Pet Tales: A nearly 10-year shelter stay ends for Lil Orphan Annie

The sable-and-white Shetland sheepdog/husky mix poses prettily in the picture posted on Facebook. Her eyes gaze directly into the lens of the camera and her left paw rests on the left knee of a smiling woman.

"This is a picture of pure happiness!" says the post that announces, "Annie and her new owner, Diana." It appeared Oct. 29, on the page of Orphans of the Storm, a no-kill animal shelter in Kittanning. Jubilant comments followed, all along the lines of this one:

"I am so happy Annie finally found a home!"

"Diana, thank-you," wrote another woman. "I learned today that there ARE happy endings."

How long has Annie been in the shelter? I asked.

The answer blew me away. The dog I've nicknamed "Lil Orphan Annie" had been in the shelter for nearly 10 years.

It's not because no one loved her, and it's not because no one wanted to adopt her. Sometimes love is not enough.

"It's hard for people to understand that sometimes things happen in an animal's life that cannot be overcome," said Beth Ann Galbraith, the assistant manager, whose mother, Gladine Wiles, started the shelter in 1969.

Annie is shy and fearful with most people. In her youth she had a home, although her behavior indicates it wasn't much of one. When she got pregnant -- as if it was the dog's fault -- she was cast out to fend for herself.

It took weeks for Orphans of the Storm staff to catch her. Annie was placed in a foster home, where she gave birth to one puppy. The puppy got a good home.

The foster family "had Annie for quite a while, trying to make things work," Mrs. Galbraith said, but "there was one family member Annie did not like, and she was jealous of their elderly dog and was picking on it."

At the shelter, Annie was initially afraid of everyone. It took weeks for her to warm up to Mrs. Galbraith and Mrs. Wiles. She couldn't be walked by most people.

Ten years in a shelter kennel probably isn't your idea of an ideal home, but Annie wasn't unhappy, her fans say. When dogs and cats come into Orphans of the Storm, "they are already saved. When they are here they are family," Mrs. Galbraith said.

"Annie was comfortable here. It was home. Just because an animal is here long term does not mean it is not adoptable. For Annie we were looking for someone special, someone with the time and patience to visit with her for months."

That's where Diana McCaferty Goslin comes in. When she retired from Allegheny Ludlum last December, she went to Orphans of the Storm three times a week to walk dogs. Annie went right up to her.

"She put her paws up on me and gave me a hug. Annie and I hit it off immediately," said Ms. Goslin, who wasn't planning to adopt.

There were several short trips away from the shelter, and Annie didn't seem to mind the car ride to Ms. Goslin's 16-acre Armstrong County farm. Last fall, she stayed on the farm for several days. In late October, nearly a year after she met Ms. Goslin, Annie was an orphan no more.

"She is doing wonderfully! Even better than I imagined," Ms. Goslin said recently.

Annie gets along with Ms. Goslin's three cats, and the little dog that is afraid of so many things is not afraid of Rosie, a 30-year-old Arabian horse. Annie is good friends with Chance, the 92-pound stray dog that showed up on Ms. Goslin's porch two years ago.

Annie loves sleeping on the couch, chewing on rawhide and playing with new toys "just like a puppy." She's still fearful of some things, including gunshots in hunting season, so Ms. Goslin keeps her on a leash around the farm. When Annie's uncomfortable with some visitors, she can go to a crate that is her safe haven.

Home for the holidays

"I'll be Home for Christmas" is a song that haunts anyone who has a loved one who can't make it home for the holidays. It is best applied to soldiers in war zones and to police officers, hospital workers and others who are needed to protect and serve.

Cynics might say that for dogs and cats, Dec. 25 is no different than any other day. But a real home for the holidays is a fervent desire of staff and volunteers who work in shelters and rescue organizations.

Shelters seem to have no problem finding volunteers to take care of shelter animals on Christmas Day and other holidays. Many shelters, including Orphans of the Storm and Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center in Pittsburgh, put on a big push to find more foster homes during the holidays.

Each year, Orphans of the Storm finds homes for 800 to 1,000 cats and dogs. The current population is about 190 potential pets in the shelter and in foster homes. That includes a black-and-tan Chihuahua mix named Nicky who has been waiting for a home for seven years, and a volunteer favorite named Buddy, a Chihuahua who has been waiting for two years.

Check out the websites of your favorite shelter, look at the pictures of animals waiting for homes, and do what you can. Donations of money and supplies are always needed.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.