Volunteers Make Blankets For Pets

July 10, 2020

In the spring of 2019, Penny Layne of Manor fostered a dog named Buttons who gave birth to seven puppies but couldn’t nurse them. When she asked Facebook friends for help, 54 people volunteered to take shifts bottle feeding the puppies every two hours for four weeks.

“Then I got a call about a dog with 10 puppies who had a broken pelvis,” she said. “One of our volunteers made blankets and sent them home with all the puppies when they were adopted.”

Two weeks later, one of the adopters learned that her dog, coincidentally named Penny, had to have her leg amputated. That dog also got a blanket, and the person who made it prayed over it.

“That was our first prayer blanket and when I mentioned it to friends, they all wanted to help,” Layne said. “So we started doing it for other people.”

That was the beginning of Pet Prayer Blankets, a non-profit that she founded last August for the purpose of “wrapping pets in love, comfort and prayer while also supporting the families who are going through difficult times.”

The next month, Layne got a dog that 17 hours later gave birth to a premature puppy that weighed just 2.6 ounces and had to be fed with formula soaked on a sponge. She got her own prayer blanket.

The little Chihuahua mix that Layne named Punkin grew to weigh four pounds and became the group’s mascot.

The project caught on fast. There are nearly 1,700 Facebook followers that include about 40 people who make blankets, teams who deliver or ship them, and followers who post pictures and stories about their pets who receive blankets. Sometimes they just want prayers for their sick or dying pets, or to share the sad news of their losses.

So far, volunteers have made 2,300 blankets for shelters, rescues and individuals. One was for a 350-pound pig named Wally, and 110 little hideaways went to a guinea pig rescue. Some blankets are sent out of state, and one went to Ireland.

Before COVID-19 curtailed gatherings, volunteers held monthly socials at the Trafford American Legion. Linda Riley of Unity Township joined in November.

“I love animals and I admire people who get involved in rescue,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I could devote time to rescue, so I saw this as a way to help animals in need and people who had animals who were sick and needed a support network.”

The blankets are made of two layers of fleece fabric, usually one side solid and the other side with patterns. They’re cut to three sizes and fringes are cut around the four sides. There’s no sewing involved and the edges are finished in three different styles. It takes less than an hour to make a small one and about an hour and a half to finish a medium size.

Riley has made nearly 50 blankets.

“This really makes me feel like we are a community,” she said. “I feel like I’m contributing to other pet owners and it gives me peace of mind to know that I’m doing something to help others. I’ve had a lot of animals and I know that the hardest time of being a pet parent is having to make that horrible decision when it’s time to let hem go. That was rough and I would have appreciated a community like this when I needed them.”

Kathy Galembush of Irwin has been involved since the beginning.

“I’m retired and I like to sew,” she said. “I made fleece blankets for some friends with cancer, and I thought I could put my sewing and crafting skills to good use for a good cause.”

Galembush has a Golden Retriever therapy dog named Brandi that she takes to family court at the Westmoreland County Courthouse.

“We really support each other,” she said about the prayer blanket group. “I get a lot of enjoyment bringing somebody comfort, and that has comforted me.”

Pam Wolfe of Hempfield Township received a blanket for her dog Carly, a 12-year-old poodle/beagle mix who has cataracts, hip problems and mobility issues. The blue and white blanket that was delivered within a couple of hours, helps the dog to get comfortable in her bed.

“This is a very loving and accepting group and they go out of their way to help people and animals in need,” Wolfe said. “They take a lot of time out of their lives to provide comfort when people need it, and to help them get through the hard times of a dog’s senior years. I know that lots of people put thoughts and prayers into the blanket and it was from the heart.”

Amanda Ross of Southwest Greensburg has a blue nose pit bull named Bailey who has seizures.

“The blanket I got has puppy dogs and paws all over it, and I have it at the end of my bed where she sleeps,” Ross said. “I recently got a husky named Nala who was having a hard time adjusting to our house, and I got a blanket for her.”

Dog trainer Maria Dillman of Hempfield Township founded TJ’s Hideaway Rescue, owns The Hideaway Kennel and is an animal control officer. She takes in stray dogs and cats with her friend Lisa Duffy of Irwin, who runs Cross Your Paws in Irwin.

“We rescued Coda at 10:30 one night and he was completely emaciated, just skin and bones, and he was a broken soul,” Dillman said. “Someone from the prayer blanket group saw his picture and story and offered to send him a blanket. He was adopted by a young couple with a new house and plenty of love to give.”

As a trainer, Dillman is committed to rehabilitating strays and other discarded dogs so that she can “find the perfect match for them.” Nine out of ten dogs coming in are injured, she noted, and all of them “deserve a chance.” Layne and her volunteers have been supplying them with blankets.

“They are quality blankets and you can tell that they’re made with love,” Dillman said. “It’s nice that they give each special little soul their own gift from the Lord.”

Each blanket comes with a prayer card. Individuals receive one with the message, “Dear Father, I ask that you would be beside this pet that lays on this blanket. Please bring your touch of restoration and healing. Take away any pain and come whisper your love to them.”

The majority of blankets are donated to shelters and rescues. The cards that accompany those reads, “Father, please look after (animal’s name). Make sure that he/she adapts quickly to his/her new home and receives lots of love and attention, if it be thy will.”

Layne is grateful for all the help that the group receives. A person in Apollo donated about $2,500 worth of fleece that she didn’t need, and a youngster named Gauge Klook in North Huntingdon set up a lemonade stand to raise money for the project. Some other children make cards that go with the blankets.

Layne is a nationally certified dog trainer and teaches programs in bite prevention and dog and baby safety. She and her husband Shawn Murtha are certified pet loss counselors who offer  group meetings and individual sessions for people who are grieving. She welcomes volunteers and supporters to the blanket group and followers who want to talk about their pets.

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