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Humane Society Honors Local Natives

‘Dynamic duo’ involved in animal activism for 20 years

By Amy George
The Tube City Almanac
May 18, 2022
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Carol Whaley (above) and Tara Czekaj have been honored with the Pennsylvania Humane Policy Leader of the Year Award from the Humane Society of the United States. (Submitted photos)

Two Mon Valley natives have been honored with the Pennsylvania Humane Policy Leader of the Year award by the Humane Society of the United States.

The award, presented to Carol Whaley and Tara Czekaj, honors outstanding work in advancing high-priority federal, state and local animal protection policies.

Whaley and Czekaj were selected because of their partnership with Pittsburgh City Councilman Bobby Wilson, which resulted in a historic, city-wide ban on the declawing of cats.

“We are fortunate to have volunteers like Carol and Tara on our team,” said Kristen Tullo, HSUS Pennsylvania State Director, in a press release. “Their practical field knowledge, skills and experience are invaluable in animal policy making.”

Czekaj, currently the “Pawsitive News” blogger for the Citizen newspaper in Bellevue, is HSUS’ Humane Policy Volunteer Leader, Animal Friends’ Humane Legislation Committee member, webmaster for Merlin’s Safe Haven Cat Rescue, and caretaker of the Pittsburgh Prison Cats. She began advocating for animals after volunteering at a shelter as a young adult.

“After seeing the obstacles that shelters, rescues, and animals face, I was curious how we can all be more proactive in animal welfare, rather than reactive,” Czekaj said. “And the proactive way to help animals is really through animal protection legislation and public policy.”

On the other hand, Whaley — director of Humane Programming at Animal Friends and its Humane Legislation Committee Leader — has known her calling since childhood.

“I’ve had a strong bond with animals since I was young. From the dogs who shared our home to the worms I would save after rainstorms, I have always been drawn to animals,” she said. “I quickly learned I wanted to be a champion for, quite literally, the underdog. For the happiness they provide me, I am called to protect [animals] through the work I do every day.”

Together, the “dynamic duo” of Czekaj and Whaley have been involved in animal activism for more than 20 years, from volunteering at local shelters and assisting with animal protection policy to leading various committees and acting as a foster cat mom (Czekaj) and caretaker at a farm animal sanctuary (Whaley).

Both emphasize the greater personal impact of working with and for animals.

“Animal protection legislation can positively impact humans — especially animal welfare volunteers, veterinarians, shelter workers, and Humane Officers,” Czekaj said. “These are the people most impacted by compassion fatigue, and any public policy that supports animals is helpful for them too.”

Added Whaley, “Animal protection policy impacts every person. I see this movement as part of the wider social justice movement because animals (companion and otherwise) play an important role in our lives. They need a champion not only out in the community but oftentimes within the walls of the shelter.”

Both women also emphasized that an important part of being a champion for animals is respect — both for pets as well as for other humans.

“We need to respect our friends and understand that they have their own needs and desires that may be different from ours,” Whaley said. “I understand the desire to have your best friend with you everywhere you go, however this isn’t always what is best for your friend. For instance, my dog is anxious and doesn’t do well in crowds. I respect his needs and do not take him to places with crowds.”

Both women said that underlying their work all animal advocacy and care is the realization that the bond between human and animal is as old as time, and deserves to be cherished and protected.

“I absolutely think and feel that an animal can be a human's best friend. I have seen incredible bonds between humans and animals,” Czekaj said. “And these bonds have been clinically proven to benefit humans from a medical, emotional, and behavioral health perspective.”

“They are our family, sometimes they are our only family,” Whaley said. “They bring us joy just by being themselves.”

For more information about the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane Policy Volunteer Leader Program, email policyvolunteer@humanesociety.org.

Amy George is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor who is currently a master’s student at Carnegie Mellon University. Her work has previously appeared in the Northside Chronicle and the University Times. This is her first article for Tube City Almanac.

Originally published May 18, 2022.

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