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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Stories Behind The Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We appreciate everyone’s continued support in allowing us to modify procedures to best accommodate our clients, supporters, volunteers, and staff as we acclimate to this new normal.

We are thrilled to announce that our Danielle Ruiz-Murphy Dog Park in Birdsboro has officially reopened! If you are using our free dog park, please keep social distancing in mind, and keep yourself and others safe and healthy.

Also starting July 6th The Humane League of Lancaster County will be accepting appointments for those wishing to visit our shelter. If you are interested in making an appointment to come to our shelter, please call our front desk at 717-393-6551.

Our Spike’s Pet Pantry program in Berks and Lancaster Counties remains open and available to meet your needs. If you, or someone you know needs pet food assistance in Berks County, please visit our Community Resource Center every Tuesday and Thursday from 2 PM – 6 PM. If you are able, please consider donating to help feed pets in need by dropping donations in the blue bins outside of The Humane League of Lancaster County or Humane Veterinary Hospital, Reading.  If you, or someone you know needs pet food assistance in Lancaster County, please contact The Humane League of Lancaster County at 717-393-6551.

We are sorry to inform you that low-cost spay/neuter surgeries are not yet available. Regular price surgery appointments may be scheduled through our Humane Veterinary Hospitals; if you are in need of low-cost services, we recommend you call No Nonsense Neutering at 1-866-820-2510.

Upcoming pay-what-you-can vaccine and microchip clinics will be scheduled from time to time over the course of the summer, please watch our Humane Pennsylvania Facebook and website for announcements. We appreciate your understanding as we all navigate through this difficult time together, and we look forward to adding additional services as circumstances allow.

Humane Veterinary Hospitals are increasing their services offered. Clients are welcome, and encouraged to schedule their wellness visits, and continue providing routine care for their pets. Please contact Humane Veterinary Hospital, Lancaster at 717-393-6551 or Humane Veterinary Hospital, Reading at 610-921-2348 to schedule an appointment.

In accordance with the Pennsylvania Business Safety Order, all visitors to Humane Pennsylvania locations are asked to wear a mask.

Thank you for your patience as we continue to work to keep you and your pets safe and healthy.

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By: Lauren Henderson, Director of Events & Corporate Relations for Humane Pennsylvania

When we first kicked around the idea of hosting this year’s Walk for the Animals & Walktoberfest virtually, I wasn’t sure how that would shape out. Our annual Walk for the Animals & Walktoberfest has been built to be an in-person event. The vendors, the dogs, the packs, the live music; every detail has been thoroughly figured out to make sure the in-person Walk is enjoyed by all. But how does it work when the in-person Walk becomes virtual?

On June 2nd we officially announced this year’s 43rd Annual Walk for the Animals & Walktoberfest, Virtually, and it was so well received and supported, that not one day has passed without a registration, sponsorship, raffle ticket purchase, or donation. It’s quite literally amazing to see in the midst of a pandemic.

The support was so incredible, we extended the original virtual Walk dates to ensure everyone who wanted to support had the opportunity to do so. It is now set for July 24th – July 26th, which means if you haven’t yet registered there’s still time!

This year’s Walk will no doubt look, and feel different. But over the course of those 3 days we encourage you to take your canine companion out on a stroll, proudly wear your virtual Walk t-shirt, and let every know you’re walking for the animals! We’ll share photos and videos of other walkers doing the same thing. Together we can still accomplish what our in-person Walk sets out to do every year. Visit our virtual vendor websites and support their services. Thank our sponsors for their unwavering support, especially this year. If you haven’t already, join our virtual Walk Facebook event, and join a group of people walking for the animals.

The lifesaving funds raised through this year’s virtual Walk are critical. Please register. Purchase some raffle tickets. Tell a friend. Ask a relative or friend from out of state to donate and help us complete our 50 State Challenge. Please donate.

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