Adopted cats and dogs at Heritage Humane Society are sent home with their new families snuggled in blankets handcrafted by a corps of more than 50 volunteers who painstakingly create "Precious Pieces" in a variety of colors and patterns.
Anita Capossela, who lives at Heritage Commons, is among the volunteers who spends her days crocheting blankets for the animals fortunate enough to be adopted. So far this year, she has made 60.
"It keeps me busy," Capossela said in a recent interview. "I don't knit any more, but I crochet a lot."
Capossela, who is 94, began turning out the creations when her daughter-in-law, Pam, explained the need the shelter had for the blankets.
"I knew Anita loved to crochet and loved animals, and I thought this would be a good fit for her," Pam Capossela said. "It is something she enjoys doing, and I am happy for her that she enjoys it so much."
The dimensions of each blanket are uniform, but colors are left up to those creating the pieces.
"I am happy to supply her with yarn," Pam Capossela said. "Some people at Heritage Commons give it to her and sometimes Anita picks out what she likes. Sometimes it is very creative and multi-colored."
"I do these in a single crochet stitch so the dogs or cats can't rip them out," Capossela explained, as she demonstrated her technique. "They are 70 stiches wide, and 53 rows."
Making the blankets comes easy to Capossela who has been making her own clothes since she was a young woman. Her father, who was the alterations manager at Lane Bryant in New York for decades, taught her how to make clothes, which she prides herself in still doing.
Sherry Martin, admissions manager at Heritage Humane, said the Precious Pieces program is a valuable one.
"It is great because the adopters are usually surprised that someone has taken the time to do something like this," Martin said. "And the adopters usually take quite a bit of time picking the blankets out. They look at each one of them to decide which one they like best."
"Our volunteers for the for the Precious Pieces program have made more than 3,500 blankets over the past 3-plus years," said Michael Rhodes, shelter director of communications and outreach. "We find that any comfort item that eases the transition into a new home helps set the pets up for success."
Feedback from those who adopt usually includes a comment about the blankets.
"When they e-mail us, they usually always mention that the blankets are one of the best surprises of their adoption process," Martin said.
Participating in the program gives people, like Capossela, the chance to help animals without having to come to the shelter.
"It is a nice way for people who don't want to volunteer here, but who want to help," added Jen Hume, shelter community engagement coordinator. "There are a lot of people who are interested in the Precious Pieces program."
Capossela has never visited the shelter, but the staff recently sent her a card thanking her for her efforts, and inviting her to come visit. That's a goal that she may soon achieve through her daughter-in-law.
"I would like to take her there so she could see the blankets with the animals," Pam Capossela said.