Dogs and cats benefit from fifth grader's birthday

Lelu Branch, middle, laughs over a birthday card with her mother Marti Dane, right, and “Grandma” Nancy Worthen, Parkhurst volunteer.

Photo by Trisha Walker
Lelu Branch, middle, laughs over a birthday card with her mother Marti Dane, right, and “Grandma” Nancy Worthen, Parkhurst volunteer.

When Lelu Branch, a May Street fifth grader, turned 11 on Nov. 9, she knew she wanted to collect gifts for others instead of for herself.

So for her birthday slumber party, she invited classmates to bring toys and supplies for dogs and cats at area animal shelters.

“I have enough stuff,” Branch said. “I don’t need more. So why not just give cats and dogs presents instead?”

The decision was inspired by her own dog, Rita, whom the family adopted as a rescue two years ago. Rita was sent home with a bag of blankets, toys and vitamins from her previous owners, and “it was really cool to get that stuff,” said Branch’s mother, Marti Dane.

“The toys help the animals be happy in their situations,” she added.

Donating the pet supplies, however, turned out to be harder than Dane anticipated. Some rescue groups don’t have business locations; others have limited hours of operation.

And that’s where Parkhurst Place, a Hood River assisted living center, comes into this story.

The facility is already a collection site for donations of cat supplies, thanks in part to the efforts of “Grandma” Nancy Worthen, a Parkhurst volunteer and resident who also works with Columbia Gorge Cat Rescue (CGCR) — one of those aforementioned agencies without a physical address.

Tracie Hornung of CGCR comes to Parkhurst periodically to pick up donations, and arranged to meet Branch and Dane on Monday to collect Branch’s birthday offerings.

But what neither Branch nor Dane knew was that Parkhurst had planned a surprise party in recognition of the little girl’s generosity.

“Residents and staff felt that we wanted to do something special for her,” said Terri Hansen, Parkhurst Community Relations Manager. Grandma Nancy supplied the red velvet birthday cake and Rachelle Bisbee, Parkhurst’s life enrichment coordinator, presented Branch with a gift bag filled with fluffy socks and nail polish. Hornung gave Branch a birthday card on behalf of CGCR.

It left Branch and her mother overwhelmed and speechless, but both rallied to cut the birthday cake and serve it to residents who had assembled for the party.

“That is the best lesson — doing something for other people feels good,” said Dane.

Parkhurst has several residents with cats, said Grandma Nancy, and recently served as a foster home for Katrina, who has since been adopted.

“Katrina was our love and we’re so glad she’s got a home,” she said.

Branch and Dane will also be dropping off dog toys and supplies at Adopt A Dog at a later date.

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