Harrison woman’s love for animals leads to longtime stint as shelter volunteer
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series that features Alle-Kiski Valley residents and the notable things that they do.
A lifelong Harrison resident’s passion for pets has led to decades of volunteerism at the preeminent animal shelter in Alle-Kiski Valley.
Jeanne Lessig is enjoying her 20th year at Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley in New Kensington.
She’s a former board member and current fundraising coordinator. Lessig joined the nonprofit, no-kill shelter in January 2000.
“I wanted to volunteer for quite a few years,” said Lessig, 61. “I made it my New Year’s resolution and stuck with it. It’s the closest animal shelter to my home and I wanted to help animals.
”When I stick with something I stick for the long haul.”
At least 200 volunteers help run the shelter. People interested in volunteering must be at least 16 years old to work with cats and 18 years old to walk dogs.
About 500 pets — dogs and cats — are adopted annually from the shelter at 533 Linden Ave. in New Kensington, and even more are returned to their owners.
People considering adoption can fill out an application in person or get one online at animalprotectors.net. Those with dogs already can schedule an appointment for a meet-and-greet.
“If you’re adopting (a dog) from any shelter, the first thing you should do is get them into obedience classes,” Lessig said. “It’s a good way to bond with your animal.”
She advised cat owners to take it slow.
“Cats are more comfortable in places they’re used to,” Lessig said.
The strangest “pet” that arrived at Animal Protectors during her watch was a turkey, Lessig said.
“We were going to send them down to Verona Wildlife Center,” she said. “The turkey got out of the car and flew off. … It’s never a dull moment down there (at the shelter).”
Lessig graduated from Highlands High School in 1976 and from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1979.
Those designing skills landed her a job with Natrona Heights-based General Press Corp., where she takes artwork sent in by other companies and applied it to various items for movie theaters, ballparks and other businesses. She’s in her 40th year with the printing and labeling company.
She also applies her talents to Animal Protectors’ quarterly newsletters and event fliers.
Her love of animals blossomed while on the farm of her grandparents, John and Caroline Virag, in Rural Valley.
They had cows, chickens, geese, goats, dogs and cats.
“We spent a lot of time out there,” Lessig said. “We would go out every weekend. My cousin and my sister-in-law would spend a couple weeks in the summer with them, and they would put us to work.”
She and her husband of 37 years, Cheswick native Butch Lessig, have a dog and a cat.
The dog is a 12-year-old Australian shepherd called Riley, and the cat is a 13-year-old, long-haired domestic named Ching.
Lessig said she has a deep connection with Riley, who follows her around everywhere, while Ching is less clingy.
Fundraiser coming Sept. 21
One of the shelter’s largest fundraising efforts is its annual Tails on the Trails Dog Walk, which will mark its 10th anniversary Sept. 21.
The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Harrison Hills Park in Harrison.
People can preregister for $30 through Thursday. Cost is $35 at the gate.
This year’s theme is westerns.
At least 50 families are expected to participate. The dogs go on a mile walk along the park’s trails.
“Lots of our alumni come to the dog walk and we see a lot of familiar faces,” Lessig said. “People do seem to enjoy it. It’s a nice time of year.”
The “alumni” are adopted pets. Other activities include basket and 50-50 raffles and an animal agility course.
The fundraising goal is $15,000. The event raised about $14,500 last year.
There’s also a cash bash from 4-8 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Comfort Inn in the RIDC Park, O’Hara.
“That’s the only way that we survive,” Lessig said of the events. “Our doors would close if we didn’t have these fundraisers and get donations. Everything that we do at Animal Protectors comes from donations.”
The nonprofit’s planning to move to 730 Church St. in New Kensington by the end of the year.
“We’ve outgrown the building that we’re in,” Lessig said. “I think it’s going to be great for the animals, volunteers and staff.”
For more information or to donate, contact Animal Protectors at 724-339-7388 or [email protected]
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .