Holly Ott, 11, of Derry seems to have a found a friend in Ivy during Pet Adoption Day at Pelham’s First Congregational Church last weekend, an event sponsored by the Animal Rescue Network of New England., VALLEY DISPATCH/BENJAMIN J. MCELROY
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BY CHRISTINE PHELAN, Valley Dispatch Staff

PELHAM — Four times a week and sometimes twice a day, Jon Whitworth treks the three miles down the road to the town’s animal shelter. There’s nothing glamorous about the work — cleaning cages, feeding dogs and occasionally turning the pups out for a romp in a fenced outdoor area — but the 59-year-old Pelham resident finds satisfaction in the activity, though he rather sheepishly admits he’s been a cat owner for the last two decades.

“You can really get into it, and you really get to like the dogs,” Whitworth said. “Each one is different. For me, it’s been a good experience.”

The problem many shelters have, said ARNNE founder Donna Clark, is purely organizational. More remote shelters often have a plethora of adoptable pets but few prospective owners, and more urban areas have legions of families interested in adopting, but a dearth of furry friends. Using the Internet and networking among New England shelters and rescues, Clark says more animals have a fighting chance to be hooked up with a lasting home.

Clark says every kind of dog is available — from purebreds to puppies — to suit any family’s temperament and taste.

“We need to emphasize the fact that people should try to adopt from shelters; everything they need is out there,” she said. “There’s no need for people to go to a store or a breeder. One animal in a shelter will die for every animal bought in a store.”

ARNNE survives through financial donations and gifts in kind, but boosts its coffers through the sale of candy bars, which are available at retailers throughout the area. Clark said in addition to donations, the group desperately needs volunteers to staff the shelter, respond to correspondence and assist facilitating adoptions.

“We’ll basically do anything to save lives,” said volunteer Lori Gingras, who makes regular trips to care for the shelter’s dogs with her 2-year-old daughter Abby. “That’s our vision — to save as many animals as w can.”

Several of the group’s volunteers even rescued 40 dogs in September after devastating Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged much of New Orleans, leaving many dogs perched on rooftops and porches. ARNNE volunteers have become foster parents to the pups — largely rottweilers — that if not claimed by Dec. 3, will be put up for adoption locally.

More information is available at www.ARNNE.org or via e-mail: info@arnne.org.

Have a story idea? E-mail Christine Phelan at cphelan@thevalleydispatch.com.