By Christine McMahon Tumpson | Photographs by Michael Fornataro

“The routine exposure of the children to unfettered animal abuse and neglect is a major contributing factor in their later manifestation of social deviance. You now have 8, 9, 10-year-olds conducting their own dog fights, or being spectators at the fights people are holding … You want to find the perfect way to desensitize a kid? Give him a puppy and let him raise it. Then let him kill it. I guarantee that will desensitize that kid.” — Sgt. Steve Brownstein of Chicago’s Animal Abuse Control Team


This article started out as one about our family dog eating chocolate on Thanksgiving and how household items can be dangerous to animals. That topic is still in this issue as an important reminder to be protective of what your pets consume, especially during holidays like Valentine’s Day and Easter. That information begins on page 38.

But the article took a hard turn during a special dinner between friends just before this magazine went to print. Since then, it has led to a year-long partnership with PAART, Pennsylvania Aviation Animal Rescue Team, and WHIRL Magazine to produce special, informative articles published throughout the year accompanied by audience engagement opportunities for the sharing of stories on social media, personal interaction with spirit companions at special events, and of course, the adoption and financial support of rescued animals to become part of a human’s home.

The crisis with the opioids is the top banner on the news today. How it starts, how to solve it, why people are addicted. Add to this the idea of stress relief, paying bills for things we do not need, and getting into areas of depravity that seem to have the same thread, which also is the one trafficking the guns, opioids, heroin, and dog fighting. It seems that Western Pennsylvania is among the top areas for the dog fighting organization, that being the one that attains, trains with chains, maintains with shame, and then tosses all of that into the middle of a field somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, to put to death in a fight that lasts moments, sometimes. 

“There are an estimated 40,000 ‘organized’ dog fighting rings in the United States. Many more dog fighting gambling rings are operated by ‘hobby’ fighters. Then, there are thousands and thousands of ‘back alley’ fighters who introduce children to the cruelty. We have to get to the children. It is our only hope.” — Mary Kennedy Withrow, Executive Director, PAART, Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team

The image of that much cruelty being poured into the body and soul of an innocent animal, a dog, usually a pit bull, is beyond what most people want to see, and can actually process. Because most of us do not think like that. We do not see cats, rabbits, and small dogs as “bait,” as ways to teach another one of nature’s living entities to kill in an unnatural manner, not to mention, an unnatural prey. The neurological effects resonate throughout not only the animal who is terrorized, and then forced to breed, sending out violent DNA, but also on those who witness the horrific destruction of another living being.  

For Mary Kennedy Withrow, longtime dog fighting activist, and a leader in the USA for rehabilitating dogs rescued from fighting as recognized by the Humane Society of the United States, puts it directly. “We have to get to the children. It is our only hope. Right now, dog fighting is a form of entertainment for too many of our nation’s children, with Easter Sunday and New Year’s Day as the two biggest days in this country for dog fights. Just think about that.” As the executive director of PAART, Withrow goes on rescues that defy danger, many involving huge drug finds, always guns, always, and hardened criminals. “These are the really violent people who are organized and very sophisticated in being able to elude capture. Throughout the nation, and in half of the states, there is legislation designating dog fighting as racketeering under the RICO statute.”  

Withrow explains this particular governmental enforcement capability enabled the arrest of Michael Vick, and that is why she has drafted a similar bill — HB 1197, which was introduced by State Representative Dom Costa. Withrow hopes to see passage of this legislation this spring. Including dog fighting as a category under RICO gives the federal and state governments surveillance, enforcement, and punitive measures that go beyond what is currently in place. When it comes to community support, Withrow points out the needs on many levels, beginning with education and support for folks who adopt pets. Education is so important.

“Dog fighting is a big problem in Western Pennsylvania. The training of the dogs used in the fighting is harsh and so are the participants.” — Dan Rossi, CEO, Humane Animal Rescue

Dan Rossi, CEO of Humane Animal Rescue, highlights the concern for adoption by people seeking a pet for their home that is intended to live with them for the rest of that pet’s natural lifetime. The greater hope is that the animal will be loved, cared for, and treasured, given sweet treats, a warm bed, and human touches. Yet Rossi points out the strict attention and due diligence that has become the norm for his organization because of concerns about adoption for cruel purposes.

“We have great stories about pit bulls that have been rehabilitated,” he says, “but we also have ones where smaller dogs are brought in with no teeth because the trainers pull them out.” When met with a silent space at the inability to respond to the horror, he continues, “They do that because they don’t want the teeth of the dog that is being attacked to hurt the fighting dog.”

Christine McMahon Tumpson and Scarlett

“Bait” is not a term Withrow or others in animal welfare prefer. “Dogs are dogs, no one is bait and no one is a predator. I don’t like to demonize any dog. They are ALL victims in dog fighting,” she underscores. Rossi says the same thing, describing the techniques dog fighting trainers use to manipulate an animal’s natural instincts, and literally, its DNA, through isolation, heavy chaining, treadmills, starvation, and beatings. And then, Rossi says, “something smaller is thrown in, like a rabbit or cat. And then it’s on to the smaller dogs, which is why we at Humane Animal Rescue have enforcement agents specifically trained to protect the animals being adopted by investigating who is adopting.”

“Craigslist is not a safe option to rehome a pet. Reach out to family and friends first and their network of friends. There are too many predators out there. Craigslist makes it very easy for them.” — Mary Kennedy Withrow, Executive Director, PAART

Why is this such a problem? Because, as PAART’s Brad Childs describes, “There are people who will pose as a family, a woman in her 40s and her 8-year-old son, say, who seem like the perfect home for the animal, but they are so far from that.” The nefariousness of the scene described is one that haunts once it is assimilated.  

We hope that you will join us this year as we bring awareness to the urgency to heal our society beginning with protecting the preciousness of nature’s innocent animals, which in turn may be the way to bring about a good greater than we can imagine, an extinction of the opioid and heroin industries that are eroding the bedrocks of our human society by taking away some of those with great potential.  

“People need to keep a close watch on their dogs — at the dog parks, on walks, with other people, everywhere. You hear of dogs going missing, don’t be so sure about that. They get taken.” — Brad Childs, Co-Founder, PAART

What if every animal rescued meant one human life also saved? The facts and faces on these pages are simple, clear, and true. Gaze upon the eyes, reflect upon the statistics, and what will you do?  PAART, Humane Animal Rescue,

Larry’s Tale

Hedy Krenn had just met Scarlett that afternoon, and as she told her husband, Jim Krenn, he tilted his head and said, “Like Larry?”

Larry is their little chihuahua mix rescue who we have been hearing about for years. But we were never aware of how he came to live among the cool Krenn clan. Hearing the story from Jim, one of the world’s best storytellers, was a life-stopping moment, especially when Hedy flashed photos of little Larry as he told it.

“So, Hedy and I have been rescuing dogs, and along the way, throughout the years, we have met some pretty amazing people. One of them called us a couple of years ago and said, ‘Jim, you’re not going to believe this, but we have the perfect dog for you and Hedy. Last night, we got a call that a dog was found in a shoebox in a garbage bin, and that it was all bloody, and was dead. But when we got there, and opened the box, one of its little eyes opened.’” At this, Jim mimics the tiny movements of an eye fluttering. “It’s Larry! He’s alive!”

Jim then recounts with his wife the mauls, bites, and wounds that suggested that the tiny animal had been used a bait. “Larry weighs about eight pounds now, but he was in intensive care for a month with so many wounds that he almost didn’t make it, but he is a special one.” Hedy’s signature laugh peals the restaurant, “He sure is! Aww, but sometimes when we remember what happened to him, and how hurt he was, it makes us so sad.”

Hedy Krenn and Larry

Louis Loves Chocolate

But it is an unrequited love. Two Decembers ago, Louis knocked a large, unopened box of Bob Sendall’s Toffee Taboo off of our dining room table and onto the floor below. There, in a matter of minutes, he devoured the delicious signature concoction, along with the plastic wrapping.  When we found him, Louis was swaying back and forth, unable to keep his balance, and his eyes immediately glazed into stares.

Alarmed, we threw him into the car and raced to the VCA Castle Shannon Animal Hospital, where we learned of chocolate’s toxicity the hard way. Louis recovered after three days of intensive care treatments with fluids to flush out his system and constant monitoring.

It happened again this Thanksgiving. Louis found a dark chocolate brownie just before dinner, and we were back into intensive care again.  This time, we realized that the toxins are dangerous twice — the first time they enter the animal’s body, and then again as they run through the organs, posing a secondary risk of poison as the little body tries to expel them.  

Here are some items to be wary of with your pets this Valentine’s Day and Easter season:

  • Chocolate (especially baking chocolate!)
  • Avocado
  • Alcohol
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Tulip and daffodil bulbs
  • Carpet cleaners
  • Lawn and garden insecticides

VCA Castle Shannon Animal Hospital, 3610 Library Road, Castle Shannon. 412.885.2500.


Psst… want to know a great secret?

Some of the very best pets are not the itty bitties. Those babies are cute, but sometimes they require the attention and care of human kiddos.  Meaning, late night crying, feedings, and lots of teaching, especially when it comes to potty training.

But an older or elderly pet can fit right into a family with a right attitude. It is not uncommon for a pet to have to be re-homed after a job transfer, divorce, or death of an owner. While certain behaviors are difficult to negate and relearn, like barking at the trees in the wind, many old dogs can be taught new tricks.  

When we adopted our older dog Scarlett, the veterinarian determined her age to be between 5 and 8 years old. We had been told she had never walked on a leash. Within 30 minutes of having her at our home, she was walking confidently alongside our other dogs, on a leash, with a collar and big smile.

There are downsides to adopting the elderly, and yes, it is true that they may expire shortly after you bring them into your world. But the life expectancy of every living entity is expanded with love, so check out the animals at Animal Friends, and maybe your home will be enriched by an experienced pet.

Animal Friends, 562 Camp Horne Road, Ohio Twp. 412.847.7000.


Life with Dino

Dino is 15 years old, blind, and deaf.  He is carried up and down the steps, has a favorite dog bed, and snores so loudly he can be heard rooms away! The love, kindness, and support he gives is indescribable.



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1 Comment

  1. Antonette Fairbanks
    February 2, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Fantastic article though very difficult to read and undoubtedly, difficult to write. Thank you Christine McMahon Tumpson, for your love, passion and inspiration. Shine on sister!