Pet Tales: Dogs (and other shelter pets) have their day

An adorable beagle puppy named Hunter was a tail-waggin’ welcome wagon at the ribbon cutting recently for the new $15 million shelter of the Animal Rescue League/Western PA Humane Society.

Eight-week-old Hunter greeted visitors at the East End shelter, walking nicely and happily on a leash held by volunteer Ginny Merchant, who has six senior dogs in her Fox Chapel home — “all of them adopted from here.”

Visitors also met Mokey, an 8-week-old long-haired dachshund mix who had been picked up as a stray in Mount Oliver.

This was the first chance for the animal-loving public to see the new shelter and the 200 animals that live there. About 200 people came to the Homewood shelter, and many watched the three-block pet parade from the old shelter at 6620 Hamilton Ave. to the new shelter at 6926 Hamilton Ave.

Visitors included Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Spectators lined the parade route even though it rained heavily for most of the day. Shortly before the parade started at 1 p.m., heavy rain changed to light drizzle. The five dogs who marched in the parade clearly enjoyed their outing.

Willie, Maximilian and Duchess — all 10 years old — were joined by Mokey and boxer-mix puppy Frankie, two calico kittens in a wagon, a frog in an aquarium, and a ball python carried by a shelter worker. Rabbits, cats and a red-footed tortoise named Zelda were carried in small crates.

Frankie’s black face looks sad in the photographs, but that’s just her look. She wagged her tail as she walked and greeted children on the sidewalk. Her short legs couldn’t keep up with the big dogs, so she was carried for most of the parade.

As the animal parade passed the Golden Bone boarding facility, a cacophony of barks and howls greeted the shelter animals. Some of the boarders stood on hind legs, paws on the big picture window, wagging their tails.

You can see Willie, Maximilian, Duchess, and other adoptable dogs, cats and rabbits at the website. Senior dogs have become popular, said adoption manager Joe Tedesco.

“Many people who come in to adopt say they want an older dog.”

Older dogs like Duchess, a black akita mix, are sweet and loving, generally housebroken, often have had a lot of training, and don’t need as much exercise as younger dogs. They often come with a sad back story — their owners have died or had to go into nursing homes.

Puppies are not plentiful, thanks to successful spay/neuter programs. But when they do enter the shelter, they are quickly adopted. Hunter, Mokey and Frankie will probably be spoken for by the time you read this column.

Also greeting visitors was Snarf, a small 18-month-old dog with the cute and youthful look of a puppy. Picked up as a stray in East Liberty last year, Snarf was adopted by Mr. Tedesco, one of several shelter employees who bring their personal pets to work.

The new shelter is twice as big as the old shelter, which had been open since the early 1960s. The new one was designed by Colorado-based architectural firm Animal Arts, which uses “companion animal research” to meet the needs of the animals.

Most shelters, including ARL’s old building, have dogs and cats in rows of kennels or cages facing each other.

“Animals get stressed looking at each other,” said Dan Rossi, CEO of the two “open door” shelters that were merged in September.

In the new shelter, the dogs and cats can’t see other animals. However, cats that enjoy the company of other felines can live in “cat colony rooms.” Dogs are walked daily by employees and volunteers, and there are outdoor exercise areas.

The layout was purposely designed so that people who come to the shelter to see puppies will have to walk past the adult dogs first. The hope is that they might make a love connection.

Visitors met many wonderful dogs, cats and rabbits. My favorite dog of the day was Archie, 5, a tan-and-white American pit bull who peered out of his kennel with sad eyes. When people stopped to visit, his whole body wagged. When people talked to him, he tilted his big, blocky head to listen. His bio says he knows many commands and is cuddly with people, but he would do best in a home where he is the only dog.

A new low-cost veterinary clinic will allow the shelter to increase services by 30 percent. There’s a Rescue Re-Tail Shop and a cafe featuring Grounds and Hounds coffee.

It should be noted: All of the animals were moved to the new shelter during the week preceding the ribbon cutting. Some of the animals were brought back to the old shelter for the symbolic parade to the new facility.