Through my animal welfare work, I often hear wonderful stories about heroic efforts by individuals to make a difference in the lives of people and their pets.

Heather Scutti and her friends were volunteering at the Stamford Animal Shelter when they noticed how many people were surrendering their pets.

The unemployed, the homeless and senior citizens living on a fixed income didn't have the money for pet food and veterinary care. Even those with jobs sometimes couldn't afford to pay to vet bills to treat a sick animal.

So the friends got together in February 2012 and founded STARelief, a group of volunteers dedicated to keeping pets and families together during hard financial times. "If we could prevent people from dropping their pet off at a shelter because they could no longer afford to keep them, how great would that be?" Scutti, who serves as the organization's executive director, said.

The problems STARelief faces are both financial and educational.

"Some people don't realize that they are responsible for their pet's well-being. Problems with their teeth or even an ear infection can become life-threatening health issues," Scutti said.

STARelief educates owners about their pets as well as provides grants for veterinary care. The all-volunteer organization also runs a food pantry at the High Ridge Shopping Center in Stamford. In addition, it arranges for foster care for animals whose owners need to be hospitalized or lose their home and must live in a shelter. The organization also helps active and retired servicemen and servicewomen keep their pets. All the money they raise goes directly to helping animals and their owners.

This year alone, STARelief has helped more than 80 animals. Since its inception, it has helped more than 300 pets who were able to stay happy, healthy and in their homes People learn about the organization through veterinarians, the Connecticut 211 website and the ASPCA. There is a rigorous application process to receive money for vet care. While the organization is national in scope, the needs of the pets of Connecticut residents come first.

Scutti believes that STARelief helps both people and animals.

"I visited an elderly woman to bring food for her animals," she said. "It was over 90 degrees out and she had no air conditioning. I asked one of our donors if we could help her. We ultimately brought her an air conditioner because the situation was dangerous to both her and her pets."

STARelief is a recognized 501(c)(3) and accepts contributions through its website

One of its original supporters was Peter Suchy, of Peter Suchy Jewelers in Stamford. "He has been a lifesaver," Scutti said. "He was one of the first to come forward to help us when we were just scraping by."

The money raised goes to the Aid-A-Pet Fund, which provides veterinary care to sick and injured pets, to its food pantry and general operating support. The organization received the 2013 Top-Rated Award from GreatNonprofits. Its motto is "Keeping Pets Happy, Healthy and Home."

I applaud the work of Scutti and all the volunteers at STARelief. I can't imagine how terrible it would be if I had to take my five dogs to a shelter because I could no longer afford to care for them. Pets belong in their homes where they are loved and cared for and STARelief makes sure that this is possible.

If you're looking for something to do this weekend, check out Pibble Fun Day on Saturday, June 21, at Adopt-A-Dog, 23 Cox Ave., Armonk, N.Y., right over the Greenwich border.

This event is open to all volunteers and children ages 6 and older, as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The goal of Pibble Fun Day is to raise awareness and educate people about the pit bull.

The event will kick off with a fun humane education session where children can learn the truth and the stereotypes surrounding these dogs. This activity will be followed by the opportunity to make treats and toys for current Pibble (and non-Pibble) residents at the shelter. Finally, attendees will welcome special guest and breed ambassador Tyke, a senior Pibble who was adopted from the shelter several years ago. Children will have the opportunity read a story about an adopted pit bull to Tyke.

Below is the schedule for the event:

10 a.m. -- Humane education course

11 a.m. -- Treat making

Noon -- Toy making

1 p.m. -- Reading a story to Tyke

Email if you are interested in participating.

New Canaan resident Cathy Kangas is a member of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States. She can be reached at

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