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Youngwood animal shelter can always use donations, volunteers

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 9:03 p.m.
Bethany Morse, the administrative assistant at The Animal Friends of Westmoreland in Youngwood, brings 2-year-old collie-husky mix Demitri out of his pen to visit the Tropeano family. Meredith, 10, standing next to Morse, usually requesst that her birthday party gifts instead be presents for the animals.. Her brother, John, who turns 8 years old today, will be having his second 'Party for the Pets' this month. Ben, who just turned 6 last month, is looking forward to his turn to help the animals. Rose Domenick photo
From left, Ben, John and Meredith Tropeano watch a kitten eat canned food they brought to the Youngwood shelter. They have two dogs at home.

Meredith Tropeano loves animals so much she proves it every birthday by asking guests at her party to bring presents for the dogs and cats at The Animal Friends of Westmoreland shelter instead of gifts for her.

The 10-year-old girl from Hempfield was the first kid to host a “Party for Pets” when she turned 5 and to be honored by the Youngwood no-kill nonprofit for her unselfish generosity.

“I really haven't kept track of how much money I've raised throughout the last five years,” Meredith said. “The first year was close to $300, but during the last few years people have been bringing items that are needed as gifts.

“I really love the animals,” she added during a recent visit at the shelter where she also works as a volunteer to walk the dogs and clean the pens with her father, Dave.

Her younger brother, John, who turns 8 years old today, is following in her footsteps.

He is planning his second birthday party where he will be collecting for the shelter animals. He chose a sleepover party for school and baseball friends.

“I like the animals, and that's pretty much the only reason,” John said.

Youngest brother, Ben, who just turned 6, is looking forward to his turn next year to pick his charity.

It all started with Meredith.

“Her heart is just so big,” said her mother, Gretchen Tropeano.

“My kids have so much,” she said. “We've been blessed and have more than we could ever need. The kids get gifts from us and our parents, and they definitely have not gone without. ...We've tried to teach them to care about other people and animals.”

The children attend Aquinas Academy in Greensburg and have to undertake a modest number of community service hours every year.

The Tropeano children have already surpassed the requirement.

There is always a need for volunteers, donations and people to adopt the rescued pets living at the shelter, and for items like canned cat and dog food, cat litter and large garbage bags, said Animal Friends manager Robin Stewart.

The most needed items are highlighted on the Animal Friends' website at

“I do wish more people would get involved with the birthday parties, or the “Pennies for Puppies” program,” Stewart said.

That program uses a gallon milk jug that would sit in a classroom or dance class, or at any organized activity, to be filled with loose pennies for donation to Animal Friends.

A one-gallon milk jug holds $60 in pennies, so just 10 jugs would mean $600 for the shelter, said Stewart.

A goal of $1,000 a year in pennies, or 17 jugs, would take care of the gasoline bill that includes taking the dogs and cats to PetSmart every Saturday to help them get adopted by forever homes.

“We have four gallons so far, and have been doing this program for two years,” Stewart said.

Bricks can be purchased for the perimeter of the exercise and play yard that funds are being raised to finish. The 4-by-8-inch permanent bricks cost $100 and can be emblazoned with a maximum of four lines and 21 characters.

The shelter has a maximum capacity for 53 cats and 22 dogs.

The nonprofit shelter was formed in 2006 by Candy Nelson, the founder and owner of the Platinum Salon & Spa.

The rescued animals were placed in foster homes until the former Knights of Columbus building was purchased and remodeled for the shelter, which opened in 2009.

“I've always had a love for animals,” said Nelson said, who rescued a one-eyed older dog that wasn't easily adoptable. “I raised money for eight years to purchase this building and donated it and all the materials and labor done to remodel the inside.

“It's about giving back to the community that has supported my business for 13 years,” she said.

“As far as the shelter operates, we are very different,” Nelson said. “We are no-kill, we have a network of volunteers and 79 percent of all money goes to pet programs... .”

A youth volunteer program involves a 90-minute orientation on Wednesday evenings for those 14 years old. Younger children can participate with their parents. Call 724-925-2555 for details.

Rose Domenick is a freelance writer.