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Renovations are unveiled at Youngwood animal shelter

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 9:17 p.m.
For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Greensburg's Candy Nelson, president and CEO of Animal Friends of Westmoreland, an organization she also founded in 2008, before her speech noting the opening of the organization's renovated Youngwood facility. Cami DiBattista | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal DATE OF PHOTO: Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012
For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Bricks dedicated to furry family members line the pathway up to the back entrance of the recently renovated Animal Friends of Westmoreland facility in Youngwood. The new walkway is part of an outdoor exercise area constructed for animals there. Cami DiBattista | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal DATE OF PHOTO: Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012
For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Volunteers and benefactors of Animal Friends of Westmoreland gathered Saturday, Dec. 4, 2012, to celebrate the dedication of the newly renovated facility in Youngwood. Cami DiBattista | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal

Since Animal Friends of Westmoreland Inc. was established three years ago, more than 700 homeless, abandoned and abused cats and dogs have been adopted from the Youngwood-based, nonprofit organization.

On Saturday, volunteers, board members and benefactors of the self-sustaining, no-kill facility at 216 Depot St. in the borough held a ceremony to officially mark its completion following significant renovations.

“We've accomplished so much,” said Franny Petras of Greensburg, a shelter volunteer. “There's been so much work done.”

Those who attended the event were invited to tour the building that boasts a new paint job, roof, driveway and fenced-in play yard.

Champagne and hors d'oeuvres were served and the organization's president and chief executive officer, Candy Nelson, gave a speech recognizing the completed renovations.

“Six years ago, we held our first fundraiser, and now look where we are,” Nelson said. “It has been an honor and a pleasure to have the support of such kind, hard-working people.”

Nelson acknowledged two volunteers she said were deserving of special recognition — her father, Greensburg's Clay Schoaf, who she said was always available to lend a hand, and Irwin's Mike Harhai, who she said gave so much of his time and talent in renovating the shelter.

The improvements to the facility were funded by donations from animal lovers and proceeds from volunteer fundraising efforts, Petras said.

Additional improvements include new signage throughout the facility, decorative murals and pictures on the walls, new doors and a new, meet-and-greet area for potential pet adopters to interact with the animals.

In that area, individuals who are considering pet adoption can watch the animals interacting on a television to gauge their temperament and behavior, said shelter board member Danna Schwartzmiller of Youngwood.

The shelter opened in October 2009, when staff and volunteers began seeking homes for the numerous stray and abandoned animals in the area.

The building, however, was a constant work in progress and, until last week, was never considered completed.

“I think even people who haven't been here in the last week are going to notice huge differences,” said shelter Manager Robin Stewart of North Huntingdon. “All the improvements are very noticeable.”

And all the hard work by those at Animal Friends of Westmoreland is for the animals, Petras said.

“Each one has a story,” she added, “and there are certain ones that just really touch your heart.”

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer.