she wouldn’t walk on a leash or cement but would run around as soon as she felt grass. I worked on her leash walking, with the assistance of hot dogs, and carried her from one grassy area to another. She came to me whenever she heard my voice and started following me everywhere. Shortly after, the Director of Shelter Operations asked me if I’d be interested in doing an adoption write-up on Anastasia. She told me that it was decided that they were going to place Anastasia up for a special adoption. My heart sunk. Of course I wanted to help but the thought of not being around Anastasia was one I didn’t want to get used to.

At the time, I was still living with my family so I couldn’t just take her home. I talked them into being okay with Anastasia staying with us temporarily as a foster. This way I could see if she would fit in with the other family pets before I got my hopes up. Our Doberman, Ava Mae, wasn’t a fan of her at first. After all, she was the “baby” of the family and didn’t like to share much. Anastasia was oblivious to pretty much everything. As long as she was sitting next to me, on my lap, or playing in the yard, life was great! It reached a point where I decided we had to see if the relationship between the two dogs was going to work out or not. One morning before work, I removed both of their leashes in the backyard and hoped for the best. Within seconds, they started playing. I burst into tears — happy ones of course — as I saw Ava Mae appearing to guide Anastasia around the backyard. I looked at my mom and said “That’s it, she is staying.”

On September 12th, 2016, I signed the paperwork and made it official.

Anastasia had her 5th birthday this past March. She loves spending time with her new little human and enjoys scrambled eggs and deer bologna regularly (she upgraded from her love of hotdogs). Every now and then she will still run into furniture, trees, or humans when she’s overcome with excitement. Anastasia has come so far over the past four years and has taught me so much about life, unconditional love, and patience. She was brought into this shelter for me to meet her. Little did I know that I needed her just as much as she needed me.

Adopting a shelter pet is a life-changing experience. By adopting, you may not have the chance to go and handpick the perfect puppy from a litter. The animals may even come with “baggage” – but who doesn’t? The animals that come into our shelter, and any other shelter for that matter, are positively unforgettable and deserving of forever homes.

So, do it! Go out to your closest animal shelter and say “hello” to all of those happy tails and biscuit-making paws. Not sure of what you’re looking for? That’s okay! The shelter staff is happy to help walk you through the animals that are available. You might be surprised who you end up creating an unbelievable bond with and, I promise, you won’t regret it.

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This week is National Volunteer Appreciation Week! With over 300 volunteers that have served us throughout Berks County and Lancaster, it is only right that we thank each and every one of you for dedicating your time and efforts to helping Humane Pennsylvania build the best community anywhere to be an animal!

Here’s what some of our staff had to say about our pawsome volunteers!

“Volunteers are critically important to every aspect of Humane Pennsylvania.  Most people tend to think of the vital role animal care volunteers play as fairly simple, but as a community-supported charitable organization, volunteers serve in so many other ways.  Our volunteer board of directors helps guide the mission and vision of Humane Pennsylvania and ensures stewardship of our donor resources.  Event and fundraising volunteers help connect Humane Pennsylvania with people in the community who want to support our work.  Professional service providers — ranging from attorneys to mechanics to builders — help us stretch our dollars so we can put the most into care for the animals.  There is no part of our work that is not touched and improved through volunteer efforts and I am truly grateful to work with all of these dedicated animal lovers!”

    – Karel Minor, CEO/President

Humane Pennsylvania is a community service organization.  Volunteers are a critical component to providing those services, as they help to connect us to the communities we serve. They provide critical perspectives and insights into the values of those who utilize our services. They represent Humane Pennsylvania by demonstrating through their volunteerism that they believe in our values and the impact of our programs. They reflect those values back out into the community, helping to carry our message farther and with greater authenticity than we could on our own.  Their support, willingness to participate, passions, and dedication help to sustain our own.  When we think of our dedicated volunteers working alongside us without compensation in what is an often joyous, but frequently difficult (and occasionally heartbreaking) line of work when they could more easily be keeping their free time for themselves, we are reminded of the privilege we enjoy most: the privilege of helping others.”

   – Damon March, Chief Operating Officer

Volunteers help the Veterinary Department of Humane Pennsylvania in a variety of ways. One way has been their help with office work in the reception area. Volunteers have helped organize medical records, scan medical records into our new cloud-based software, and have helped with data entry. This volunteer assistance helps our receptionists have more interaction directly with our clients.

In addition to office work, volunteers have helped with check-in and check-out at spay/neuter clinics. Check-in is a busy time at clinics and volunteers provide a tremendous amount of help when it comes to client interactions and discharging pets at the end of the day.

The Healthy Pet Initiative program and Community Vaccine and Microchip Clinics rely heavily on volunteer support to run as smoothly as they do. The wide array of volunteers help with everything from client interactions, translation, traffic control, data entry, and taking donations – they even assist with holding animals for exams and preparing vaccines and microchips. For the continuous hard work and dedication, we are ever so grateful!”

   – Dr. Simoneau, Chief Veterinary Officer

“Volunteering is defined as “a voluntary act of an individual or group freely giving time and labor for community service.” This definition truly sums up the volunteers of Humane Pennsylvania, and specifically, those that assist with our fundraisers, community events, mailings, and so much more. We couldn’t do it without them. The advancement team has been so fortunate to meet some of the greatest people. Volunteers help us take part in more community events, go above and beyond for our fundraisers, spend their days off stuffing envelopes and letters for mailings, and just making this the best community anywhere to be an animal. During this National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we extend our gratitude to the volunteers who give so selflessly to our fundraisers and initiatives that support our mission and the animals in our care.”

   – Lauren Henderson, Director of Development

“Our volunteers are THE best. Not only do the shelter volunteers spoil the animals and provide amazing love and care to each and everyone, but they also spoil the staff! They listen to the staff, provide amazing ideas and suggestions, and ease the very heavy load that shelter work puts on the team. Our volunteers also help our community by assisting with people coming into or calling the shelter with questions. What they do for us is unmeasurable. The most incredible thing is that they choose to take their own time, out of the kindness of their hearts, to help us. That is a big deal. They are a big deal. In the culture we live in people are go-go-go and there are always a million things going on that make it difficult to find time to do much of anything. Yet, we have an army of people who day in and day out provide such wonderful support and assistance to enable us to continue our mission. Our volunteers are devoted, caring, silly, and intelligent people we consider part of our team and helps us move mountains and make a difference. “Thank you” never seems to be enough, but we truly hope they know how much they do mean to us.”

   – Leann Quire, Director of Shelter Operations

“The CRC really is a resource center for Berks pet owners and more recently, community cat caregivers as part of the Healthy Pets Initiative (HPI).  A vital function of the facility is a tactile presence to verified clients who stop by Spike’s Pet Pantry as they pick up supplemental pet food and supplies, learn about our services, and come to trust us as their “pet partner”.  Volunteers keep our program running efficiently by performing regular, timely data entry, sort/prepare pet food/supplies on pantry days and pick up pet food/supply donations throughout the community. We also rely on them to help us unload and distribute tractor-trailers full of donations from the Greater Good Affiliate Program and other high volume donors so we can share resources with other animal welfare organizations, including state/county animal response teams. Volunteers graciously extend their existing relationships with valuable, pet-friendly individuals and businesses to encourage, create and maintain local engagement and support of HPI events (community vaccination/microchip clinics, etc.) and programming.  When existing, more fortunate pet owners truly understand our mission to improve local pet care and ownership habits, they become an integral part of achieving our goal to be the best community for pets and their owners. For these reasons, we are beyond grateful for the volunteers that continue to help make Humane Pennsylvania an amazing organization for animals and animal caretakers.”

– Alexandra Young, Community Outreach Programs Manager

“No animal shelter would be complete without its foster volunteers. Foster volunteers play such an important role in Humane Pennsylvania because they selflessly provide a great amount of dedication to helping save animals’ lives. Oftentimes, shelters receive animals into their facilities that can’t be placed up for adoption, whether it’s for medical or behavioral reasons. Foster volunteers open their homes and their hearts to nurse them back to health or work on their behavior – all without expecting anything in return. If it weren’t for their endless efforts, we wouldn’t be able to continue to do what we do here at Humane Pennsylvania. We are forever thankful to have such kind, caring, and loving foster volunteers.” 

– Tawny Kissinger, Lifesaving Programs Coordinator

These words cover only a fraction of how we feel about our devoted and selfless volunteers. Every person, no matter the age, that has volunteered with us has taken the concept of giving back to the highest level. For this, on behalf of the entire Humane Pennsylvania organization and the animals in our care, we are eternally grateful.

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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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