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Springdale girl gathers gifts for shelter pets

| Tuesday, July 8, 2014, 12:21 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Isabella Walsh, 10, holds 'Rosemarie,' a calico cat at the Animal Protectors of Valley Valley in New Kensington on Monday, July 7, 2014, after donating animal food, treats, and toys that she collected at her birthday party this weekend in lieu of presents for herself.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Isabella Walsh, 10, leads her mother, Michelle, father John, friend Morgan Fitzgerald, 10, and sister Carissa, 10, into the Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley in New Kensington on Monday, July 7, 2014, with boxes of animal food, treats, and toys that she asked for in lieu of birthday presents this week.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Isabella Walsh, 10, right, tosses a dog frisbee as she sorts through donations for the Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley with her sister, Carissa, 7, left, and friend Morgan Fitzgerald, 10, at the New Kensington facility on Monday, Juoy 7, 2014. Walsh had her guests bring animal food, treats, and toys in lieu of presents for her birthday party this weekend.

A lot of girls for their 10th birthday would ask for Silly Bandz, Barbie Dolls or Nintendo Wii video games, but Isabella Walsh isn't one of them.

Instead, she requested from her friends at Colfax Upper Elementary School in Springdale something that she felt would have a deeper impact — something less selfish and closer to her heart.

“She didn't want presents,” said her mom, Michelle. “She just wanted to collect food and supplies for the animals in the shelter. She's always been a big animal lover.”

Walsh celebrated her 10th birthday on Sunday at the Bouquet Pool in Springdale with about a dozen girls, most of whom also belong to the Allegheny Valley Junior Girl Scout Troop.

Between them, the group collected more than 35 pounds of cat and dog food, 30 pounds of treats, 40 toys and about 35 food bowls, leashes and grooming supplies.

The items were donated the next day to Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley in New Kensington, where Walsh was able to spend some quality time with the beneficiaries of her party.

“This is my present — being here,” she said, rubbing her face against a shelter cat in her arms. “I always have loved cats. This is the only thing I wanted to do.”

Walsh's birthday — actually Thursday — arrives at an opportune time for the New Kensington animal shelter, according to office manager Jody Berisko.

Like all of the other shelters in the area, Animal Protectors is inundated with cats and kittens during their breeding season during the summer months, making it difficult to care for all of their animals.

“The number of cats we see always goes up this time of the year,” Berisko said. “With the pregnant cats everywhere, it's endless.

“We are so appreciative of Isabella's donation. It's inspiring to see someone that young care that much about homeless animals and do something about it. It helps a lot, especially now.”

Summer brings strays

The problems facing the Animal Protectors shelter in New Kensington are represented on a larger scale at the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania.

According to Executive Director Dan Rossi, the Pittsburgh-based shelter takes in about 1,000 cats per month between June and August.

That's more than twice the number they take in during the other nine months of the year, he said.

The increase is due primarily to the breeding season, but the warmer weather also draws more strays out of whatever structures they took refuge in over the winter. Others escape while their owners vacation, and some are left behind when people move.

“It's tough,” Rossi said. “We could build a building the size of Consol Energy Center and it wouldn't be enough to hold them. We're able to manage thanks to our foster program, through which about 300 households take in some of the cats until they're adopted.”

Orphans of the Storm, an animal shelter near Kittanning, experiences a 50 percent increase in the number of cats coming in during the summer.

The number of dogs coming in also increases, according to assistant manager Beth Ann Galbrith, by about 20 percent, particularly around the Fourth of July holiday when dogs frightened by fireworks run away from home.

To help combat the problem, Galbrith said, the shelter offers discounted spay and neuter programs from June through August. The shelter banks on receiving more community and personal donations over the summer and holds a handful of fundraisers, like its July 21 golf outing at the Kittanning Country Club.

“We're always looking for help,” Galbrith said. “We're always looking for foster homes, and obviously all donations help, whether they're monetary, food or supplies.”

Employees of Animal Protectors in New Kensington are hoping Walsh's donation inspires others to do the same.

Based on the expressions of Walsh's 7-year-old sister, Carissa, and friend, Morgan Fitzgerald, as they helped her donate to the shelter, it's entirely possible.

“I want to do this for my birthday next year,” said Fitzgerald, 10. “It's really cool. It could start a trend.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or

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