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Start the year off right on the right paw!

Guest Blog Post by Hand2Paw Intern Shayla Cunningham

You can stick to your resolutions better this year if you have a partner, why not include a pet?

  • Exercise more: If you don’t yet have a dog but you are thinking of one, and exercising, why not check out a shelter and ask if they have any active dogs? You can start off slow with a dog who just needs an hour or so of a walk, or an intelligent, energetic dog who needs long walks, playtimes, hikes, etc. That or earn some extra cash/volunteer hours while getting exercise by signing up to be a dog walker on or by contacting your local shelter.
  • Learn a new skill/Read more: 1) You and your pet can do this by working on some behavioral tricks. Gather your treats and see if you can train your pet simple tricks like shake or spin. 2) Pet already trained? You can build on those skills easily with some help from some written material and practice. You can even save money by just going to your local library and ask for the training books! Just be wary, if the book says anything about hurting your animal with shocks or punishments, avoid! 3) Or learn how to knit sweaters for your furry friend.
  • Give back to the community: Volunteering is always welcome at shelters. Whether you help walk dogs, cuddle cats or work with Philly’s huge homeless pet populations, you can make a difference! Want to volunteer with the Pennsylvania SPCA? Contact the volunteer coordinator at or fill out an application on their website. Can’t make it out at this time? You can make tax-deductible donations to a shelter, Hand2Paw or one of our Furriends!

Pet Adopters – To Screen or Not To Screen?

In our years of volunteering in Philadelphia animal shelters, we have seen many animals come back to the shelter after adoption, either through their owner surrendering them or, worse, showing up as a stray. Some of these animals simply got away from their owners and are reclaimed but others show up emaciated or sick and their owners never come looking for them. We always ask ourselves, “could this have been prevented?”

Every time a horrific cruelty case is in the news, it is usually followed by an intense online discussion about whether shelters should do a better job of screening potential adopters. Rescue and shelter policies vary widely. Most foster-based rescues generally have detailed adoption applications and require references and home checks to ensure as much as possible that their animals are going to appropriate homes and the new owners are up to speed on the best way to orient the animal to a new environment and introduce him to family members and other pets.

In contrast, at most shelters, including open admission shelters but not necessarily limited to them, the trend has been away from detailed adoption applications and toward open conversations. Few shelters have the luxury of doing home checks. They may or may not require children or other resident pets to come to the shelter to meet the potential new family member.   Leading national organizations such as the ASPCA have been advocating for policies that reduce barriers to adoption sometimes referred to as “open adoptions.” That means a very simple adoption application, no vet or personal reference checks, no home checks – a hassle free process designed to give nearly everyone a chance to adopt. The theory is that this maximizes the number of adoptions and minimizes euthanasia. It asks shelters to assume that the vast majority of people will be at least moderately responsible pet owners. Those who support this approach, admit that, of course, a small percentage of animals will end up in dangerous and even life-threatening situations but they rationalize that either 1) it is worth it to get the additional adoptions that an easy application process provides and/or 2) a more arduous adoption process may not have screened out those irresponsible or cruel adopters.  It is true that we all know examples of adopters who looked fine on paper and even seemed sincere in person who turned out to be neglectful pet guardians (or worse). In addition, people who know they would not pass a screening process can circumvent it by simply having a friend or family member complete the adoption application.

When rescues utilize more intense screening, they often get criticized for having adoption application processes so arduous (e.g. mandating a 6 foot fence, requiring a vet reference which has the effect of screening out first time adopters, etc.) that good adopters get turned away. For this reason, supporters of open adoptions also argue that, If the adoption application process rejects potential adopters, the adopters will not necessarily not get an animal; many will simply go to backyard breeders and the shelter thereby loses its connection to that adopter and any ability to provide education to help them become a responsible pet owner. This argument presumes 1) that education and resources are actually provided and 2) that these potential adopters that might otherwise be rejected will take advantage of these resources. Neither of those assumptions is necessarily true.

In our view, if shelters choose to have no or minimal screening of adopters in order to maximize life saving, they have a responsibility to educate and provide support to new adopters. An open adoptions policy should be coupled with: 1) active help from staff or experienced volunteers in choosing an animal that is a good fit; 2) counseling (both orally and in handouts) at the time of adoption about training methods, how to introduce a new animal to strangers and other pets and where to go if problems arise; and 3) follow up calls to every adopter to answer questions and offer resources. With limited budgets, many shelters simply cannot allocate sufficient resources to give each adoption this level of attention. For this reason, it is crucial for shelters to work cooperatively with volunteers to be able to offer this kind of help to adopters to maximize the chance that every adoption is a lasting and happy match.

Is Your Puppy A #RealRescue?


We want to launch a movement: #realrescue. We consider it part of our mission to encourage people to adopt adult dogs and cats rather than puppies and kittens. Why? Mainly because adult dogs and cats need our help the most and may not make it without it. Puppies and kittens usually have no problem getting adopted, at least in our area. Another reason we like to see people adopt adult dogs is that many puppies up for “adoption” or “rescue” are actually the product of backyard breeders who like to take advantage of people’s desire to rescue rather than purchase their next pet. “He’s a rescue” is something many people want to say when someone comments on their dog. But many of those people also want a young puppy and/or a specific breed that is not often found in shelters. This has given rise to a profit opportunity for unscrupulous backyard breeders. Since most people begin their search for a new pet online, It can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate rescue organization who happens to have puppies available for adoption and a backyard breeder whose profit from the sale will encourage them to produce more puppies. We have also seen pet stores with signs out that say “puppies for adoption,”  when those puppies actually came from breeders.  We need to take back the words “rescue” and “adopt” by educating the public about what #realrescue looks like.  Here are some signs that should be red flags that this is not a #realrescue:

1, They do not interview you. Backyard breeders are making a sale. They focus on marketing the puppy and won’t ask you much, if anything, about your home, your family and your lifestyle. A reputable rescue will have you complete a detailed application and want to know who lives in your home and your history with pets. They will often want to do a home visit before finalizing the adoption. Don’t be offended by that. They want to make sure that the match is a good one. In contrast, a breeder, or someone working with one, will often simply meet you, take payment and hand you a puppy. If the process is that easy, an alarm should go off in your head. This is not #realrescue.

2. The puppy is under eight weeks, not up to date on shots and/or not spayed or neutered. In order to turn a profit, backyard breeders frequently sell puppies at too young an age, without all of their shots and unaltered. If you are offered a “rescue” puppy under eight weeks of age, without its shots and/or without being spayed or neutered, run. This is not #realrescue.

3. They do not give you a contract to sign stating that they will take the puppy back at any time for any reason. Any reputable shelter or rescue will have you sign an adoption  contract and one of the terms will be that, if you ever have to re-home the dog for any reason, you should contact them and they will accept the dog back.   A relationship with a backyard breeder is once and done. Once you take the puppy, they do not want to hear from you again (unless you want to buy another puppy). A relationship with a reputable rescue lasts a lifetime.

4. They provide no education about the dog and/or the breed. A rescue wants to know that the dog will be happy in your home and you will be happy with your new pet. They want to see you succeed and they will help by providing you some of the tools to make sure that happens. Responsible rescue organizations are matchmakers, not retailers, and they will want to make sure you know the basics of things like housebreaking and training. They will answer any questions you have and tell you about the behavior they have seen so far and give you tips on how to move forward from there.

Again, we encourage you to first consider adopting an adult dog because, not only do they need your help more, their personality is already evident and you can be more confident that he or she will be a good fit for your home. But, if you prefer to adopt a puppy, please use the tips above to make sure you are supporting #realrescue and not getting swindled by a pretender and unwittingly supporting a backyard breeder.

How to Help Shelter Animals on Social Media … Do’s and Don’ts


If you’re reading this, you probably consider yourself an animal lover.   Maybe you’re even an animal advocate. Animals are your passion and you want to do what you can to reduce the number of companion animals euthanized or languishing in shelters. But how can you make a difference? Some ways to help homeless animals are obvious: adopt from a shelter or reputable rescue, talk to your friends about adoption, foster if you can, donate to nonprofit organizations you know and whose mission you support and report any suspected animal cruelty to authorities.   Social media is also a means through which millions of people try to help homeless animals. Sharing is caring, right? Well, maybe.   Social media has undoubtedly helped to find many homeless pets their forever homes. We are obviously big fans and share many of our shelter friends in an attempt to get them noticed. But, many social media posts and shares about animals accomplish little more than annoying your friends and followers while dulling them to the message of what they could really be doing to help homeless pets.

At the risk of offending some people, here is our list of “do’s” and “don’t”s for using social media to help shelter animals:

DO share animals that you or your friends know personally with honest descriptions of their personality, likes and dislikes. If they need a home without other animals or would be too high energy for small children, say it up front. Anyone serious about helping will need to know what kind of home would be best.

DO add your own comments or at least copy and paste the comments from the original post. Just hitting “share” is nowhere near as likely to attract any attention.

DO share happy stories and before and after photos. Show people that people just like them with kids, other pets, full time jobs and busy lives are finding time to volunteer, foster and adopt shelter animals.

DON’T say anything that sounds like any of the following: “somebody please save him,” “I would help but [fill in the blank] (“I have a full house”, “I live 1000 miles away”, “My dog hates other animals”, etc. etc.), These types of comments may make people feel better but they accomplish nothing and frequently crowd the comments section and bury the useful offers of help.

DON’T criticize the shelter staff for being “murderers” if the animal is in danger of being euthanized. The vast majority of shelter employees are caring individuals just like you and the last thing they want to do is euthanize an animal. They have likely reached out to no kill shelters and rescues with whom they have relationships and not found an appropriate placement. The post you are sharing is an attempt to reach out to the broadest group possible to find the right foster or adopter and criticizing them for doing it or acting as if they have a better option and are just not trying hard enough does not help.

DON’T say you pledge $10 or any other amount unless that is specifically what the person posting is looking for. In most cases, what is needed is a place for the animal to go and a few hundred dollars will not create that. In some cases, a foster home has been located and funds are needed for medical care but, if that is the case, the message will be clear and a link will be provided. When a temporary or permanent home is what is needed, vague, unenforceable pledges of money in Facebook comments are usually worthless.

Social media is a wonderful tool for connecting with like-minded people and for helping homeless animals find new families. Following these tips will help to ensure that your efforts are as productive as possible.

Adoption Through A Dog’s Eyes – Let Time Be On Your Side

greg and tiger 

When we see one of our animal friends leave the shelter with a new family, sometimes there is a mix of feelings, but the primary feeling is joy. Our buddy is getting out of the kennel and into a home and will have a chance at a new life. When we see one of our friends back in the kennel because he was returned, our collective hearts sink. We want every adoption to be successful and every dog to find his or her forever home.

Why do dogs get returned? For all sorts of reasons, of course, but one recurring theme is that they were not allowed sufficient time to adjust to their new home — too much was thrown at them too quickly. Try to put yourself in the dog’s head for a minute. You are coming out of a highly stressful kennel environment where there is constant barking and little human interaction. You can hear and usually see the other dogs but you can’t interact with any of them, which you find very frustrating. What human interaction there is may involve medical procedures, getting surprised by water coming through when the kennel behind you is hosed down or other things that further frighten you and keep you on guard.   You may be house trained but not have gotten outdoors enough so that you were also stressed from trying to hold it in for hours or days at a time. If your family surrendered you to the shelter, you feel the pain of loss of your family, your home and everything you knew that brought you comfort.   Or, if you arrived as a stray, you may have been traumatized on the streets for who knows how long and had to go hungry and fight for food. Finally, if you arrived at the shelter with a humane police officer because your family was neglecting or abusing you, you may have suffered even greater trauma.

Now, you walk into a new home and your new family is so thrilled that they are able to provide you with the comforts of home again. They know you’re safe. But you don’t. Right now, this is just another strange place with strange people and maybe other animals you don’t know.

Every shelter dog needs TTA – time to adjust. Adopters may be anxious to have a new dog meet their friends and family and resident pets and establish friendships. That’s understandable but it’s a very bad idea. Meeting more new people and animals in this mental state is often overwhelming to dogs just leaving the shelter. Here are some tips for successful integration of a dog into your home:

  • He will need days, if not a few weeks, to adjust and learn that he is safe. Give him a separate place, including a crate if you have one, away from children and other pets to relax, catch up on his rest and adjust. Do NOT have him interact with children or other animals right away.
  • Do not introduce him to any resident pets until he is adjusted and relaxed and then, do it slowly. Let them see each other with a baby gate in between. If that goes well, try walk alongs with both dogs on leash one following the other. Keep control over the situation by keeping them leashed until you see that they feel comfortable. Look for low slow tail wags and relaxed – not stiff – body language.
  • Do not leave the dog unsupervised with small children. They do not know how to act around dogs and may hurt or scare them.
  • Do not leave toys around where children or other dogs may compete for them.

A week or two of down time is usually plenty to make your new dog feel like a member of the family. Make that investment and it will pay you back many times over. Here’s to may happy adoption tails!