Pet Connections


Friends working together to help animals. CARMAA – the Coalition to Adopt, Rehome and Match Abandoned Animals — is a non-profit corporation formed in 2009 with a simple idea. With varied backgrounds and experience in many shelters and rescues, the group wanted to help in a novel way, by offering a specific idea – an all encompassing, umbrella form of support.

“Why not take the parts all of us (in animal welfare) have in common and work together?” says interim President and Secretary Becky DiLucia.  “We’re different from other groups in that we don’t house any animals. Our mission is to support the common ground that all shelters and rescues share, which is helping animals find homes. There may be differences in the way each shelter or rescue works toward their goal, but we’re all like minded in many ways. That’s what CARMAA focuses on. How to work together, to find things that benefit everyone.”

Their signature event – DogtoberFEST – is an annual event that showcases adoptable animals, and the support available to keep owned dogs with workable issues in homes and out of shelters in the first place. All the shelters and rescues in the Western PA area are invited, and asked to bring examples of the dogs they have available for adoption. CARMAA wants the public to attend and see that there are great animals out there, of every age and size up for adoption. “Sometimes people think it’s too sad to visit a shelter, or that they only have troubled dogs”, says April Minech, CARMAA VP and Treasurer. “It’s just not true, and DogtoberFEST lets people see these animals in a happy, festive atmosphere. And they can learn about all the training and support that’s out there, who to contact, and how easy it might be to fix something that’s driving them crazy about their dog, like how to house train.” 

The event kicks off at 11am with a Pooch Pride Parade costume contest, and there are several categories for which $500 in prize money is awarded. Owner and Dog look-a-like, Most Original, and Best Costume overall are the top three prizes, but seeing all the dogs in their finery is win by itself. The parade usually draws about 100 participants, and is lead by official Grand Master Holly Gumbeski, who also handles the groups marketing and design duties. “it’s a lot of fun. People really go all out on costumes, and love to show off their work. The dogs seem to enjoy it as well, and it’s a fun activity to do with your pet. DogtoberFEST offers photo ops, the parade walk and other activities for people to come out and spend the day with their dogs.” Water and potty areas are provided at the location, and all owners are asked to be responsible with their pets. That includes a “no retractable leashes” policy, as the leashes are meant for exercising when nobody is around, and can be dangerous in crowded areas.

Typically, 75 – 100 shelters, rescues and vendors attend the event, so there’s something for everyone, and you may just be surprised at the type of animals that are available. “Maybe you’ve never considered a dog with some time under its belt, say 3 or 4 years old, but often they are already trained and settled, and can move right in” says professional trainer and founding CARMAA member Lilian Akin. She works with dogs at several of the shelters, and helps identify what type of training they need. “A lot of people aren’t aware of the amount of training that goes on before dogs are put up for adoption. In the shelter, we try to fix the issues that dogs come in with, so they don’t end up in the shelter again. So adopting a shelter dog comes with a lot more than people realize.”

There are also many rescues in attendance to answer specific questions about their breeds. If you’ve ever wanted to get a yorkie, stop by the “Save a Yorkie” booth that attends every year. They can let you know about skin conditions, house training issues, or even recommended diets that you may not have known about the breed. Or NEBTR – Northeast Boston Terrier Rescue- that always bring 2 or 3 “little gentlemen” as the breed is known. Bostons are typically great family dogs, but each dog is unique, and like most rescues, they have dogs that have spent time in foster homes that can share real time experiences and recommendations for each dog in their care. 

The event offers educational opportunities as well, and free “Ask a Trainer” and “Ask a Vet” booths. Any attendee can walk up to the booth and ask for advice on diet, bad habits or any question that you may have on your mind. The professionals on hand will give you their best opinion, and can suggest where to go for further help. If you always wanted to know why your dog does something, here’s an opportunity to ask. 

Vendors that focus on dogs (and other pets) are also out in full force at the event, so you can check out the latest in fashion, toys or training gear. Many of the vendors that participate give back, in the form of donations and product to support animal welfare, so buying something from them instead of a large chain store helps the groups doing good work. And who doesn’t need a dragon shaped stuffie with eggs inside or a slow feed bowl shaped like a flower for their pampered pooch? We all love shopping for our fur babies, and now you can add the excuse that it’s just your way of helping homeless animals.

CARMAA also works to educate trainers, volunteers and shelter workers by bringing in national speakers, and breaking down the conference into smaller pieces so all the groups can participate. They’ve hosted several big names to date, including some from as far away as Norway. “Turid Ruggas was here for a week, and we really enjoyed her perspective on calming signals, and the fact that Norway has no dog shelters” says Minech. “Bringing a well rounded list of speakers can help everyone learn that there are many ways to see and do things, and though we may start out from different points, but we’re all in this together.”

CARMAA hopes to see you at their FREE event DogtoberFEST on Saturday October 1st at the Waterfront. Special guest host this year is radio personality Cris Winter. See how to register or get the latest information by checking their web site, and start getting your your costumes ready for the 11am kick off costume parade!


December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023


December 14, 2023