Pet Tales: Program that helps low-income pet owners is about to end

The dog itched and scratched every part of his body that he could reach and bit at his tail until it was bleeding and infected. Although the dog was clearly in agony, the owner never took him to a veterinarian. She loved her dog, but she didn’t have a car to drive to a veterinarian — or the money to pay the bill.

For the past 12 months, that owner and others like her have received help through a program funded by a $50,000 Pets for Life grant from the Humane Society of the United States and PetSmart Charities. Staffers from Animal Friends work in Pittsburgh’s Homewood and East Liberty neighborhoods and in nearby Wilkinsburg. They connect low-income pet owners with a wide array of free services, including veterinary care and pet food, so they can keep their pets and give them proper care.

The veterinarian who treated the itchy dog determined he had allergies that were aggravated by his diet — table scraps and people food. Animal Friends gave the owner high-quality, nutritionally balanced dog food, and surgery was performed on the tail. 

“Homewood is a pet food desert, with no grocery stores or pet supply stores within an easy walk” for pet owners who don’t have cars, said Kaley Kaczynski, the Animal Friends community liaison who works with Carol Whaley, Animal Friends director of clinic services.

Ms. Kaczynski walked the streets of Homewood, knocking on doors, offering free spay/neuter surgeries, veterinary care, inoculations and more. Some residents slammed the door in her face and told her to never come back. Others asked to see her “badge” from the Ohio Township shelter because they feared she was an animal control agent come to take away their beloved pets. But a few invited her into their homes, offered her coffee and tea, accepted her help, and spread the word.

“Some of the pets looked too skinny,” Ms. Kaczynski said, so she gave them food. Many had fleas and ticks because cheap over-the-counter meds often don’t work, so she made sure they got prescription medicine.

“Everyone should be able to have an animal if they want one,” she said.

In the past 12 months, 670 human clients have received free care for 1,300 animals. At Pets for Life outreach events in May and October in Homewood, more than 200 pets were vaccinated against rabies and distemper, and many free spay and neuter surgeries were scheduled.

Pets for Life clients were among those who benefited from 936 free spay and neuters and 907 vaccinations provided by Animal Friends over the past two years.

Now the program is nearing its end. The Pets for Life grant expires this month.

“We’re brainstorming to come up with a new program,” Ms. Kaczynski said, and Animal Friends is looking for funding sources. 

No matter what happens, one component of the program will continue through the new year. Animal Friends recently finalized a partnership with the YMCA at 7140 Bennett St. in Homewood. The shelter will regularly supply pet food from its Chow Wagon food pantry to the Y’s food pantry.

Pet presents

Pennsylvania is No. 3 on the list of money spent on Christmas presents for pets.

We spend an average of $28.75, while No. 1 New Jersey averages $30.01 on its pets. According to, only $8.63 is spent in Kentucky, which came in last on the list of states surveyed by Big Heart Pet Brands, makers of Milk-Bone and other pet foods.

The website also reports that 71 percent of American dog owners will give their pets a Christmas gift, 48 percent will hang a Christmas stocking for their dogs and 43 percent include their dogs in holiday card photos.

Christmas morning

Anyone who dreams of a dog or cat under their tree can have that wish granted by the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center.

Adopt a pet from now until Dec. 23, and for an extra $30, the shelter will deliver it to your home on Christmas morning — if you live within a 20-mile radius of the Larimer shelter.

To sign up, contact Rob Strom at or 412-345-7300, ext. 240. 

While many animal advocates have traditionally warned against giving a pet for Christmas, the shelter notes that Christmas is a time when many people are off work and the children are out of school. It’s a chance to bond with their new pets.

Fun at the Aviary

Fleury the snowy owl is hosting a Kids Only Night Out tonight, and African penguins are hosting Holiday Camps later this month at the National Aviary, 700 Arch St., North Side.

There’s still time to sign up for tonight’s program for those in kindergarten through fifth grade, which runs from 5 to 9 p.m. The cost is $50 per child and $5 for dinner. There will be stories, bat feedings, crafts, a scavenger hunt, flashlight hike and a chance to meet a penguin up close. 

Holiday Penguin Camps feature close encounters with the endangered  birds, including helping prepare their breakfast. Penguins will be making paintings. The camps are $75 for Aviary members and $85 for nonmembers. All camps are 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on the following dates for these age groups:

Dec. 28, ages 6-8; Dec. 29, ages 9-12; and Dec. 30, ages 13-18.

To register for the Night Out or camps, email or call 412-258-9439. 

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064 and on Facebook.