BY Jordan Cohen
If there is an overriding theme of this weekend’s Northeast Ohio Pet Expo Show, it’s probably this: Animals need your help.
“You can find your best friend here,” said Judi Henninger, show coordinator.
Organizations dedicated to animal rescue, foster care and adoption are prominent among the 50 vendors at the Eastwood Expo Center show, which continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.For example, there is the litter of nine rottweiler, shar-pei and border collie-mix puppies abandoned at a Youngstown church three weeks ago when they were just four weeks old. The puppies were saved thanks to New Lease on Life, a Struthers volunteer organization that rescues dogs and cats from euthanasia at shelters. The nine drew the attention of crowds as they played in a large cage by the group’s booth.
“We named each one of them after an angel because they were found at the church,” said Darla Donahue of Struthers, one of the group’s volunteers. Donahue said the puppies have to stay in foster care for several more weeks before they will be available for adoption.
Then there is Misty, a 4-year old Australian shepherd with one blue eye and one brown eye, now under foster care at Animal Charity of Youngstown. “She was abused and neglected, but we can’t put her up for adoption yet because of issues with her owners,” said Shalyse Bolash, a volunteer. Bolash said Animal Charity needs people willing to help provide the animals with foster care.
So does Friends of Fido, a group of 30 volunteers who take dogs from the Mahoning County pound for walks every day. “We’re hoping to get them adopted,” said Julie Nochta, Austintown, as she displayed an album of photos of each dog.
Adoption is an especially difficult challenge for Smoochie, a year-old paraplegic cat that requires a small two-wheeled cart attached to her hind paws to move. Kim Koocher of Canfield, a volunteer at West Side Cats, Mahoning Avenue, Youngstown, walked the floor with the cat on a leash as it moved easily with the cart.
“A toddler put Smoochie in a drawer and broke her back, but we didn’t want to see her put down” said Koocher. “We’ve even got a Facebook page [Smoochie Chronicles] so people can keep up with how she’s doing,” Koocher said.
Recent incidents of animal cruelty in the Mahoning Valley that killed several dogs were on the mind of Amber Rhodes of Akron. She circulated petitions to support Nitro’s Law, a bill that would change such offenses from a misdemeanor to a felony. The law, named after one of eight dogs that starved to death in a Youngstown kennel in 2008, has moved to the Ohio Senate after its February approval in the State House of Representatives.
“We have people all over Ohio working to make this happen,” Rhodes said.
All of the organizations have financial needs. The Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County is trying to raise $6 million for a new shelter to replace the facility on Brunstetter Road in Lordstown. “We’ve got $2.5 million, and we’ll keep going till we get enough money,” said Shirley Hryonak of Girard.
The Pet Expo is not limited to animal-rescue exhibitors. There are animal-care product displays and a petting zoo. Among today’s scheduled features are a pet fashion show and a “Look Like Your Pet” contest. The expo opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m.