Area shelters, rescue groups make holidays bright for animals

For Cindy Eilenberger, the holiday rush to get area pets fed begins in October. After all, if families are having a hard time paying for their own food, their animals are probably going hungry, too.

Eilenberger is president of Ledyard Citizens Helping Animals in Need, an organization that supports Ledyard Animal Control to help pets in need throughout the rescue and rehoming process. Its holiday food program is its biggest community outreach effort, helping 197 pets in Ledyard and Preston this year.

"We're just doing a tremendous amount of collecting to meet that need," she said. More than 600 pounds of dry food and 400 cans of wet food were needed for holiday bags, which go through the social services departments of Ledyard and Preston for the families that requested assistance.

In addition to the pets in the 15.6 million U.S. households that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as food-insecure, there are about 6.5 million pets that enter shelters every year and need food, medical care and other supplies, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. About 710,000 of those pets are returned to their owners, but the rest are either adopted out to new families (about 3.2 million) or euthanized (about 1.5 million).

Keri Jacquier, one of Stonington's animal control officers, said donations come in fairly steadily throughout the year, but a lot more poured in over the Christmas weekend. In addition to the food needed for the dogs that come through, the agency also received toys to keep them entertained and blankets to keep them warm.

Christine O'Brien, an animal control officer for the Town of Groton, also said the shelters see an uptick in donations around the holidays, often because people decide to donate to the shelter instead of giving presents to one another. She said Groton Animal Control Facility staff try to make the holidays special for their resident animals, currently two cats and three dogs, with extra toys and treats.

The Groton Animal Foundation helps shelters in Groton and the surrounding area by raising money for vaccinations, surgeries and other medical needs of the pets in residence. Donna Duso, president of the foundation, said the group holds food drives and events year-round to support the fund and local families in need, including a Christmas card annual appeal, art show and wine tasting.

As for the classic image of a Christmas puppy with a ribbon around its neck, some shelters hold special adoption campaigns before Christmas, while others advise exercising caution before bringing in a new pet during a stressful time. Barbara Naugel, director of development at the Connecticut Humane Society, said more people come into the shelters both before and after Christmas to adopt animals.

Their "Home for the Holidays" campaign aims to get the shelter animals the medical care and loving family they need, and the staff conducts a series of interviews to match the animals to their new families.

Naugle said it's her favorite time of year because people are so kind and altruistic, and it couldn't happen without the work of the volunteers and the generosity of the public.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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