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Ledyard group makes a happy holiday season for pets

Ledyard — Santa Claus made some early rounds around town last week, delivering presents to dogs and cats here in response to requests from their human counterparts.

The sixth annual Santa Run for the Pets, hosted by Ledyard Citizens Helping Animals in Need, took place Dec. 17 and 19. On Dec. 18, the organization held its annual holiday pet food distribution at the Ledyard Congregational Church.

C.H.A.I.N. is a fundraising organization established in 2013 to assist Ledyard Animal Control and other pets in need in the community. With donations from area residents and businesses, a small group of volunteers administers outreach programs such as the Santa Run, food distributions in Ledyard and Preston, spay and neuter vouchers and an emergency medical fund.

The group works year-round, but the holiday season is busy with collecting donations for distributions and hosting fundraising events like its annual Whiskers in Wonderland, held in early December, and pet photos with Santa, hosted by sponsor Pet Supplies Plus in Groton Dec. 15 and 16.

Collection for the Christmas distribution starts in September, with campaigns such as Stuff a Pumpkin and Giving Tuesday. The Santa Run starts with Whiskers in Wonderland, when kids in town write letters to Santa telling him about what their beloved pets want for Christmas.

C.H.A.I.N. president Cindy Eilenberger said 33 families were served by the run this year, the first time it was done in two nights. Normally volunteers do it in one night, but with the number of houses to visit, it was easier for both them and the families with younger children to divide it up.

She said most kids ask for treats or toys for their pets, which have included pets such as guinea pigs and fish in addition to dogs and cats. C.H.A.I.N. volunteers then purchase the items for the kids and wrap them up to give them to the kids, coordinating with each family to make sure they're home when Santa comes by.

On Dec. 17, C.H.A.I.N. board member Aileen Weller filled the trunk of her Toyota SUV, decorated with Christmas magnets and LED Christmas lights, with gift bags for each family. Eilenberger's husband, Jeff, played the role of Santa, hand-delivering each gift to the children and their pets.

For the most part, the kids were excited to see Santa, giving him hugs and thanking him for answering their letters and visiting their house. The dogs that came out to visit had mixed reactions; Max, a Great Dane-Lab mix, was excited to give kisses, whereas Rex the Pomeranian was wary of the big man in red.

The big delivery of pet goods and good cheer came the next day with C.H.A.I.N.'s annual holiday food distribution, held alongside Ledyard Social Service's holiday food distribution for residents in need. The organization also distributes for Thanksgiving and serves families in Preston; last year it distributed more than 3,000 pounds of dry food alone.

More than 80 pets were served by C.H.A.I.N. this year, with gift bags containing food and other items for whatever pets the families might have. This year's bags also included treats inside miniature stockings contributed by Brownie Troop #63169, after the troop contacted the organization to ask how it could help.

Eilenberger said this was C.H.A.I.N.'s sixth year distributing food, noting that if a family is having a hard time paying for food, their pets are likely hungry too. She said seniors especially need help, since they might be offering their pets a portion of their already-small share of food to make sure they all eat.

Many donors contribute by giving money to donation boxes that C.H.A.I.N. has at area restaurants and businesses. Eilenberger said many items also come in through the organization's Amazon Wish List. Items are then packaged by volunteers for the Ledyard and Preston distributions.

Mary-Beth Hubbard, social services coordinator for Ledyard, said that while the town social services distribution is separate from C.H.A.I.N.'s, they're set up similarly, and she tries to work with C.H.A.I.N. to make sure families are covered.

"I know our clients love it," she said. "It's such a big help because dog and cat food is so expensive."


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