Hartwood Acres kingergartner raises funds for Animal Rescue League

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Channeling Wonder Woman and the reach of the worldwide web, Claire Conti of Indiana Township has managed in two years to raise nearly $5,000 and gather loads of pet care goods for the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania.

Claire, 6, who attends kindergarten at Hartwood Elementary School in Fox Chapel Area School District, recently wore her Wonder Woman superhero costume to Alexander’s Athletic Club on Freeport Road in Harmar to serve as hostess of a spin-a-thon to generate donations for the animal shelter.

Her mother, Cassi, who works at the gym, was one of the participants who rode throughout the day to donate $10 for each hour of spinning to help cats, dogs and other animals awaiting adoption at the shelter on Hamilton Avenue.

Mrs. Conti said her daughter Claire began her drive to help homeless animals when she was 4 years old. She learned about the Animal Rescue League and its mission during visits to the shelter when the family adopted its dog and two cats. The family chose pet adoption because Mrs. Conti had volunteered at a shelter in Clarion County as a teen and her friend, Mary Withrow is the community outreach coordinator at the East Liberty site.

When Claire was told she was too young to volunteer she took another approach to helping the organization.

“She’s huge into superheroes,” Mrs. Conti said, so Claire used her superpowers — the Internet and her family’s love of fitness — to help the shelter.

Last year, Claire helped to raise $2,500 through a run for the rescue league. Using her mom’s FaceBook page and blog, Claire composed a wish list of pet items the league needed and, her mother said,  the results were marvelous. “It was eye opening how many people love animals,” Mrs. Conti said. “I was getting gifts from people I never met.”

Dan Rossi, executive director of the Animal Rescue League, concurred. “She had people sending stuff from all over the place,” he said. “Her mom and her family were certainly behind her, but this big push has been all Claire.”

With the shelter in East Liberty and the wildlife rehabilitation center in Verona, the Animal Rescue League relies heavily on volunteers. Last year, the league took in more than 7,000 animals, Mr. Rossi said. Those animals needed medical treatment, training and socialization so they could be adopted. In addition, the clinic offers spaying or neutering and low-cost vet care and vaccinations for low-income families.

“We always need volunteers to help us fulfill our mission,” Mr. Rossi said. “We have more than 500 volunteers who help us. And Claire’s mom has been connected with us through her own volunteer and adoption work as well as her daughter’s.”

There will be a place for Claire to volunteer when she’s old enough. “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job to her,” said Mr. Rossi, who has been executive director for four years.

But Claire won’t be the only Conti working to protect and serve the league’s animals. Claire has a younger brother and two sisters: Luka, 5, Mae, 3, and Audrey, 14 months.

“Luka says he wants to start helping collect items this year,” Mrs. Conti said. Mae is already showing she has a way with cats. One of the adopted felines was a little shy when she first joined the family but Mae insisted on carrying her constantly. “She has completely desensitized her,” Mom said. “[The cat] loves her now.”

Rita Michel, freelance writer, suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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