Zella Smith Anderson ’79 saves lives one pet at a time
by Michelle Simmons
July 1, 2011
“There’s a large segment of the population that sees animals as disposable,” says Zella Smith Anderson ’79. “Once a pet becomes an inconvenience, they want it to be someone else’s problem. We’re working to change that.”
Everyone knows what happened to NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Convicted and imprisoned on federal felony charges for dogfighting, he now speaks out against the brutal practice. Though he remains a controversial figure, the word “redemption” often is connected with his name.
What’s less well known is what happened to his dogs. Here, there’s no question about redemption: Of the 51 pit bulls rescued from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels, 47 were saved. Some were adopted by families, some live at a sanctuary for abused and homeless pets, and one is a certified therapy dog.
“If those dogs can be rehabilitated, any dog can be saved,” says Zella Smith Anderson ’79.
As founder and director of the Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance (CPAA), a nonprofit consortium of animal-rescue and fostering organizations, Anderson should know. She serves on the anti-dog-fighting task force in Dauphin County, Pa., has rescued innumerable dogs from puppy mills and abusive situations and runs one of the region’s most successful spay/neuter programs, staffed solely by volunteers.
Six rescued dogs—two of them pit-bull mixes named Rocky and Henry—currently reside with her.
Anderson founded CPAA in 2002, in memory of close friend and fellow rescue volunteer Cynthia Magaro, who died of cancer 10 years ago. Anderson took Magaro’s vision of creating a no-kill community and grew it into a vast network of foster families, veterinarians, trainers, behaviorists, kennels and rescue groups.
As a biology major, Anderson had planned to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology, even completing an M.S. at the University of Pittsburgh. But she felt she couldn’t continue conducting animal research, so she decided to pursue law instead and earned a J.D. at Penn State Dickinson School of Law.
After 25 years in law, Anderson retired as senior counsel for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department to devote her energies to CPAA full time. As a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee, she also keeps up with puppy-mill regulations, tether laws and animal-cruelty statutes, but it’s no longer her priority.
“Pursuing change through legislation is not productive in Pennsylvania,” she says, adding that she prefers direct education and outreach. “I always encourage people to go to shelters and rescues first, instead of buying from pet stores, which purchase dogs from puppy mills. It’s very fulfilling to know that you’ve saved an animal’s life by adopting a rescued animal. And by adopting instead of buying, we can eventually put the puppy mills out of business.”
Anderson notes that nearly 70 percent of dogs in shelters are purebreds and that there are rescue organizations for just about every breed imaginable. Besides, she says, “As long as homeless animals are being killed in shelters every day, no one should be breeding dogs and cats.”
To raise awareness about adoption and fostering options, she launched WoofStock and the Grateful Dog Walk, an annual festival that draws thousands of families—human, canine and feline—to Harrisburg. This year, she’s adding a 5K run. Anderson also organizes Compassion with Fashion, a high-end fundraiser that features dogs and cats strutting their stuff on, yes, the catwalk.
All of the funds raised go to programs such as De-Sex in the City, which offers free or low-cost spay/ neuter surgeries to pet owners who are unable to afford the procedures, and Hounds of Prison Education (HOPE), a training and rehabilitation program for rescued dogs at the State Correctional Institution in Camp Hill, Pa.
Anderson also is working on a name for the new micro-chipping, vaccination and spay/neuter project that CPAA is providing to her home municipality, Hampden Township. It’s a pilot program that she hopes to replicate throughout the area, and she’s heartened by the positive response she’s getting from local leaders thus far.
“There are people who want to do the right thing; the culture is changing,” Anderson says. “We will keep working to reach the day when every animal born has a wonderful, loving home.”
Learn more about CPAA’s programs and events.