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🗣 Locals to Know: Meet Tara Czekaj and Carol Whaley, Humane Society awardees

Tara Czekaj and Carol Whaley with their Humane Society plaques.

Tell us about your work—your job and/or any volunteer work. 

Tara: I am a Humane Policy Volunteer Leader for the Humane Society of the United States, The Citizen Newspaper’s Pawsitive News blogger, serve on the Animal Friends Board Humane Legislation Committee, am the webmaster for Merlin’s Safe Haven Cat Rescue, cat foster mom for Pittsburgh CAT, and caretaker of the Pittsburgh Prison Cats in addition to working a full-time job in human resources.

I was extremely proud to be presented with the 2022 Humane Society of the United States Pennsylvania Humane Policy Leader of the Year Award. This award honors outstanding work in advancing priority federal, state and local animal protection policies. I was selected for the award with another Humane Policy Leader for our partnership with the Office of Councilman Bobby Wilson (City of Pittsburgh, District 1) to ban the declawing of cats in the City of Pittsburgh. This historic legislation made Pittsburgh the first government in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to ban non-therapeutic declawing of cats.

Carol: I’m Director of Humane Programming at Animal Friends and Humane Policy Volunteer Leader at HSUS.

Wax poetic for a second and tell us: what brings you most alive about this city?

Tara: I absolutely love how proud Pittsburghers are of Pittsburgh. I love that ’Burghers wear Pittsburgh-themed T-shirts and sports jerseys on the daily and that when traveling you can always spot another ’Burgher in black and gold. There is something incredibly special about this city and its residents.

Carol: The incredible people. Pittsburgh is a compassionate city from the volunteers who assist with animal rescue and protection to our open and available legislators who work to find humane solutions to animal-human interactions.

What’s your favorite Pittsburgh memory?

Tara: I remember, as a child, my Grandparents would drive me all the way into downtown from the Mon Valley to see the Kaufmann’s Holiday window displays. And on the way home we would take the long way home through Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, where I imagined incredibly fancy people like Frasier Crane lived.

Carol: Sitting in the press box at the Pens games. When I was an undergrad at Pitt, I covered the games for the WPTS sports show.

If you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Carol: I’ve been an ethical vegan for over 20 years. Sadly, my favorite restaurant B52 just closed. Absolutely everything was amazing. Thankfully Allegro Hearth Bakery carries some of the food from B52 plus an array of vegan breads and pastries. I grew up with my mom’s Syrian home cooking, so I enjoy any vegan food from the Middle East.

Tara: So easy! The tofu green curry from Thai Cuisine.

Outside of the obvious stop above, share your other top three destinations for where you’d go on your perfect Pittsburgh day.

Tara: The Ohio River Heritage Trail, the Indigo Owl Culture Shop, and the Frick Pittsburgh.

Carol: Phipps Conservatory for some quiet reflection, followed by a stop at the Carnegie Library Main for a coffee and a good read (Chabon!), and ending with a vegan dinner at Apteka.

What’s your favorite local social media account (Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or etc.) to follow and why?

Tara: @crazycitylady on IG has a beautiful aesthetic—AND she’s a cat person; that’s a terrific combination!

Carol: Of course, The Incline (Editor’s note: 😇), NEXTpittsburgh, Animal Friends, Dave Dicello, the Mt. Lebo Stop Declaw Committee, Pittsburgh Prison Cats, and really any and all animal-related social media accounts including Esther the Wonder Pig and Tuna Melts My Heart.

If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?

Carol: It’s okay if you don’t like the Steelers. There is so much to enjoy about Pittsburgh even if you don’t worship at Heinz Field. Also, adopt from one of the local shelters or rescues. There are so many wonderful companion animals waiting to be part of your family!

Tara: Be patient with others in parking garages and lots—not all of us have innate parking skills (the Pittsburgh parking chair exists for a reason!).

How does Pittsburgh help you do what you do/influence your work?

Tara: I have found Pittsburgh, its legislators, and local residents to be very supportive and receptive to not only animal protection legislation but also supportive of animals in general. I have bonded with neighbors I’ve never met before over community cats and gained great respect for local legislators who are willing to partner on animal policy.

Carol: The people! There are many amazing people who influence the work I do on behalf of animals. The wonderful and supportive staff and volunteers at Animal Friends, the local humane policy volunteers for the HSUS, and my compassionate 15-year-old twins who are just as delighted by cats as me.

What’s an unpopular opinion you have about the city?

Carol: I’d rather undergo a colonoscopy than watch the Steelers.

Tara: That french fries don’t belong on sandwiches. I know, I know, I’m sorry!

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Tara: I’m excited for all the things we are going to be able to accomplish for animals this year in the city. And I’m hopeful to be able to spend some COVID-free holidays with family this year!

Carol: Enacting more protections for our animal friends.

Know of a person or organization that we ought to feature? Send us an email to [email protected] with the subject line “Incline Locals to Know,” and you could see their name in an upcoming newsletter!

A handsome tabby cat in a denim harness sits outside a small house.
Incline assistant editor Gregor is also against declawing.