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Humane society building dream for homeless cats and dogs

| Sunday, March 18, 2001

Nancy Shannon is dreaming of a majestic castle - a retreat where kindness reigns and best friends are made.

At this magical place cats and dogs would receive the royal treatment and a chance to live happily ever after.

To turn this dream into reality, the president of the Washington Area Humane Society is collecting 'Pennies for Puppies, Coins for Kittens and Dollars for Dogs.'

'We're raising money - dime by dime - for this,' Shannon said.

The fund-raising project is under way for 'A New Kingdom of Kindness,' a three-phase project designed to better the lives of the homeless cats and dogs awaiting adoption.

The project entails the renovation of a house next door to the shelter along Route 136 in Eighty Four for use as a cat sanctuary where cats and kittens brought to the shelter for adoption would be housed in a homelike, cageless environment.

The existing kennel - now cramped and chaotic - would also under go renovations to provide more space for the dogs and foster a welcoming and quiet atmosphere for those looking for a new best friend.

TRAIL LAUNCHES PROJECT
The humane society launched the project by developing Camelot Trail, a bark chip walking trail behind the kennel on the humane society's five acres of land.

'We took a walk up there last fall and realized that ... it was really a pretty nice piece of land,' Shannon said.

The 4-foot-wide, 1,010 feet of trail will be a valuable tool in matching people with the right pet, said Shannon.

'People who want to adopt a dog would be able to take it alone and get to know it and make a good decision,' she said.

The nature trail winds around the property. Four relaxation stations offer a place to sit on benches, enjoy flowers and learn new information about pets.

While the board members took the unsightly rough brush and made it into a haven, they hope to do the same with the brick home that was willed to the humane society along with the property years ago.

'I thought the house looked like a castle,' said Shannon, seeing beyond the imperfections of the 3,000-square-foot home. 'It has some nice architecture. It has beautiful woodwork and bay windows.'

Referring to it as the future Cat Castle Sanctuary, Shannon hopes to model the home after the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

Shannon and other board members visited the renowned haven for abused and abandoned animals where cats live in a cageless environment with lots of toys and fun furniture to climb on.

'We got to know the new concept in animal sheltering,' Shannon said.

Shannon and her colleagues were impressed with what they saw.

'(Cats) can live in colonies. They can live peacefully with relatively little mess or trouble,' she said.

FACT-FINDING MISSION
During their fact-finding mission, the humane society also took a trip to the new shelter run by the Humane Society of Westmoreland County.

Located along Route 119 directly behind the Lynch Field Walking Track in Hempfield Township, the shelter developed a similar environment.

The Humane Society of Westmoreland County inherited the property last spring. It included a red brick farmhouse.

'The house resembled this one so very much,' Shannon said. 'It was a wonderful experience to see how they adapted an older house.'

Shannon was impressed by the way the humane society utilized the upstairs bedrooms, separating kittens in one room, feral cats in another and adult cats in yet another.

She saw many comfortable accommodations for the cats, including plastic furniture and many things made for climbing on. She also enjoyed browsing in the gift shop and discovering a comfortable adoption area where individuals can spend time getting to know the felines with an adoption counselor.

Most of all, she noticed how well the cats welcomed the new environment.

'They were so people friendly,' said Shannon, adding she believes this open environment fosters a better pet because the cats experience more human contact and attention.

The Washington Area Humane Society will begin work on the house April 1. Tenants occupying the house are expected to move out by March 31.

'We have everything priced out and we know the priority of everything we have to do,' Shannon said, adding they hope to move in to the house by July 1.

Renovations will include painting and upgrading the electrical system. Many things need replaced, including windows, roof, furnace, air conditioner, floors and some ceilings. Shannon estimates the cost of the project at $60,000.

ROYAL ACCOMMODATIONS
Once done, the rooms will named after royal felines such as Sir Morris, Prince Maximilian and Princess Cleo.

Shannon said the humane society hopes to begin renovations on the dog shelter in the fall. The shelter will be known as the Distinguished Dogs' Domain. A Royal Receiving Room will be developed where canines can become acquainted with their prospective owners.

'I think the dogs have been shortchanged here because we have so many dogs and it's so chaotic,' Shannon said. 'People don't have a chance to get to know them in a quiet way.

'I think people might want to spend more time and make a decision about an adoption, become frustrated and leave,' Shannon said.

While Shannon counts down the days until work can begin, she's working on fund-raising efforts.

'We're totally funded by private contributions,' said Shannon, adding the humane society does not receive county or state funding.

While the humane society has had to struggle financially, Shannon said the past year has been a good one, and it put them in a position to go for their dream.

'We are pretty much sustained by the middle-income people - (individuals) who send us (contributions) like $20 a month,' Shannon said. 'Those really add up and that really will always be our bread and butter. Those are wonderful people, but there is another market area.

'People universally are animal lovers,' she said. 'And if you think about causes that are near and dear to most everyone, it would be animal abuse and child abuse.'

The vision of the humane society struck a chord with Pamela George.

'I always said if I ever hit the lottery, I'd buy a big farmhouse and fill it with (homeless) cats,' said George.

George and her husband, Rick, were delighted to hear this kind of haven would be located just a couple miles from their Eighty Four home.

And it just so happens that the Georges are in a position to contribute to the cat castle. The couple builds unique and beautiful cat furniture and toys out of their home under the business Whiskers 'N Wings Playthings.

A PLAYGROUND FOR CATS
The couple promised the shelter a donation of some cat furniture and toys and will also design and build a cat playground for one of the rooms. The playground consists of a walkway around the room near the ceiling, balconies for sleeping and shelves providing access to the walkway.

'They just love it,' said Pam George who owns her fair share of felines - 10 at last count.

She acquired a few of her cats through her volunteer work at the shelter including the company's director of quality control - Boots.

'You just can't walk away from them,' Pam George said.

Leslie Ann Rothhaar of Bentleyville also offered her talents for the cause.

An artist who specializes in animal portraits, Rothhaar offered to design a logo. She drew a sketch of the house, making it look more like a castle by adding flags and turrets.

'They need all the help they can get,' said Rothhaar. 'I try to do my part.'

Rothhaar's design will be included in a brochure the humane society is putting together to send out to members of the community.

It describes the vision of the humane society, inviting community members to join in the dream with a membership.

The brochure details how individuals can help out financially by sponsoring a stone on the courtyard wall in the cat castle or a stepping stone on the Royal Walkway connecting the cat sanctuary and the dog kennel.

Those wishing to beautify the Camelot Trail can either sponsor a relaxation station or make a donation in memory of a loved one, which will be used to purchase trees, shrubs or flowers.

Everyone who sponsors a stone on the courtyard wall will be able to autograph the stone, which is wallpaper that looks like castle stones.

'I can't wait until that wall is up and all of those names are on there,' Shannon said. 'I think that will be the most heartwarming thing that I've seen in a long time.'

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