Give them the perfect holiday gift… a home.

It is that time of year again when we secretly purchase that gift and plan that holiday feast for our loved ones. When welcoming family and friends into your home this holiday season, why not make the holidays even more merry and bright by also inviting a furry, lovable, four-legged friend into you home and heart as well? Think about adopting a shelter pet.

“Animal Friends of Westmoreland is committed to the vision of a no kill shelter and being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves,” said Candy Nelson, founder and president of Animal Friends of Westmoreland.

Photo courtesy by Animal Friends of Westmoreland

Photo courtesy by Animal Friends of Westmoreland

“Our mission is to help abandoned, abused and neglected animals and our passion is to educate the public to spay and neuter their pets, spread awareness on embracing pet adoption and to inspire others to become animal advocates,” Nelson continued. “We encourage all animal lovers to join us and be a voice.”

Bethany Morse, animal care manager for the Animal Friends of Westmoreland, spends her days working with homeless animals such as dogs, cats and bunnies. Morse, who has a very strong love for animals, oversees the intakes and adoptions of animals. She also uses photography and social media in hopes of finding the animals in the shelter a “forever home.”

“All of our dogs are up to date on vaccinations, spayed/neutered, microchipped, flea treated and dewormed,” Morse said. “We also provide any other medical care that they may require such as dental surgery. Our cats our up to date on vaccinations, spayed/neutered and are tested for feline leukemia.

“We also have rabbits up for adoption,” Morse said. “All rabbits are spayed and neutered. We provide any other medical care that they and cats would require.”

Ferguson, the 18-month-old full-blood basset hound, poses for a photo with Ervin. Photo courtesy by K.Ervin/Setonian

Ferguson, the 18-month-old full-blood basset hound, poses for a photo with Ervin. Photo courtesy by K.Ervin/Setonian

According to a recent poll on petfinder.com, people who are opposed to adopting from animal shelters state that they would never adopt a shelter pet because “they can’t get what they want at a shelter.” Also, “the pets must be in the shelter because they weren’t good pets,” “shelter pets have too much baggage,” “I don’t really know what I am getting, I can get a pet for free” and “why would I pay an adoption fee?”

There are easy answers to many of these questions. For instance, if you cannot find the type of pet that you are looking for at your local animal shelter, don’t give up. Some animal shelters keep waiting for a specific breed and there are also many breed-specific rescues that can be located on petfinder.com.

Getting a “free” pet may sound like a much better deal than adopting a shelter pet, but keep in mind that you’re responsible for all of the veterinarian costs that shelters and rescues usually cover with adoption fees. Veterinary costs for spaying/neutering, distemper vaccination, rabies vaccination, heartworm test, flea/tick treatment and microchip can total over $430!

Bear is a golden retriever/collie mix breed, some people call this mix breed a "gollie." Photo courtesy by K.Ervin/Setonian

Bear is a golden retriever/collie mix breed, some people call this mix breed a “gollie.” Photo courtesy by K.Ervin/Setonian

Animal rescues are not there because they made bad pets. People bring their pets to shelter and adoption places because they are moving to housing that doesn’t allow pets, a family member may be allergic, too many animals or not enough room, the owner no longer has time or the owner can no longer afford the pet.

“Animal Friends of Westmoreland receives absolutely no government funding, we rely fully on donations from the public to continue operations,” Morse said. “The adoption fees that are charged help to cover a portion of the veterinary costs provided for each animal, it is often though when it does not cover all. The adoption fee for dogs ranges from $150 to $200 depending on the dog, kittens are $100 with cats a year old or older are $75. All rabbit adoption fees are $75 as well.”

Adopting a pet any time of the year is a heartfelt action. Welcoming a dog, cat, rabbit or other animal into your hope can do wonders for individuals and their families. The benefits of having a pet friend are many.

Owning a pet can have multiple health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, decreasing stress, promoting exercise and socialization. It can improve the overall quality of life for most pet owners.

With parental supervision, owning a pet can help with the development of children and to teach them responsibility as well. Pets can exhibit compassion, loyalty, respect and even humor. Remember, you can’t buy love, but you can rescue it!

A rabbit named Carl poses for a photo. Photo courtesy by K.Ervin/Setonian

A rabbit named Carl poses for a photo. Photo courtesy by K.Ervin/Setonian

“Anyone that may be interested in adopting one of our animals would need to complete our adoption application, which is available at our Youngwood shelter or on our website,” Morse said. “The potential adopter must be at least 21 years of age, have a legal form or identification such as a driver’s license or state ID, be allowed to have the breed and size of pet where they currently reside, be able to spend time and resources necessary to provide training, medical treatment and proper care of the pet.”

Morse added, “They must also be committed to giving the adopted pet time, love and patience to adjust to his or her new home.”

“Once we have the completed application it generally takes us a few days to review,” Morse said. “We call personal references along with veterinary references in hopes of ensuring that we find the best fit for both our animals and potential adopters.”

“Animal Friends of Westmoreland relies on volunteers to assist in the caring for the animals in our shelter,” Morse said. “We have three shifts of volunteers who care for our animals by making sure the dogs receive three walks a day, are fed in the morning and afternoon and that their pens remain clean living environments for them. Volunteers in the cat and rabbit rooms scoop litter boxes, give fresh food and water and help to socialize them.”

Ervin's cat's name is Binx and he is named for the cat in the movie "Hocus Pocus." Photo courtesy by K.Ervin/Setonian

Ervin’s cat’s name is Binx and he is named for the cat in the movie “Hocus Pocus.” Photo courtesy by K.Ervin/Setonian

“Anyone that is currently unable to adopt a dog, cat or rabbit is absolutely welcome to volunteer their time at our shelter it Youngwood,” Morse said. “We can always use help walking the dogs, cleaning the cages and taking care of our shelter. On certain Saturday’s per month we take some of our animals to the PetSmart store in Greensburg, Pa. to meet with potential adopters. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, earn service hours for schools, contribute our community and help us focus more on providing care to our animals.”

“Animal Friends of Westmoreland is thankful for any and all donations,” Morse said. “Anyone interested in donating monetarily can visit our website for more information. Other donations that we are in the most need of at the present time are Advantix flea treatment for extra-large dogs, paper towels, hot dogs (used when giving medication to dogs), laundry detergent and canned cat food.”

Morse and the friendly staff of Animal Friends of Westmoreland are available to assist you in helping a shelter pet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to having public shelter hours Monday through Friday, the shelter has an off-site adoption center at the PetSmart store in Greensburg, where you can visit with them and their shelter pets most Saturdays and Sundays.You can stop by the Animal Friends of Westmoreland shelter at 216 Depot Street, Youngwood, Pa. or at any one of the animal shelters of southwestern Pa. and meet a new four-legged friend, fall in love and save a life!

Happy Holidays!

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