WELLSVILLE - The belief that the Christmas spirit should extend to everyone, including four-legged friends and family, provides the motivation behind "Christmas for the Animals," which will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the Fourth Street Gazebo in Wellsville.
Village resident Connie Carmichael, coordinator of the event, said that all local pet parents and animal owners are welcome to stop by and pick up food, toys, treats, blankets, straw and other pet supplies, free of charge. "Our goal for this is to bond humans and animals, and what better time than in the middle of Christmas?" she said. The bonding will even include a visit by Santa Claus, who will take photos with the pets in attendance.
The gift items were purchased with private donations and from members of the Alley Cat Aid Brigade, a stray cat rescue group of which Carmichael is president. Also this year, proceeds from the annual Village Yard Sale held by the Wellsville Revitalization Committee in October were donated for the effort. Though cats are welcome at the event, Carmichael requests that they be brought in carriers to prevent any feline escapes.
“Christmas for the Animals,” a holiday party for pets and pet owners of all stripes, will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16 at the Fourth Street Gazebo in Wellsville. Free toys, treats and other pet gifts will be available to all attendees. Ready for this year’s edition are (from left): Ruth Ansinger, Wellsville Mayor Susan Haugh, Connie Carmichael, Beverly Hentzell and Angel, Columbiana County Humane Society President Jenny Pike, Sharon Buswell and Clyde, Wellsville Police Officer Marsha Eisenhart, Mac Comparetto and Pino, and Debbie Comparetto. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
Carmichael said her inspiration came from learning about "Christmas for the Horses," an event organized by Anna Harris Smith of the Animal Rescue League of Boston in 1916, when horses were still commonly used as draft animals. League members provided oats, carrots and other treats for all the horses pulling wagons and carriages out on the street, as well as boxed lunches for the drivers, who were exposed to the elements in those days.
Carmichael thinks the scarcity of pack animals today doesn't negate the need for a similar gesture of kindness. "We don't have a lot of horses, but we certainly have dogs and cats," she said. "I thought, that's something I would really love to do."
In addition to the gift-giving, a local person involved with animal advocacy is recognized for their efforts at the event. This year's honoree is Jenny Pike, president of Humane Society of Columbiana County. Pike said that she is humbled by the selection and credited the good works performed by the organization to the team of volunteers who make up its staff.
In her five years as president of the Humane Society, Pike listed its institution of a no-kill policy as the one she's most proud of, meaning every animal that comes through their care has a second chance. "That wasn't me; that was a very courageous board of directors," she humbly said.
Pike says her chief duty and biggest challenge is fundraising, since the nonprofit agency runs solely on donations and is staffed by volunteers. Additionally, she works to highlight what she calls the correlation between animal abuse and human abuse, as well as the educating public of its impact. "If you're a community leader, you have to understand that there's a person behind that neglect or that abuse, and many times, there are children in that home that are getting neglected or abused as well," she said.
The society also sponsors humane agents, who investigate cases of suspected abuse or neglect. The agents are trained in spotting abuse, sworn in by the county probate court and permitted by law to look in on the animal and its welfare. Pike emphasized that this service is not paid with taxpayer funds, but as a service to the community. She says that education is always the first goal when a problem is found.
"The last thing we want to do is take an animal out of a loving home," she said.