If we could talk to the animals, what would we say? Perhaps we would wish them a Merry Christmas? Well, that's what the staff at the Niagara County SPCA on Lockport Road decided to do last year and again this year in honor of pets and pet enthusiasts everywhere.
For a dollar, participants are able to purchase a gold or silver star and personalize the decoration with a note in memory or honor of a pet or pet enthusiast. The funds benefit the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Last year's event attracted so much interest -- about 700 responses -- that the staff ran out of branches to hang the stars on the Christmas tree and had to think fast to accommodate the wishes for the area's furry friends.
"About a year ago, the girls at the front desk decided that, as much as we already do to help homeless animals, particularly when it gets cold outside, they wanted to do something more," said SPCA Director Al Chille.
"We had such a huge response that we ended up hanging a garland above the tree and then we hung the stars from the garland," said Chille, who explained that all of the proceeds will go again to helping any animals currently benefiting from the shelter's resources. "We raised about $700 last year, which helps to feed and take care of all of the homeless animals that pass through the shelter looking for homes and any strays that are brought in."
Take a look at the more than 25 ornaments already displayed on the tree this year and you may find a star made out "in loving memory to Darwin, the best cat ever," or "in honor of Shakespeare, Eden's cat." Even animals have a chance to express their feelings, just as pets Pepper and Snuggles did to honor the memory of their beloved Peppy. And one pet enthusiast simply dedicated her star to "hoping all the animals find loving homes."
Anne Chiodo, who works at the SPCA adoptions desk, said that the idea of remembering pets through the star decorations is a fitting tribute.
"So many pets have been such stars in people's lives. People from everywhere come in to make out a star, and it means a lot to them, especially if it's a pet that has recently passed away," said Ms. Chiodo, "It just makes people feel good, knowing that the star made out in memory of their pet may be helping other animals, not just at Christmas time, but throughout the year."
According to Patty Mackinnon, who also works at the front desk at the SPCA, "Lots of times, people coming in to pick up a pet that day will put a star on the tree for the animal they just adopted, or people who just come in to give their donation will sometimes end up looking around to adopt an animal."
"People will come in and tell us a lot of stories about pets that they have adopted years ago," said Ms. Mackinnon. "They seem to love the idea and the opportunity to put their pet's name on the tree."
According to Chille, many donations are expected during the SPCA's annual Christmas party for the animals on Dec. 12.
"It's kind of a fun thing. Hundreds of people come to take their pets' pictures with Santa, and maybe up to 75 stars are purchased at that time."
People interested in dedicating a star to their pet or to a pet enthusiast are invited to stop in at the SPCA or send a check in with a personalized message of their choice to the Niagara County SPCA, 2100 Lockport Road, Wheatfield.
"We've already had several people send in a check by mail or stop in to the shelter in person. We encourage everyone to stop in from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday," said Chille. "The one dollar donation isn't a large amount, but it makes a difference when a lot of people participate."