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Derry no-kill shelter to mark 30 years with dinner at club

| Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Kathy Newill still remembers the cries of an abandoned kitten in a trash bin behind a restaurant, the sound that led to 10 years of volunteering with Action for Animals Humane Society.

“I heard this meowing as we went in, and when we came out, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, someone would throw a kitten into the garbage?'” she said.

That was in 1993, when Newill took the kitten to the no-kill shelter, and it was fostered in the home of a board member.

Newill, who has been involved with Action for Animals for the 20 years since, will help celebrate the Derry Township shelter's 30th anniversary.

An event is planned for 6 p.m. Feb. 8 at Latrobe Country Club, where Newill and shelter manager LuAnn Hutcheson will speak about their “tales from the trenches.”

Action for Animals is the oldest and largest no-kill shelter in Westmoreland County, said Laura Guskiewicz, board treasurer and co-chairwoman for the event.

She has adopted two dogs from the shelter.

“It's the best thing in the world to come home and have that dog waiting for you,” Guskiewicz said.

Without support from the community, the nonprofit shelter wouldn't be nearly as successful as it is now, Newill said.

“It's been a really great story of passion, desire and willingness to help,” she said.

When Action for Animals began in 1983, it started with volunteers providing foster homes.

In the early 1990s, a steel building on Route 981 housed about 45 animals, and the shelter underwent five additions.

There were no full-time or veterinary staffers at first, but now in the facility on Route 217 about 150 animals can receive care from a veterinarian on staff as well as 20 paid employees.

“It has been nothing but for the betterment of the animals,” said Hutcheson, who has worked at the shelter since 2001 when Four-Footed Friends in Indiana County restructured its staff.

The shelter manager said she has loved animals since she was a young girl.

“I was the kid that didn't go play with other kids; I played with my dad's hunting dogs,” Hutcheson said.

She first began working with shelters in 1986 when she walked in to adopt a dog and “never left.”

When asked to recall her most memorable rescue story for her speech at the upcoming dinner, she filled half of a legal-sized notebook with stories.

“You never stop learning,” Hutcheson said. “You're working with an animal with a mind. Every mind is different; every day is different.”

Newill remembers a Great Dane named Ophelia from her early days of working with the shelter. The dog was “skin and bone” after having been left in a mobile home with no food or water.

Watching Ophelia's recovery, which took several months, really emphasized the difference the shelter was making, she said.

“Seeing an animal on the brink of death looking into your eyes and say, ‘I'm going to trust you again,'” was extremely heartening, Newill said.

The shelter does not limit its boarders to cats and dogs. It also has accepted farm animals, rabbits, chinchillas and goats and even placed an alligator at a rescue sanctuary.

When animals are confiscated by police or their owners are victims of emergencies, the shelter will take the pets.

“People and animals go hand-in-hand. We help both, and it's really been a special journey,” Newill said.

One day, Hutcheson hopes, the shelter will be out of business — because every animal will be taken care of properly.

“It's always baby steps with progress, but it will be there,” she said.

Tickets to the anniversary event are $50 and include dinner, hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, dessert and a silent auction. They are available on the shelter's website at or by calling Guskiewicz at 724-850-8802.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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