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Two-Legged Friends

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Bill Smith

As you flip through the pages of this issue, chances are Main Line Animal Rescue founder Bill Smith is running from place to place, scooping up and transporting animals in need of medical help and good homes. In any given year, Smith and his team rescue upwards of 1,100 animals—all manner of household pets, plus chinchillas, pigs and goats.

Main Line Animal Rescue’s Bill Smith (with Gracie and Julie), Betsy Moran (with Boots) and Paul Harlacher (with Wrinkles). (Photo by Jared Castaldi)The Chester Springs facility places about 25 dogs and cats per week, but Smith isn’t merely interested in moving inventory. Rather, his primary focus is on matchmaking, placing just the right animal with the perfect owner. What many folks make the mistake of not doing, he says, is evaluating their daily schedules and lifestyles when selecting a pet. “We get a ton of dogs surrendered to us because someone didn’t understand the commitment or environment the pet needed,” Smith says. “As it turns out, perhaps that husky wasn’t the perfect apartment dog. We can counsel people and steer them in the right direction.”

Along with his highly publicized, Oprah-supported campaign against puppy mills in Lancaster County and elsewhere, Smith is passionate about pit bulls, the much-maligned breed central to Eagles quarterback Michael Vick’s animal-abuse conviction a few years ago. MLAR’s efforts include a pet-therapy program at Royer-Greaves School for Blind in Paoli that educates students and professionals about the therapeutic benefits of companion animals—especially those that have received a bad rap. “When I brought the pit bull puppies in for the first time, all of the aides were up against the wall,” says Smith. “After we got everyone comfortable and talked to them about the dogs, all the kids were hugging them.”

If you’re interested in adopting a rescue animal with Smith’s help, he might just end up in your backyard, checking for proper fencing and scoping out potential hazards. “You never know what’s going to happen day to day,” says Smith of his job. “Sometimes it’s chatting with families, and other times it’s damage control, putting out fires and trying to react to whatever emergency arises.”

Call (610) 933-0606, or visit mlar.org.
 


The Braxtons

In an industry dominated by mega pet stores and corporate retailers, it’s nice to know that places like Braxton’s Animal Works are out there. The family-owned Wayne business has enjoyed 73 years (just a few ticks over 500 dog years) on the Main Line as the go-to spot for high-quality pet food, toys and other products.

Not surprisingly, owners Dave and John Braxton are among some of the most well-connected animal enthusiasts in the area. Groomers, vets, shelters, rescues, even acupuncturists and massage therapists can be found in their ever-expanding database, and their resources are sound. “We always decline the referral teams,” says Dave. “Our referrals are based on merit. We’re not trying to sell someone else’s services for our purposes, and there are no kickbacks involved. When we send someone to a certain place or person, it’s because of their credentials.”

(From left) Dave, Keegan, Erin, Paige and John Braxton. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)Braxton’s in-store seminars and workshops often feature information on more obscure topics like pet chiropractic medicine and physical therapy. Every weekend, a local rescue organization offers dogs and cats for adoption, and two major annual events keep the animal advocacy going. Fall’s Harvest Fest hosts up to 20 area rescues, plus pet food and product vendors, a moon bounce and face painting for kids. On April 11, the store’s second annual spring event will be a daylong meet-and-greet between pet owners and experts. “We use these professionals as an extension of our own knowledge,” says Dave. “If we don’t have an answer for you already, we’re going to try to search it out.”

As for the store’s longevity, John credits an unwavering commitment to customers. “We hate to say no,” he says. “We just don’t do that.”

620 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne; (610) 688-0769, braxtons.com.
 

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Michele Levan with Muppet (left) and Foxy, sporting their Humunga Tounges.Michele Levan

Bruce Springsteen and Chevy Chase are among the celebs spoiling their furry friends with items from Michele Levan’s Moody Pet line of toys and accessories. The former Narberth resident and Sony Records executive left the corporate world behind in 1999 after tapping her 401(k) to fund her product line. What began as a selection of mood-ring-inspired dog and cat collars has since grown to include toys for dogs. The Humunga Tongue, Humunga Stache, and Humunga Stache and Beard are rubber balls that, when fetched, leave Rover with either a large, comical tongue or stylishly groomed facial hair. Levan’s innovations have earned her a spot on Animal Planet’s Top 20 Amazing Animal Inventions and “Best New Product of the Year” honors in Pet Age Magazine in 2003.

For cat lovers, the award-winning Fling-ama-String attaches to a doorknob and whips a silken string back and forth until caught, starting over again when released. “I had no idea it was going to get so much attention,” says Levan of the popular battery-operated device. “People have said that their cats stand at the bottom of the toy and meow for the owner to turn it on, or the cats will wake them up first thing in the morning so they can turn it on.”

Now living in Philadelphia, Levan credits her old dog, Sweetie, with inspiring her career change. “I was growing out of the record business and was just looking for a way to stay home with Sweetie every day,” she says. “I didn’t want to go out and see bands and schmooze. I just wanted to hang out with my dog.”

Moodypet.com.
 


Buzz Miller

Across the country—and especially in Pennsylvania—puppy mills are becoming an increasingly difficult problem to control, says Buzz Miller, owner of Buzzy’s Bow Wow Meow in Narberth. A “companion animal education center,” his company’s ethos is focused on enlightening the masses to the issue of abandoned animals all along the Main Line. “Sixty-five percent of households in this country have a companion animal, and the sad part is that that group has never unified to change the system,” Miller says.

A lawyer turned pet champion, Miller walked away from a lucrative career as a venture-capital attorney in 1993 and began channeling his energy into educating the public about the sordid world of puppy mills, the benefits of utilizing rescue organizations and the advantages of animal companionship.

Buzz Miller shoulders up to April and May. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)Miller doesn’t just talk the talk. His passion is spread over multiple organizations, most of which he personally spearheads. A few include PACT (People/Animals = Companions Together), which provides foster care to pets with military owners and places other animals in permanent homes; Buzzy’s Mitzvah Project, a service-oriented organization geared toward teens; and the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, with which he works closely. Miller estimates that 500 animals have found homes through his in-store events alone, and he projects another 500 success stories by the end of this year.

Typically, more than half the animals housed in shelter facilities are put down due to overpopulation. That’s where Miller and his team of volunteers come in. “Before I got into what I’m doing now, I spent years and years making rich people richer,” Miller says. “And now, I haven’t charged a penny in seven years. I run into people every day that thank me for the animal they were recommended to. It’s hugely rewarding.”

701 Montgomery Ave., Narberth; (610) 617-3300, buzzysbowwowmeow.com.
 

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