Pittsburgh on Four Paws: The Wonderful Ways To Care for the Pets We Love
There’s been a boom in pet ownership over the past two years. Fortunately, Pittsburgh offers plenty for owners and furry friends alike — from dedicated training to a pet-friendly ice cream parlor.
Not every city has an ice-cream parlor just for dogs.
In fact, Salty Paws Pittsburgh — the Lawrenceville spot for pooches to get a frosty treat — is the first ice-cream shop for pets in Pennsylvania, according to owner Jessica Kury.
“I think people [here] are crazy about their dogs,” she says. She’s worked with shelters in both Detroit and Pittsburgh and says that Steel City pet owners are distinctly knowledgeable, and visibly committed, to their animal friends.
“People here are very passionate about fighting for their animals,” she says. “Our local shelters have done an amazing job, and a lot of those smaller rescues have done an amazing job of educating people on the importance of training and exercise.”
It’s been a big couple of years for pets. The ASPCA estimates that 23 million households added a dog or cat in the first year of the pandemic alone. Fortunately for pets finding their forever homes in Pittsburgh, the city offers more resources than ever to make life enriching and enjoyable for furry friends and their owners.
Such as, for instance, an ice-cream shop. Dogs make up the bulk of the clientele at Salty Paws Pittsburgh, a locally owned franchise of a micro-chain, but Kury says all well-behaved, leashed pets are welcome. “We do have a small cat section at the store,” she says, noting another somewhat unusual visitor: “I had a pet skunk that came in the other day. She was very well behaved and very well taken care of.”
The demand for pets has continued, as work-from-home arrangements continue, with some homes even becoming permanent workplaces. That has allowed more people to consider making room for a pet, says Dan Rossi, the outgoing chief executive officer of Human Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh (HARP). Fortunately, those pets seem to be staying with their new owners.
“The big fear was that as things reopened up in 2021, we’d see a big return … We did not see that here in Pittsburgh. Most other shelters around the country that I have connections with did not see that, either.” According to the ASPCA, 87% of households that adopted a new pet during the pandemic had no plans to rehome.
In fact, demand for new pets has outpaced the number of pets available at HARP’s two shelters; locally, Rossi says, the pandemic actually saw a marked decrease in people surrendering their pets, as the at-home lifestyle gave people fewer reasons to reconsider pet ownership.
HARP is now bringing pets in from around the country to find homes in Pittsburgh. “We have dozens of partners out there, regional and national, where we’re helping shelters that don’t have the capacity.”
What made Pittsburgh a destination for pets in need of a home? “Things are a lot more personalized here in Pittsburgh,” Rossi says. “People know you; people know your pet.
“As I was driving in today [a neighborhood crossing] guard … was standing on the corner. There was a family there with their pet … the school guard had treats in her pocket, and she pulled them out to give them to the dog. Pittsburgh is such a friendly city, and it’s so pet friendly when it comes to those levels.”
Still, keeping a pet healthy and happy requires more than just a loving home (and ice cream). Pet experts stress that, for dogs especially, training is a must — particularly with dogs who may have spent a year or more getting used to having humans around at all times.
Say It Once Dog Training, which in 2021 won a Pittsburgh Magazine Best of the ’Burgh award in the Pet Services category, was founded 10 years ago by Vinnie Somma. The business has grown from one employee to more than a dozen and has expanded to include a North Carolina franchise; another in Nashville is on the way
Somma says that, while the number of pets finding forever homes is undoubtedly a good thing, the circumstances of the recent adoption boom can lead to additional challenges. “The amount of dogs with behavior issues because of the pandemic will keep me in business for the next 10 to 20 years,” he says.
“We used our dogs as an emotional support system when they weren’t in a position to be that,” he says, leading to dogs that can have problems with separation anxiety when humans do leave the house — or, as guests return, guarding their food or territory.
“It’s not that we’re teaching them anything that’s wrong, it’s that we’re living with them inappropriately,” Somma says. “We’re not teaching them any rules and structure because they’re so cute.”
Somma says that dog training, whether from Say It Once or elsewhere, requires commitment not on the part of the dog — pets, after all, generally aim to please — but on the part of the owner.
“It’s super important for the human to be involved … If the human doesn’t know how to follow through, the dogs will go right back to where they were.”
In addition to training and exercise, regular veterinary care is obviously a must — from required vaccines to annual check-ins to monitor weight and health conditions. Area vets are experiencing high demand due to the increase in new pets and broader staffing issues; that means owners need to plan ahead.
“If you know your animal’s vaccinations are expiring … think about that a couple of months ahead of time,” Rossi says. “Give it plenty of time, knowing you might not get a [fast] appointment … People need to do a lot more pre-planning when it comes to the care of animals.”
If you’re up for the commitment, though, there are still plenty of animals looking for a good home.
“An animal does take time. It does take effort. People need to be prepared; people need to smartly think about what animal makes sense for their household,” Rossi says. “Start your search early and be patient; when the time is right and the right animal comes along, it’ll happen.”