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Helping the Voiceless

By Sarah Yobbi

Jackie Armour began her work with Paws Across Pittsburgh to help dogs in need, but soon realized cats needed rescued too.

When she was little, Tricia Cole used to sneak kittens home in her jacket to take care of them. Now she rescues many more at South Hills Pet Rescue.

Working with animals since the early 90’s, Paula Comella spends two nights a week with cats at the Humane Animal Rescue.

Jackie, Tricia, and Paula are just a few of the animal rescuers in Pittsburgh. These individuals rescue, rehabilitate, love for, and devote their time to animals that need their love and devotion.

Jackie Armour, the president of Paws Across Pittsburgh, works everyday to rescue and rehome dogs and cats around the city.

Paws Across Pittsburgh isn’t the average animal shelter, it’s a series of forty-five foster homes across Pittsburgh.

Paws Across Pittsburgh is a relatively new community. Just over three years old, the initiative’s foster parents are currently working with roughly seventy to seventy-five dogs, and thirty to thirty-five cats.

Each of the foster parents  specializes with a certain kind of rescue. Whether it’s kittens, puppies, big dogs, small dogs, disabled dogs or cats, there’s a home waiting for them.

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Target, a foster pup. Photo by: Cindy Ashley.

Armour is currently housing a foster dog and cat.

Paws Across Pittsburgh’s first rescue mission, which was just a few years ago, wasn’t quite the rescue they expected.

“Initially we were just going to [rescue] dogs, but our first case there was a cat and we couldn’t just leave the cat,” Armour said. They took the cat and found it the proper foster home. Finding the cat on their first rescue mission inspired the foster program; one created to house dogs and cats of all kinds.

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Geo, a foster. Photo by: Cindy Ashley.

Armour explains the importance of running a foster home rather than a shelter.

Some shelters can be overwhelming for rescued animals, Armour said. “A lot of dogs will act completely different in a shelter…the noise, the smells, it’s scary.”

Shelters are loud and there are many different scents and interactions, Armour said. In a foster home, they have the ability to adjust to normal life. Foster parents are able to house train these animals, and have the capability to learn their personalities on a level different from that of in a shelter.

Foster mom Diane Raible is the puppy coordinator for Paws Across Pittsburgh.

Raible is currently housing three different litters of puppies. “Right now I have thirty-one puppies… on top of five of my own,” said Raible.

Starting as the puppy coordinator almost two years ago, Raible said she personally makes sure each of the puppies ends up in a loving home.

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Gracie and Mable, fosters. Photo by: Cindy Ashley.

When the cats and dogs are getting prepared for their new homes, they go through a totally different process than at a shelter.

The animals need to first become comfortable with their environment, Armour said. Since most of these animals are not vetted, the foster home takes the proper steps to get them spayed or neutered, get their shots up to date, get microchipped, and anything else they may need.

After all the technical work is done, the rescues get some of their own toys including balls, ropes, and other sweet toys.

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These little hound mix puppies are only a few weeks old. Photo by: Sarah Yobbi.

“Once they get some toys they’re sort of protective,” Armour said. Since these dogs had nothing, they claim the new things they do get.

Paws Across Pittsburgh is not the only animal rescue mission in the city.

Founded in 2013, the South Hills Pet Rescue operates for its mission: to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome dogs of all breeds, with all needs.

SHPR began placing around 100 dogs a year in homes to placing over 800 dogs last year.

The rescue is set up more like a boarding facility rather than a shelter. Their work ranges from housing animals from other shelters, like White Oak Safe Haven, to rescuing dogs from all across the globe.

Because it is normal in certain cultures to eat dog meat, many dogs end up in meat farms. These meat farms are similar to factory farming of cows, pigs, and other animals in the United States.

In their time, they have placed over 100 dogs from meat farms into homes. Currently, they are housing thirty rescued Korean dogs from a meat farm.

Of the thirty dogs rescued from Korean meat farms, there are only about two that are ready to be adopted. The others have been there for a year.

The rehabilitation of these dogs may take a while because some of the puppies are more traumatized than others, said Tricia Cole, a worker at SHPR. “They’ve never had any touching, they’ve never had any socialization, they’ve never had anything but bad stuff happen to them,” said Cole.

Tricia Cole said that old school rap keeps the close to 100 dogs on site quiet and calm.

“We call it hip hop Tuesday,” said Cole. “When you put the hip hop on they just chill…We have over one-hundred dogs here, you think you’d hear one barking.”

Cole, who has been caring for animals as long as she can remember, has worked at SHPR for five years. She rescue animals even as a child. “I remember sneaking kittens home in my coat,” Cole said.

Cole said she fuels her love of animals by working at SHPR. Her job roles include doing office work, scheduling vet appointments, organizing applications, and of course showing love to all the dogs.

The workers begin by speaking with potential foster parents before they are able to visit with the dogs. To help put these dogs in an appropriate home, they need to know things like whether the foster home has any children or other animals living there. The facility focuses on placing the right dog in the right home. Each of the volunteers agreed — It’s important to make sure these dogs are placed properly considering what they have been through in the past.

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Crystal, wearing the cone o’ shame, after getting surgery on her tail. Photo by: Sarah Yobbi.

Danielle Ray, a volunteer at SHPR for over five years, refers to the rescue as “a non-stop well-oiled machine.”

Ray is currently fostering a litter of Sharpay and Lab mixed puppies rescued from Oklahoma. As a volunteer and foster, she works with the dogs, transports them for their house visits, and gives them “love and treats.”

Ray said that the bond made with these dogs during their time at the rescue is a hard one to move on from. When it comes to the dogs finally getting to their forever home, “we cry tears,” said Ray.

SHPR not only controls their own shelter, they fund it too. With the rescue not receiving state funding, all of their funds are raised by themselves. Considering that the vet bills in 2018 were upwards of $100,000, the fundraising is crucial to the shelter’s mission of providing proper care to all the animals they rescue.

Nick and Ashley Ferraro are the owners of SHPR. Nick has owned the rescue since 2013 but has worked with it for longer, leasing the building and working with the animals he could.

Nick is also a behavioral trainer, which is beneficial when helping transition the animals into new homes. “He’s the dog whisperer,” said Cole as she mentioned how lucky SHPR is compared to other shelters for having a behavioral trainer on site.

The owners and the volunteers know best that dogs come in with all kinds of special needs. These needs could be anything from socializing a dog to helping rehabilitate after a surgery or traumatic experience. The rescue frequently receives starvation cases in strays from animal control. “We take them from kill shelters all over the world” Cole explained.

Each special need depends on the individual case. “He’s still hopping around.” Ferraro said about a two-year-old dog who had to have his leg amputated after arriving at the shelter. The two-year old dog had the procedure after being rescued from Texas. There did not seem to be any kind of accident that had caused the damage, rather some sort of birth defect.

Cole mentions that most people are looking for puppies or pitbulls at the rescue. Most of the dogs brought in are larger but they do sometimes get the smaller puppies. “Everybody likes a foo-foo dog,” said Cole. SHPR is currently housing a five month old female chihuahua. “She’s a little nugget, five pounds, but she can tell you how she feels,” said Cole. The chihuahua is going to foster with her mother, who has two small dogs of her own.

There are regular fosters that help out SHPR a lot. Some foster to adopt. “They’ll take them home, and we’ll give them a trial run,” said Cole.

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Sweet pup, waiting for his forever home. Photo by: Sarah Yobbi.

SHPR has two lifers at their rescue, which are dogs who have often been in and out of too many homes and now permanently reside there. One is a pitbull and the other is a hound-mix. Willow, the pitbull, she has too many bites on her record, but has found a safe haven at SHPR. She gets along with the workers, loves her home and is content where she is. Noble, a hound-mix, also with too many bites on his record, seems to be a lifer at SHPR, and is content doing so.

Spencer Edelstein, an adoption counselor at Humane Animal Rescue, works to find the right animal for the right person.

Edelstein said being the adoption counselor is a lot of traffic control. His job involves “being the in between of the animals and the people who are interested in adopting,” he said.

For him, his now two-year old cats, were meant to be a part of his family.

Edelstein normally does his work on Sundays, however he was going out of town so picked up a Wednesday shift instead. Fortunately, another volunteer, Pam, was there on her day off as well.

Once she brought in these two brown tabby shorthairs, Edelstein fell for them instantly. “It just so happened that when I came in Wednesday, Pam brought in two kittens she was fostering. It was sort of this weird twist of fate where we were both there on the wrong day,” he said.

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Zoe laying down after returning from a nice long morning walk. Photo by: Sarah Yobbi.

The toughest part of the job, said Edelstein, is when it’s not a good fit.

Two huskies have been residing at the Humane Animal Rescue for a few months now. These nine-year old brothers were raised together and suffer from littermate syndrome, a disorder which, among other things, makes it hard for them to get along with other dogs. Their disorder combined with their older age makes it difficult for them to get adopted. Unfortunately, when it comes to adopting, most people are looking for younger animals who will be an easier case.

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Zeus, relaxing. Photo by: Sarah Yobbi

Paula Comella, a volunteer at the Humane Animal Rescue has worked with animals for decades.

In the 1990’s she worked with Animal friends, and after a while returned to work there again in 2010. After just a year, Comella decided to switch gears and work with another rescue.

At this time, she began working with the Humane Animal Rescue in Pittsburgh’s East End. Her tasks as a volunteer are somewhat similar to those at SHPR and Paws Across Pittsburgh. Comella however, works with cats instead. Cats, being naturally more shy, are a little harder to work with compared to dogs, said Comella.

Comella socializes with the cats, gives each of them plenty of love and treats, and also works with adopters.

Like many other rescue volunteers, Comella listens to what these adopters are looking for and tries to match them with a cat she finds fit to live with them.

When the adopters finally get to meet some of the cats, she puts them in a socialization room with the cat they are looking to adopt, and gives them some tips on how to interact with the animal.

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Photo by: Sarah Yobbi.

Cindy Ashley, a volunteer, foster and adopter for Paws Across Pittsburgh has four dogs of her own, on top of fostering.

Ashley is responsible for running applications and home visits as well. The home visits done by the workers are not only to make sure the family is a good match, but to make sure people are honest in their applications. Ashley double checks things like the height of their fence, if they have other dogs or children, and to make sure the dog does well on their new turf.

These people who give their time to the animals are the ones responsible for making sure they are ready for the outside world. Since these animals can’t communicate through our language, or do what we do, the volunteers do it for them.

In my personal experience, I have had three of my own puppies. Two of them were rescues. I was lucky enough to have spent fifteen beautiful years with my dog, Duke. Duke wasn’t an average dude, he was obnoxious, strong as a bull, and absolutely bizarre. There were numerous times when he had dragged me and other family members of mine around and by his leash on the ground. Near the end of his life, probably about the last year, he would bark relentlessly every single night to get someone to come down and take him outside, give him water, and a couple good scratches too. The day he passed was the first night in a long time I had not been woken up at 2:15 am. Now, I miss hearing his strained old man bark in the middle of the night. My parents brought him home in December of 2004, and it was completely meant to be. I am so happy to have been his person. You never know what dog you’re gonna fall in love with. Which is why I’m glad my parents rescued.

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