Dogs strut their stuff to Downtown crowds

Debbie Viducich is the proud owner of five dogs and four cats, not counting the puppy she‘‍s fostering. With a bright pink leash in hand Wednesday, the longtime Animal Friends shelter volunteer sought to convince Pittsburghers on their lunch hours to follow her lead to pet ownership amid a bark-filled spectacle dubbed a “Mutt Mob.”

With fanfare, 20 dogs from the shelter marched with Ms. Viducich and others through Downtown at lunch time in an effort to promote their adoption. The dog walk was held instead of the annual “Liberation Day” rescue typically organized by Animal Friends to take in and offer for adoption animals that had been found over the holiday weekend and placed in control facilities. 

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Holly Gumbeski, left, and Charlotte Ender, both of Animal Friends, along with Monceler, a two-year-old pit bull mix, enjoy the cooling spray of the dancing fountain at PPG Place Wednesday.

It is especially common for dogs to run astray around the Fourth of July, with travel and other festivities, according to Kathleen Beaver, Animal Friends‘‍ chief operating officer, and the shelter usually takes in a number of those animals — which otherwise could be euthanized if not claimed at control facilities — through the “Liberation Day” rescue.

But this year, with its kennels filled above capacity, Animal Friends was unable to hold the rescue as planned. The shelter, with a normal capacity of 250 animals, is now playing host to more than 370 dogs, cats and rabbits, using “creative housing” options such as office space to hold them all, according to the shelter’‍s director of animal wellness, Ann Ensminger.

Animal Friends saw an influx of animals after a nearby shelter, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, halted dog admissions in early June after a dog that had recently been adopted from there developed canine distemper.

Wednesday‘‍s lunch time dog walk, a spectacle that ran from Market Square to Point State Park, aimed to find some of the shelter’‍s many animal guests permanent homes, with all 20 of the dogs on the walk ready for adoption. Megan Schmitt, Animal Friends‘‍ admissions and foster care coordinator, said she also hoped the walk would raise awareness about animal shelters more broadly.

“We want people to see it’‍s not just old dogs or pit bulls at shelters,” Ms. Schmitt said. “We see small breeds, pure breeds, and puppies on a daily basis.”

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Becky DiLucia, left, and Cyndee Traversari, both of Animal Friends, unload Zeva, a seven-month-old pit bull mix, one of 20 dogs brought to PPG Place and Market Square as part of "Mutt Mob."

Indeed, dogs of all kinds were on display Wednesday. Volunteer Jack Nelson, whose “love of dogs and animals and trying to find them good homes” drew him to Animal Friends, took care of Wally, a sandy-colored Lhasa Apso. Passers-by were quick to pet the 10-year-old dog in PPG Place Plaza, and Mr. Nelson was quick to capitalize on the enthusiasm.

“If you look at his collar, I think your name is on it,” Mr. Nelson told a kneeling woman admiring the dog.

Of course, there were some pit bulls, too. Ms. Viducich walked the 6-year-old pit bull Darius through the plaza — or maybe Darius, pulling ahead to nuzzle admirers on their lunch breaks, was walking her.

“He‘‍s a volunteer favorite,” Ms. Viducich said.

Madeline R. Conway:, 412-263-1714 or on Twitter @MadelineRConway.