Hip Hip Hooray for HAP!

by | Mar 7, 2023

I’d like to give a big shout out to our very own HAP family! It all started way back in 2015 with one man, Brian Bonsteel, DMD. He understood that education and policy change are essential to solving animal rights issues which are too monumental for rescue to confront alone. Brian, along with Natalie Ahwesh, Sam Ahwesh, and Mario Costanzo dove headfirst into making HAP come alive.

The vision they began working for and diligently continue to work for is a world without animal suffering and where all beings are treated with compassion. Their collective mission, along with the rest of the growing HAP family, is to improve the protection of all animals by empowering people to make an impact through education, policy and community action.

This shared vision came to fruition through several effective methods. One of the primary ways HAP has garnered success is through educating themselves and the community about critical animal welfare issues and also offering practical solutions. HAP believes in starting education early and so developed interactive classes which are offered to schools both in person and via zoom. Class highlights include:

  • Experiencing a role play between a legislator and a citizen lobbyist
  • Learning about the link between climate change and eating meat
  • Learning about the plastic pollution crisis
  • And how they can help!

HAP’s success is also achieved through building relationships with those who share the same vision as well as collaborating with a community of colleagues, legislators, and business leaders. But the true testament to HAP’s continued success is their commitment to their team and fulfilling HAP’s mission. And all the hard work over the years has paid off in quite a significant way!

One monumental victory is the Bullhook Plus Ban. This prohibits the use of bullhooks, electric prods, shocking devices, hacksaws, ankuses, baseball bats, ax handles, pitchforks, whips, sticks, muzzles, and other instruments capable of inflicting pain, intimidating, or threatening pain to control wild or exotic animals including lions, tigers, bears, and monkeys in the city of Pittsburgh. I wanted to include specifics on this ban because I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have realized that things like pitchforks and baseball bats needed to be included. It really shines a light on the brutality these animals go through and eventually lead to the Shrine Circus, Garden Brothers, Ringling Brothers, and others, ceasing performances in the city of Pittsburgh.

The term “puppy mill” has become synonymous with the poor treatment of our canine friends, so HAP set to work and was able to get a ban passed which prohibits the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits that are not from a shelter or rescue within city limits. Here are just SOME of the conditions dogs live under in many puppy mills.

  • Mother dogs are bred constantly and without rest or screening for diseases
  • Early weaning which can cause significant stress on puppies
  • Poor sanitation
  • Lack of veterinary care
  • Inbreeding, overcrowding, and more

The HAP team understands that becoming an ally to animals can also be beneficial to our health! That is why they successfully created and implemented Get Healthy Pittsburgh!, a program that supported the residents of Pittsburgh to improve their health with a step-by-step guide to eating a plant-based diet for one week. Participants were coached daily on how to prepare balanced meals, short cut food preparation, and incorporate more activity into their lives in less time. At the end of the week, everyone who participated was met with real success as shown in the number of pounds lost and improved triglycerides and LDL. The average pounds lost was 4.5, average improvement for triglycerides was 9 points and the average improvement for LDL was 13 points.

HAP has achieved many victories over the years and continues to make headway in the fight against animal cruelty with ongoing campaigns like HAP Hive. The goal of this campaign is to combat the disappearing bee population by eliminating Pittsburgh’s use of chemical pesticides, replacing ornamental flowers with native plants, and producing and installing “bee hotels” where natural habitats have been destroyed. Another important campaign, Love Your Wild Neighbor, educates residents of Allegheny County and beyond on humane harassment techniques that serve as an alternative to trapping raccoons, groundhogs, skunks, and other wildlife that may be considered pests. 

HAP has had so many wonderful achievements:

  • In February 2018, Sharpsburg, PA Mayor Mathew Rudzki became the first mayor in the country to make our proclamation that all animals are sentient beings.
  • Soon after Mayors Matt Shorraw and Emily Marburger followed suit 
  • In 2018, HAP prevented U.S. House Bill No. 4879 from being passed that could have destroyed countless animal protection laws enacted  in the U.S 
  • In 2017, HAP partnered with the Pittsburgh Pirates to host Major League baseball’s first ever vegan night, a tradition they continue to do today
  • On March 23rd 2021 four people were arrested for poisoning pigeons in downtown Pittsburgh thanks to an amendment HAP wrote and help pass in 2020
  • HAP wrote and helped pass an ordinance which bans the ownership of any crocodilian species or any Red-eared Slider

If you’d like to support HAP on our mission, please consider donating or becoming a member. There are several monthly membership options to fit your needs. Wearing your support by shopping in our online store for t-shirts and tote bags is another great option. Congratulations HAP on all you’ve done for creatures big and small in the city of Pittsburgh and beyond!


Aimee Douglass is the Director of Compassionate Living. Aimee works in the healthcare industry and has a bachelors degree in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and a masters degree in Communications with a health care focus from Southern New Hampshire University.

Abhi Nadendla is a blogger at HAP and has been volunteering at the organization since late 2022. She is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and loves spending her free time helping out at animal shelters.

Hannah Lewis is a grant writer and blogger from Pittsburgh’s North Side who has been with HAP since 2020. In addition to writing and advocating for animals, she enjoys hiking, cooking plant-based meals, bouldering at her local climbing gym, and curling up with a good book and her long-haired cat, Freyja.

Kelly Frantz has recently joined the HAP family as a blog writer. She is passionate about animal protection and is excited to educate the community about animal welfare.