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Pets Come First Animal Shelter Enjoys Successful First Year

by and on March 02, 2013 8:30 AM

Pets Come First is celebrating its first year of managing the former SPCA animal shelter in Centre Hall.

The organization became the administrators in January 2012, as part of the Pennsylvania SPCA's program to find local non-profits to take over some of their facilities. Pets Come First had a prior relationship with the shelter as a fund-raising partner and the leader of the campaign to transform the high-kill shelter into a no-kill adoption center.

“The first year was successful, way beyond expectations. It was such a learning experience,” said Deb Warner, president of Pets Come First. "We're averaging 60 cats a month easily in our low cost spay/neuter clinics. We went way over our target as far as adoptions."

She said the Pets Come First shelter has had 556 animal adoptions: — dogs, cats, some rabbits and pigs.

Warner and her dedicated volunteers want every adoption to be successful. They work with the animals to socialize them and learn their temperaments so they can advise prospective adopters about which pets would be good matches for them. A professional pet trainer helps them assess the dogs and deal with behavioral issues through training.

The adoption fee includes spaying or neutering, treatment for worms and fleas, rabies and distemper vaccines, bordatello shots for dogs, FIV/FELU testing for cats, and microchips.

"I wish more people who adopt a dog or cat would understand that they're not perfect. You have to work with them," said volunteer Cookie Crissman.

Warner agreed.

"I've got people who won't take a dog that isn't housebroken," she said.

She hopes to offer dog training classes in the future, and would like to create an agility course on the property.

Pets Come First has a long waiting list of people who want to surrender their pets.

"Our biggest goal here is to educate people," Warner said. "We're killing four million animals a year in this country. Spay/neuter — that's the only thing that's going to stop overpopulation and cruelty. But we've made appointments for low cost spay/neuter and the people won't even show up."

Financially the shelter is doing okay, Warner said.

"We're paying our bills and slowly building our reputation. A guy walked in here the other day and gave $100 as a Valentine's Day gift for his girlfriend,” she said.

In October 2012, Warner became the first paid Pets Come First staff member, and she hopes to be able to afford more paid staff in the future.

"Our weekends are insane,” she said, “we're so crazy busy."

"It's a wonderful experience," said volunteer coordinator Emily Garaitonandia, who adopted her dog from Pets Come First. "The dogs and cats are always happy to see you. It feels good to give back to the community."

She said there are about 25 to 30 regular volunteers, and 250 volunteers on their mailing list.

Victoria Maras said she began volunteering two or three years ago when the shelter was still the SPCA. "I really like helping the animals and feel like I can make a difference,” she said.

"The amount of animals we adopt out of here is just heartwarming," said Crissman. "I love it here."

Lindsey Aumiller, the owner of 1 Lucky Dog Grooming Studio in State College, adopted Coburn, a yellow lab mix, as a hiking companion on Feb. 16 and rated her experience as wonderful.

"The knowledgeable staff was willing to take the time to help me look for the perfect dog," she said.

When asked how the community can help Pets Come First, Warner said: "Financial support's the big thing. And we're always looking for committed volunteers."

For more information, visit or Pets Come First's Facebook page.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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