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Shelters hope animals find homes for holidays

| Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Gaylene Adams,, 54, of Elizabeth gets to know Sophie, a cat she was considering adopting at Animal Friends in Ohio Township, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Gaylene Adams,, 54, of Elizabeth gets to know Sophie, a cat she was considering adopting at Animal Friends in Ohio Township, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.
Gaylene Adams,, 54, of Elizabeth (left) meets Sophie, a cat she was considering adopting from Animal Friends in Ohio Township along with her aunt, Thelma Figas, 64, McKeesport, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Gaylene Adams,, 54, of Elizabeth (left) meets Sophie, a cat she was considering adopting from Animal Friends in Ohio Township along with her aunt, Thelma Figas, 64, McKeesport, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.
Gaylene Adams, 54, of Elizabeth (left) meets a potential adoptee Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, at Animal Friends in Ohio Township.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Gaylene Adams, 54, of Elizabeth (left) meets a potential adoptee Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, at Animal Friends in Ohio Township.
Gaylene Adams, 54, of Elizabeth (right) hugs Animal Friends volunteer Julie Galli of Franklin Park on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, after Adams adopted a cat that Galli had been caring for at Animal Friends in Ohio Township.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Gaylene Adams, 54, of Elizabeth (right) hugs Animal Friends volunteer Julie Galli of Franklin Park on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, after Adams adopted a cat that Galli had been caring for at Animal Friends in Ohio Township.
Gaylene Adams, 54, of Elizabeth gets to know Sophie, a cat she was considering adopting, on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, at Animal Friends in Ohio Township.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Gaylene Adams, 54, of Elizabeth gets to know Sophie, a cat she was considering adopting, on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, at Animal Friends in Ohio Township.
Animal Friends Adoption Counselor, Lindsey DiBattista, holds a cat available for adoption at Animal Friends in Ohio Township, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Animal Friends Adoption Counselor, Lindsey DiBattista, holds a cat available for adoption at Animal Friends in Ohio Township, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.
Thelma Figas, 64, McKeesport, plays with a cat available for adoption  from Animal Friends in Ohio Township, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Thelma Figas, 64, McKeesport, plays with a cat available for adoption from Animal Friends in Ohio Township, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.

If adding a furry friend to the household is in the offing for the holidays, several Western Pennsylvania animal welfare organizations are eager to assist.

Animal Friends in Ohio Township is offering free adoptions through the end of the year, thanks to a pledge from longtime supporters Bob and Janine Fragasso. The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and Animal Rescue League in Pittsburgh are offering families a chance to adopt dogs recently brought in from tornado-damaged Tennessee in addition to dogs, cats and small animals already at their shelters.

“Because many people are off from work, it is a good time of year to incorporate new family members since you're around the house more and you have a longer time to bond with them, help train them and get them used to their new living situations,” said Animal Rescue League Executive Director Dan Rossi. “On the flip side of that, however, we do discourage giving pets as gifts unless they have been well planned out.”

Staff members at Animal Friends hope the Fragassos' pledge to underwrite adoption donations through the end of the month will help many animals find homes.

“(The donation from the Fragassos) potentially could be thousands of dollars if we get the kind of traffic we're hoping for,” spokeswoman Shannon Tremblay said. “We've been calling it the best gift of all because we know it's the best gift you can give a homeless animal.”

It's important to make sure potentially harmful decorations such as tinsel, garland and lights are kept out of reach of pets, Tremblay said. It's also a good idea to put pets in a bedroom or another safe place until guests are gone.

“Make sure the door is closed, and you'll know that they're safe, warm and tucked away,” she said.

Animal Friends usually has about 150 dogs, cats and rabbits — up to 250 — onsite and another 100 in foster care. Their animals go through medical and behavioral exams before being made available for adoption. That ensures not only that the pets are healthy but also that they are placed with a family best suited for them, Tremblay said.

Once an individual comes to the shelter and identifies a dog, cat or rabbit, an Animal Friends counselor will conduct an interview.

“It's more or less learning what your home life is like: if you work, if you work at home, if you have kids, etc.,” Tremblay said. “If you're a marathon runner, maybe you want a high-energy dog. If you're a homebody who likes to lie on the couch and watch Netflix, we'll find an animal who will snuggle up with you.

“We want to make sure the animal will be a great match for your family.”

Hundreds of dogs and cats also are waiting at the Humane Society shelter on the North Side and at Animal Rescue League's location in the East End.

The organizations, which officially merge Jan. 1, recently partnered with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to bring 12 adult dogs and six puppies from Athens, Tenn. Southern shelters typically experience overcrowding, Rossi said, which puts animals at risk for euthanasia, and that situation worsens after a natural disaster.

“It ends up being pretty devastating, and the shelters get bombarded,” Rossi said.

The Humane Society and Animal Rescue League will euthanize animals in some circumstances, such as poor health or poor temperament. Animal Friends is a no-kill shelter.

To adopt at the Humane Society or Animal Rescue League, Rossi recommended going to their websites and looking at the list of available animals. Staff members then meet with potential adopters to determine what animal is a good fit. Those interested should bring identification and proof of home ownership or a copy of a lease that specifies pets are permitted. If dog owners are looking to add an animal, they should bring their dogs for a meet-and-greet, Rossi said.

“We know our animals' personalities and can gauge which will do better with households with other animals or with children,” he said. “We want to make sure the adoption is successful.”

For anyone who might be unable to adopt but wants to help, Rossi said, monetary donations and supplies are welcome.

Karen Price is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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