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Pugs find guardian angel in Derry rescuer

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Patti Levay of Derry Township, owner of Guardian Angel Pug Rescue, plays with some of the dogs currently in her care.

Multiply the high-pitched yips, nasal breathing and curly tails of one pug dog by a dozen and you can begin to imagine what a visit to Guardian Angels Pug Rescue in Derry Township is like.

Since 1989, Patti Levay has run the shelter. She estimates that she has fostered and adopted about 1,000 of the distinct toy breed of dog.

“I like their personalities; they're very friendly,” she said. “I've never met a mean pug. You could put 90 to 100 pugs in a room and not have one dog fight. … They're little lap dogs that are just silly.”

It all started in 1987 when a pug and a poodle were involved in a shooting at a family friend's home. Levy took the dogs in.

“It was a nightmare, and I just got to thinking, if there's one out there that's living through this hell, there's just got to be more,” Levay said.

She has seen her fair share of rescues from puppy mills, including those that have been overbred, abandoned or neglected.

Levay also works as a groomer with her own business, Precious Pet Grooming, which she opened in 1992 after working for a veterinary clinic. And she's a member of the Westmoreland County Animal Response Team.

“I was always a crazy animal lover from the get-go,” she said.

Bill Errera of Herminie said Levay's passion and dedication are why his family has adopted two dogs there, fostered another and volunteered with Guardian Angels for three years.

“Her personality is very uplifting all the time,” he said. “She's a very kindhearted lady who is giving up her life for these rescues. That is her love. That is her passion – these animals. We need more people out there like her. She's just a godsend for these animals, these dogs.”

Errera, his wife, Tina, and 12-year-old daughter, Hallie, started volunteering after he found a pug during a call with the volunteer fire department.

They eventually found the dog's owner, but he got hooked on the breed known for its sneezes and snores, he said.

“We needed to learn more about that breed, and Patty is very knowledgeable,” he said.

The family makes monthly visits to the garage-sized, 384-square-foot building that is decorated with photos of pugs from Levay's past and other pug-themed knickknacks. It can hold up to a dozen dogs at a time.

She often takes in older dogs, like Maggie, who has breast cancer, and will pick up medical bills if the dog is adopted into hospice.

Each dog that is adopted has up-to-date vaccinations and is neutered, Levay said. She requires adoptees to fill out an application with references and a home inspection.

“We're just looking to make sure the animal is going to a safe home,” she said. “We want to make sure it's a good match.”

Pugs are usually great with kids and other dogs but are prone to eye, knee and breathing problems. Because of their flat faces, like other brachycephalic breeds including bulldogs and shih tzus, they cannot be exposed to temperature extremes.

Levay has even used Facebook to help Wobbie the Pug, a shelter dog with hydrocephalus, or brain swelling, garner nearly 2,750 supporters.

Once per season Levay holds volunteer days to clean up the grounds and the shelter as well as fundraisers such as a pug picnic in the summer. The next one is planned for the spring with eventual remodeling for the shelter.

Levay said it will take about $8,000 to replace the floor and other renovations that she would like to complete.

“If I ever hit the lottery, we would have a mega pug rescue,” she said.

Dog food, treats and cleaning supplies are accepted, as well as monetary donations.

Volunteer Joe Stout of Washington said other services such as plumbing and electrical work are sometimes needed as well as regular care for the dogs.

Levay should be commended for her commitment for so many years to the rescue, he believes.

“She's great with the animals,” said Stout, who has been volunteering there for about six months. “We don't know how she does it, the amount of work she does every day to take care of the number of dogs she has there. ... She does what's right for the animals.”

The dedicated rescue owner said she does it as a labor of love to see the happiness it brings when a dog is adopted.

“Happiness in the face of the dogs and in the face of the adoptees ... that's the reward: knowing that you took a dog out of a horrible situation and found it a loving, happy safe place to be,” Levay said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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