Pet Connections

Pet Connections September – October Issue

Life in a shelter can be overstimulating and hectic for even the most mild tempered animals. Dogs specifically, deal with a variety of noise variables that they recognize and some they do not. Ongoing entry and exit from the kennels causes barking and shuffling around that can heighten anxiety for any animal. 

We can reduce anxiety during kenneled non-enrichment times for our dogs by providing warm, comfy blankets to burrow in, stuffed animals for some, chew toys for others, quiet “nap” at a consistent time and relaxing music. 

Another way we soothe both cats and dogs is with aromatherapy, specifically lavender essential oil that we spray before “nap” and right at bed time each night. The olfactory stimulation provides the reminder of a quiet, calm time, gives the animals some sniffing to do during a rather boring time for them as they settle in to sleep. 

Lavender can also be used regularly on extra anxious dogs as a holistic treatment to supplement their regular care and specialized needs. The Western PA Humane Society is working with the Murray Avenue Apothecary where owner Susan Merenstein, a pharmacist for 35 years, and her team compound hundreds of custom medications for pets each year. She believes strongly in aromatherapy and has provided bottles to the shelter for use with our animals and will be supplying new adoptees’ families with a sample of a calming lavender spray to take home with them as they acclimate their new family member to their home. 

Susan became involved in holistic treatments at home with Scruffy, who her family adopted at 11 years old, but was thought to be “closer to 14” from WPHS. The Merensteins planned to provide Scruffy with a soft landing and companionship with their 11-year-old dog Ralph. Susan used her pharmacological knowledge using supplements to ease Scruffy’s joint pain and he soon felt well enough that he learned how to play again. He enjoyed 22 months with Ralph and his family enjoying daily walks in the park, playing in the snow, and accompanying the family at outdoor clubs and restaurants.

We asked Susan to share some of the properties of lavender that can possibly benefit animals.

  • May have a calming, sedative action: this is helpful to calm dogs that are fearful, agitated, hyperactive or anxious.
  • As a skin therapy: lavender may provide some relief when applied to dry, itchy skin.
  • The fragrance: in addition to medicinal benefits, the fragrance of lavender makes it an effective way to control pet odor. 

Susan suggests, “Spray the lavender in the pet’s nesting area, on the pet bed, behind the neck, and in the handler’s hands and hold up to the dog/cat’s nose.”

Also in use at the WPHS are D.A.P. ™ collars, diffusers, and spray. The collars and spray offer a calming and stress reducing effect by recreating the pheromone nursing mothers produce naturally. Use of the collars improve adaptation to stressful situations and reduce stress in situations where an animal is overstimulated or otherwise anxious. 

We rely on volunteer dog walkers and staff to ensure that our shelter dogs get time outdoors to exercise, stretch their legs, walk and play which all also may reduce anxiety. Our volunteers are key to keeping our animals, especially longer term residents happy and healthy. There are volunteer opportunities for non-physical activities like assembling enrichment toys, cuddling the cats, helping with bunny romps and we even have a wonderful volunteer who was recognized internationally for her weekly reading sessions. Sandy Barbabella sits with individual dogs to read and talk with them and offers treats too of course.  

Life in the shelter is not a comfortable one and so we rely on additional outlets to provide the best experience we can for animals in our care. In-home foster care allows animals to have a respite from the shuffle of shelter life or to recover after a surgery or illness. And outlets like our pet store partners, Petco and PetSmart provide us with increased visibility and adoption opportunities throughout the community. In these ways we are able to reduce the amount of the average stay in the shelter. However, there are still animals who have been with us 50 or more days and are in need of loving homes. 

You can help our animals today by volunteering, fostering animals in your home, adopting a new best friend, and donating. We are always in need of items like the lavender essential oil sprays and D.A.P. ™ collars and diffusers. Connect with us on Facebook to learn each Wednesday, for #WishfulWednesday, what products the animals are most in need of and can be purchased from home through 

For more information on the Western PA Humane Society, to learn how you can get involved or to view our adoptable animals, visit


December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023