Valentino and Effie: Poster pups for abused animals

The pit bull-mix puppy walks with an awkward gait and his feet and lower legs look malformed because of weak muscles and ligaments caused by poor nutrition and abuse. His ribs, hips and backbones are clearly visible through his white fur.

Though he is 5 months old and should weigh at least 40 pounds, he weighed only 13 pounds when a good Samaritan brought him to the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center in Larimer. The staff named him Valentino because he was rescued two days before Valentine’s Day.

Valentino was the poster dog for a news conference Friday to call for stiffer penalties for people convicted of abusing animals.

“It breaks my heart to see what people do. He was put out like garbage,” abandoned in a field in frigid temperatures, said Kristal Krieger, a veterinary technician at the shelter.

She’s also Valentino’s “foster mom,” taking care of him at her home, where he has gained five pounds.

“It’s been really cool to watch his personality emerge,” said Dan Rossi, executive director of the rescue league. Two weeks ago Valentino was shy and withdrawn, behavior often exhibited by dogs that have not been cared for with love and affection.

At the news conference, Valentino wagged his tail, looked at people with his startling pale blue eyes and solicited pats and belly rubs from strangers.

Mr. Rossi was joined by Brian Bonsteel, president of Humane Action Pittsburgh.

“Animal abuse is something we cannot rescue our way out of,” said Dr. Bonsteel, a Pittsburgh dentist. “We need to legislate it. Is Valentino worth 10 minutes of your time? Call your legislator and ask him to vote for” laws that would help animals.

The Animal Rescue League, Humane Action Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society are pushing especially for passage of state House Bill 113 — known as Angel’s Law. It would make animal cruelty a misdemeanor instead of a summary offense, which generally results in fines but no jail time. Repeat offenders would be prosecuted as felons.

Proposed by state Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights, and named for an abused dog, Angel’s Law is currently stalled in the Judiciary Committee with more than 300 other bills.

Earlier in the afternoon on the other end of the city, a pit bull-mix named Effie also had a news conference. When rescued by Pittsburgh police Officer Christine Luffey in January and taken to a North Side shelter, she weighed 13 pounds.

Effie, 3, was brought from her foster home to the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society for a weigh-in. Shelter workers and volunteers applauded when she tipped the scale at 26 pounds.

Like Valentino, Effie now is being used to highlight the need for Angel’s Law.

Gerald Walker Jr. has been charged with starving and neglecting the dog in a Homewood apartment.

As part of its lobbying efforts, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society has sold 1,000 ”Effie Strong” bracelets for $5. They can be ordered from the shelter’s website or Facebook page.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-1953.