Bring new animals into your family with care this holiday season

State Rep. Joe Hohenstein

By State Rep. Joe Hohenstein

My family loves our pit bull, Gertie. Drama, our German shepherd/cattle dog mix, found Gertie as a 4-month-old puppy on March 17, 2016 under a pickup truck, emaciated, and scared out of her puppy mind. We brought her home, got her spayed and checked out by the vet. We welcomed her into our home.

Doing the math, we figured out that Gertie was probably a holiday present for a family that was not ready for a dog. She was left on the street to fend for herself. Those first four months have left Gertie anxious and excitable – not a good combination in a 70-pound pit bull. Fortunately, my wife Brandi has infinite patience and we have worked through some serious ups and downs, training Gertie and eventually isolating her from most social contact. Today, Gertie is happy with her sister Drama, and brother, Chief Hopper (our tri-pawed rescued from 69th Street Terminal, but that is a story for another piece), and all the cat cousins in our house. She is the right pet for our home, but she would not be for others.

I have the honor of serving on the board of the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Team, which has about 18,000 animals through its doors annually. It serves three roles: as a rescue, providing veterinary care, and administering an adoption program. It is funded by the City of Philadelphia and handles this large caseload with a much lower budget than any other major city rescue and adoption shelter. Since its inception in 2012, ACCT Philly has reduced intake dramatically through progressive strategies such as a community cat TNR program, surrender prevention and intake diversion.

In addition to collaborating with hundreds of rescue partners throughout the region, ACCT Philly’s dedicated lifesaving staff manages a robust foster program, forward-thinking return-to-owner policies and a strong shelter-neuter-return program. For the year, the live release rate for both cats and dogs is 86 percent.

There is a lot of work still to be done and the agency is under-funded. Staff and volunteers are dedicated to treating animals humanely – they all understand that our animals are our family, and how we treat them reflects how we treat each other. We in the public can help make that difficult – and sometimes thankless – work a bit easier with a few simple actions.

• Adopt or foster through approved shelter programs. If you follow the hashtag #adoptdontshop, you will find lots of resources for how to find the best pet for your family without resorting to questionable farm breeders;

• Support your local shelter program, like ACCT, by donating, volunteering time, and providing positive feedback on social media. The people who work at ACCT and other animal protection organizations do so because they love animals – so we can show them some love, too;

• Take care of your own animals. Be sure to spay and neuter your pets, provide them with good vet care, and have them registered and chipped. Many problems people encounter with animals are not with the animals – but with bad owners. Be a good owner.

Positive engagement with ACCT, the PASPCA and other animal care organizations helps the animals and the people in those organizations. It also can provide the support to improve outcomes. As a board member and elected official, I am advocating for ACCT to receive a budget to support its large caseload and specific improvements – like a planned dog run that will make life for the animals better, and make the work just a bit easier for their human caretakers.

This holiday season, please make sure any new animal family member is a decision and choice made by the entire family. A new pet can bring a family together, teaching us lessons about unconditional love, responsibility to each other and the joy of puppy snuggles. Those things only happen if every family member understands the commitment an animal entails – 10-plus years for a dog; close to 20 years for a cat; and reptiles and birds have been known to outlive their human owners. If an animal is neglected or abandoned, they are not often as lucky as Gertie. Please think before you bring a new animal into your home.

P.S. My office just adopted Rex, a 14-year-old cat, after my friend passed on. You’ll be seeing more of Rex in the coming months as he helps us promote adoptable ACCT animals. ••