"This is the hard part---the waiting,” said volunteer Ron Papik, of Valencia, as he paced near the entrance to the shelter off Camp Horne Road, with all the anticipation of an expectant father.
The new arrivals, though, would be furry, four-legged, and delivered from certain death at five different animal control facilities in Allegheny County and the Greene County Humane Society.
In what has become a biannual tradition, the dogs -- 32 strays picked up over the Independence Day holiday -- are being given a second chance at life at Ohio Township's Animal Friends, the greater Pittsburgh area’s only “no-kill” shelter.
“The Fourth is a busy time for animal control,” said Animal Friends spokesman Jolene Miklas. “A lot of these dogs were probably pets who may have wandered away from picnics or who took off when they heard fireworks and got scared.”
Unlicensed dogs are typically euthanized by animal control facilities if they go unclaimed for 48 hours, Miklas said. “We rescue as many as we have cages for. Today, we liberate.”
It is a major undertaking for staff and volunteers who spend a month planning and then executing Liberation Day rescues, which also are held on New Year’s Eve.
When yesterday’s first vanload of dogs approached the shelter, Papik shouted, “They’re here!” and teams of rescue workers swung into action, collaring the dogs as they removed them from their crates, and lavishing them with hugs and praise.
A gangly Great Dane, a Jack Russell puppy, and a young pit bull -- the earliest arrivals -- responded by wagging their tails and sniffing their new surroundings.
Erin Butkovic of Shaler headed “team welcome,” which kicked off the intake process.
Dogs were given names suggested in advance by patients at the Southwestern Veterans Center, and then handed off to “team flow,” which escorted them to the medical suite for veterinary exams. They were weighed, tested for parvo virus, dewormed, and vaccinated against rabies, kennel cough and distemper.
“I know when the animals come here, they’ll have a forever home,” said Butkovic, who has volunteered at the shelter for 11 years. “It’s why I do this.”
“The rewards are incredible,” agreed Holly Gumbeski of Wexford. “Dogs give unconditional love, and all it takes is the littlest bit of kindness for them to come out of their shell, especially dogs that were pets, that are used to being treated well.”
“They may be terrified when we first pick them up, but when they realize they aren’t here for punishment, their demeanor changes.”
Dogs were bathed, outfitted with red, white and blue Liberation Day scarves, and then assigned a home-cage in the kennel. They will be spayed and neutered, and put up for adoption within days, through any number of Animal Friends programs.
Those include the Red Collar Society that places older dogs, cats and rabbits, and the Golden Age Retriever program that matches humans age 60 or older with pets at least three years old.
“Senior citizens make wonderful owners, and many don’t want puppies,” said Cadman, noting that they also are entitled to reduced adoption fees.
Although permanent placement is a key Animal Friends mission, providing low-cost spaying and neutering has moved to the forefront, because it means fewer animals coming into shelters, Miklas said.
Raising awareness also helps to curb overcrowding of shelters, according to Miklas. “A lot of our Liberation Day dogs wouldn’t be here if their owners had tagged them with a license or gotten them micro-chipped.”
Owners of lost pets should call animal control facilities as quickly as possible because hold times are so brief, she said. Facilities are listed on Animal Friends’ website.
Animal Friends has many programs for ensuring that families and pets stay together, including socials, behavior classes, and the chow wagon, which supplies 20 local food pantries with 10,000 pounds of dog and cat food each year. Those include the pantry at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church on Siebert Road in Ross, and Loaves and Fishes, which North Hills Community Outreach operates on Ferguson Road in Allison Park.
Food is donated by individuals and local corporations, Cadman said. “When we started this four years ago, one client said, ‘Didn’t you wonder why I took six to eight cans of tuna home each week?’ He was taking less food for himself in order to feed his cat. When he saw cat food on the shelf, he was ecstatic.”
For more on the Liberation Day dogs and other adoptable pets, see Animal Friend's adoption guidelines and applications for adopting. If you've lost your pet, find here a list of numbers to call and actions to take.
For more information visit www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org or call 412-847-7000.