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North Hills Monthly

Don’t Forget Presents for Shelter Pets this Season

Dec 01, 2014 10:25AM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Think about all the love and care you bestow upon your pet, not just over the holidays, but every day. Now think about those pets in transition—stuck in cages as they wait for someone to see their worth and give them a loving home.

Senior Communications Coordinator Shannon Tremblay of Animal Friends says that there are many easy ways you can spread the love and help shelter pets get through the holidays, even if you’re not in a position to adopt. “Our shelter pets have a wish list just like anyone else; they have items that they love and use each day,” said Tremblay. “By donating specifics items that our residents need, it enables us to use monetary donations for quality care and services.”

Keeping shelter pets engaged and active helps make them appear happier, and this leads to a greater possibility of getting adopted. Natural products like rubber Kong toys and treat dispensers are preferable to anything made of plastic, which can break off and cause obstructions if swallowed. That said, anything that a dog can safely chew and make a treat out of will help shelter dogs keep busy—and looking adorable—while they wait.

“Enrichment means providing a daily environment that is varied, interesting and stimulating,” explained Animal Enrichment Specialist Suzanne Denk, noting that a variety of toys and treats allow the animals to keep their minds active and to explore their space in new ways. “For enrichment with your pets, just five to 10 minutes each day can help to relax pets while they’re alone during the day, and prevent boredom and provide mental stimulation.”

Shelter pets, on the other hand, don’t have the comfort of a loving home to help them relax. “They are often confined to cages in crowded or close quarters. This sort of environment can often lead to anxiety in animals,” explained Allison Raithel, a long-time sales associate at Healthy Pet Products in McCandless.

For this reason, slow feeding dog bowls are at the top of the shelter’s list. “Bloat can be a life-threatening condition in dogs that eat too fast and inhale a lot of air,” Raithel explained, adding that this can be a common problem for dogs that may have come from a stray situation or experienced restricted food resources. “Known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), gastric torsion and twisted stomach, the condition is serious.” In addition to making the dogs work to get the food out of crevices, slow feeding bowls also provide mental stimulation for breeds like Border Collies that benefit from increased engagement.

Marshmallow the bunny, who currently resides at Healthy Pet Products, came from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society hoping to attract a new owner amidst the store’s customers. “Rabbits are very active and must have hay available 24 hours a day,” said Raithel. Shelter rabbits’ wish lists include things to chew on, like wooden toys and flavored sticks. Sea grass mats, towels for bunching, baby stacking rings, and even old cardboard tubes will amuse them, and they also like bells and chimes.

Shelter cats also experience anxiety, and pheromone sprays can alleviate scratching, aggression and help take the edge off of a nervous cat. Raithel says that sprays like Feliway are safe and will help with transitions from the shelter to a new home, and catnip spray can do the same thing. Toys like feathers on sticks and catnip balls are on the top of their wish lists.

In addition to providing toys and treats, Tremblay suggests doing something a little more substantial and consider underwriting an adoption fee. “That hopper, feline or pooch will be forever grateful as you’ll make his or her adoption truly priceless,” she said.

Another way to help shelter pets is to volunteer your time. Tremblay said you can work with the species that appeals to you most—or all of them! “But if you don’t want to handle the animals, we have plenty of other areas that could use your help, from data entry to greeting visitors to helping with special events,” she explained. “There’s a niche that fits every interest.”

When shopping for your own pet, consider buying products from companies that support animal or environmental welfare, like Planet Dog, which donates 2 percent of every sale to finance programs that train, place and support working dogs helping people in need. And especially at this time of year, remember that pets are not gifts; they are living, breathing beings that require long-term commitments and should therefore not be purchased on a whim during the holidays. If you’re looking for a new pet, make adoption from your local shelter or rescue group your first option.