By Susie Bramhall
Photo Credit: Larissa Wohl
From letters to Santa, to a magical chance of meeting the big guy in person, many little kids ask – with excitement, of course – for the one thing at the very top on their Christmas gift list: a new puppy. Now, Santa knows this doesn’t just apply to the kiddos…you see, big kids and adults alike would love to bring a new furry friend into their family during the holidays. And it’s not just dogs…kittens, bunnies, and other animals also make the list. Plus, what about the love and joy the new pet will experience, knowing they have a forever family to love them unconditionally!
For this amazing gift of love, it seems like the perfect scenario for the season, and local adoption organizations are the perfect answer to fulfill this holiday wish; however, before adopting your new furbaby, there are some necessary steps to take, questions to ask, and decisions that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Are there other pets already in your home? Will the little kids know how to interact with a new animal? How can a new pet be made to feel super comfortable in their new environment?
Luckily, I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Pet Rescue Expert, Larissa Wohl. Wohl, who you’ll recognize from Hallmark Channel’s HOME & FAMILY. Larissa has been involved in finding homes for close to 1500 animals and shows no signs of slowing down. Her advice and tips for pet adoption are invaluable, and can assist in you and your family’s search for your new forever family member.
So for pet lovers everywhere, let me present…Larissa Wohl!
STM: Hi Larissa! Please tell me a little about your background. Have you always been an animal rescue advocate?
Wohl: Thank you for having me be part of your amazing website! I have always been an animal and rescuer lover. My mom was the original rescuer and crazy cat lady in our family! We were always stopping by the shelter to pick up a “hard-to-adopt” animal, or stopping for stray dogs running on the road, or taking in bunnies someone no longer wanted! We quickly become the go-to house for homeless animals and it really helped me learn the importance of educating others on how wonderful rescue animals truly are.
STM: So when did rescue and pet adoption become your full-time career?
Wohl: It wasn’t until I moved away from home and became a local news reporter and anchor, that I was able to start dedicating more time to working in shelters. Because my hours were very strange, I found myself needing a hobby during the afternoons. That’s when I turned to volunteering and really saw how much work needed to be done to help the shelter system. I became a full-time volunteer and tried to use my platform to spread the message as much as possible.
When I started working at Hallmark Channel, I never dreamed I could turn my passion into a full-time career and become one of the faces of “Adoption Ever After” on Home & Family. It’s truly been a dream come true and I owe it all to Hallmark Channel.
STM: Please tell me more about your website and the thousands of animals you have helped in finding their forever homes.
Wohl: The show I work on, HOME & FAMILY, showcases a homeless animal every single day. We try to show animals from all 50 states to remind viewers there are magical rescue animals wherever you live! I try to also post those animals on my personal website, SavedByTheL.com. I also try to update them when they’ve been adopted, but sometimes it happens so fast, I can’t catch up!
So far, we’ve helped almost 1500 animals find homes just from our efforts on HOME & FAMILY alone! That doesn’t include the thousands that have found homes through Hallmark Channel’s other wonderful programming like Kitten Bowl, Cat Bowl, American Rescue Dog Show, etc…
STM: That is absolutely fantastic, Larissa!
"It’s such an amazing feeling to know that I'm doing my part. It's a job that will NEVER be done unfortunately, but I try to allow myself to celebrate the milestones and then get back to it!"
STM: You also have some rescues yourself…we would love to meet them!
Wohl: Absolutely! I have three little rescue pups (and a variety of foster animals at any given time!). My three babies are named Muppet, Maple, and Piggly. Muppet is about 7-8 years old and is a teeny weeny maltipoo mix. She was found wandering the streets of LA, completely emaciated, anemic, and sick. She was rescued by a rescue organization called Hand in Paw, and she’s my little princess! She co-exists with my other two, but can be pretty anti-social most of the time!
Maple is about 5-6 years old and was also rescued by Hand in Paw. She is some sort of shih tzu mix and has quite the personality! She is definitely the most vocal of the bunch and is very wary of strangers…but once she warms up to you, you’ll never be able to get her off your lap!
Piggly is around 5-6 years old, as well, and is an albino maltipoo (we think). She has the cutest pink nose and eyes and we have to be careful not to let her in the sun for too long because she’s sensitive. She was rescued by Saving K9 Lives Plus Rescue in Southern California, and is the funniest little thing. She makes me laugh non-stop and has the funniest facial expressions!
STM: So, how did you get involved with the Hallmark Channel’s HOME & FAMILY?
Wohl: For years, I worked in local news markets as a reporter/anchor/producer. I actually was working down in San Diego when the show I was on decided to move their production to Arizona. I decided that I really missed being around my family in Los Angeles and that I would take the leap of faith to go back home and figure out what my next job was going to be. Luckily, my best friend worked at HOME & FAMILY and helped me become a segment producer here. I loved producing the show and would still work on rescuing in my downtime! A couple years later, it just so happened that Hallmark Channel wanted to grow their efforts in the animal space and I volunteered to help in any way possible! It was the perfect meeting of the minds and I still pinch myself that I get to do what I do. I absolutely love the team at HOME & FAMILY and Hallmark Channel. They are supporting, loving, professional…and I hope to be here for years to come!
STM: We hope that, too! Now for some tips for families looking to adopt a new dog, cat, or other animal for the holidays…
Wohl: This is SUCH an important topic, so thank you for bringing it up! I find that many families want to add a furry friend to their household around this time of year, which is great! Here’s the thing to keep in mind though…getting a pet is a lifelong commitment and should NEVER be done impulsively. It should always be a decision the entire family makes and I urge people NOT to ever give animals as gifts.
Every year, we see tons of cats and dogs end up in shelters a few months into the new year because people get them for the holidays and don’t realize how much work, time, money, and effort they take. So please make sure you think about the long term plan and account for things like going back to work, finances, changes in living situations, or anything like that, which may occur in the future before you decide to get a pet!
If you’ve accounted for all of that and feel as if you’re ready, then congratulations! The first place I tell people to look is at their local shelters/humane societies, or websites like Petfinder.com or Adoptapet.com. These websites bring up rescue animals that fit the criteria you are looking for based on your location! Then you can contact the rescues directly!
STM: And pet adoption is not necessarily an overnight process…
Wohl: Please pack your patience, as most rescue organizations and shelters are short staffed, or run by volunteers who have other full time jobs. It can take time for them to get back to you or go through all the applications they received. If possible, try to start your search early and build relationships with rescues in your area, so that they know who you are and feel good about adopting to you. Rescues can be very careful about who they adopt to because they invest a lot into their animals and want to ensure that they are going to the best home possible.
STM: Is it important for the entire family to meet an animal before adoption? What are some key things to consider?
Wohl: Yes, I believe that it’s all about connecting with an animal when it comes to adopting a pet. That means everyone should meet the dog/cat prior and be part of the decision making process. Sometimes you THINK you know what you’re looking for…only to connect with a different animal entirely when you start your search. I always say “They Choose You” because you can walk up and down the shelter and certain dogs/cats will literally call to you. I also think that everyone being included in the decision making process helps everyone feel a certain sense of responsibility in caring for the animal.
STM: If you already have other animals in the house, what is the best way to introduce a new furry family member?
Wohl: This is a great question! First and foremost, I believe your current animal should always be your priority. That means, if you have an animal already that gets stressed out by other animals, don’t get a second one. It can lead to stress on both ends of the leash! If you do have a cat or dog already that would like a companion, I recommend adopting from a rescue or shelter that allows you to do meet & greets with your existing animal. Some shelters/rescues don’t allow you to bring your current animal to their facility for liability reasons. If this is a concern of yours, seek out organizations that allow you to bring your current pets with you for the visits.
Even if you do have the animals meet at the shelter or rescue, it’s important to remember that attitudes can change at home. Sometimes your existing animal will be fine in a neutral environment, but still get protective inside the house.
Because of this, I always recommend allowing the dogs to go on a walk outside of the house before you venture inside.
– Allow them, both animals, to decompress and get to know one another without any pressure.
– Feed them separately so that there isn’t any resource guarding issues
-Be Patient. Animals can take weeks (sometimes months) to get used to each other in a new home. Don’t rush the process and let it unfold on their time.
-If their are any aggression or behavior issues that seem dangerous or aren’t getting better, please contact a trainer and the rescue/shelter immediately.
STM: Also, what about kids, especially little ones…what is the easiest way to transition a new pet into the family?
Wohl: When it comes to kids, the most important thing to do is get all the info you can on the animals from their rescue or shelter. Has the animal been in a home with kids? Have they shown any aggression towards kids? Etc…
Additionally, it is UBER important that you teach your little ones how to safely interact with animals. Kids sometimes don’t realize that they’re mishandling an animal and it can lead to unfortunate incidents. Things like fur pulling, tail tugging, jumping on them, squeezing too hard should be avoided at all times!
STM: What are your tips for making a new pet feel welcome and comfortable in their new household?
Wohl: My biggest tip when rescuing/adopting a new animal is to really let them decompress. Oftentimes, dogs and cats are very overwhelmed when they first get to a new home. They’ve been under a lot of stress in the shelter environment and they don’t really know what’s going on. So I always recommend making a soft, quiet space for them inside, but not overly doting on them right away. Let them get used to their new space and adjust slowly. Sometimes they may be scared or timid and just need the time to relax, feel safe, and come out of their shell!
STM: That is great advice! A new pet should definitely feel safe at their new home!
Wohl: It’s the most amazing feeling in the world when you start to see them evolve and trust. I also recommend feeding them whatever food they’ve been eating and then changing it gradually, if you want to switch brands. This way, their digestive system can adapt slowly and won’t get upset.
STM: What are your favorites/suggestions for toys and products that you recommend?
Wohl: There are so many, but I always tell people not to go out and spend a ton of money on toys, treats, and products until you get to know your animal a bit better. Every pet is different and will like different things (and trust me, I’ve spent so much money on things that my dogs couldn’t care less about!).
That said, I think these are some good basics to have when bringing in a new dog:
-A dog crate
-A dog bed
-An exercise pen (comes in handy when you’re trying to contain a pup)
-Pee pee pads and diapers/belly bands if needed
-A good leash and dog harness (I personally don’t like retractable leashes because they can be dangerous)
STM: These are wonderful suggestions! Any additional tips?
-Allow your new pet time to relax and trust
-Set up good boundaries from the get-go (a trainer can be very helpful for this)
-Seek out a veterinarian you like (because you and your pet need to feel comfortable with them)
-Enjoy the journey
STM: And now for some holiday questions…what are some of your favorite holiday traditions?
Wohl: I absolutely love the holidays and look forward to spending time with my family. Every year we gather together and eat a ton and open gifts! We have to open them one at a time though! I’m a stickler about it – lol.
STM: Do you have a special recipe that you make each season?
Wohl: I love to make my Holiday Cake Balls! They’re soooo good! I use Oreos, cream cheese, and lots of chocolate!!!
STM: How will you be celebrating the holidays this year?
Wohl: This year will be a small family gathering. I’m so lucky to have my parents close by and I appreciate it more now than ever. This year has really shined a light on how important it is to be surrounded by the ones you love.
STM: What is it about the holiday season that inspires you?
Wohl: To me, the holidays are all about giving back and appreciating what you have…so I like to really use this time to reflect on all the blessings in my life and take action to help others who aren’t as fortunate. Whether it’s helping humans – or animals – I like to do as much as I can.
Bonus Question: What is your favorite Christmas cookie?
"Hahah…I love all cookies!!! I'd have to say a good gingerbread cookie with lots of frosting!!"
Looking for an easy and decadent holiday treat? We’ve got you covered with this simple recipe for Holiday Cake Balls from Larissa Wohl! So fun to make...let the kiddos put on an apron and help!
Larissa Wohl’s Holiday Cake Balls
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
36 OREO Cookies, finely crushed
16 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
1.Mix cream cheese and cookie crumbs until well blended.
2.Shape into 48 (1-inch) balls. Freeze 10 minutes. Dip balls into melted chocolate; place in single layer in shallow waxed paper-lined pan.
3.Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.