Imagine being an 11-year-old girl who just completed the 821-day long treatment regimen for leukemia. If someone said they’d grant your biggest wish, you might wish for a trip to Disney, or a family vacation, or front row tickets at a One Direction concert.
But for Wilton’s Anna Getner, a 6th grader at Middlebrook, her wish-come-true was something to help someone else instead of herself. And because of her, thousands of animals will be helped for years to come.
Kim Smith and Deborah List, wish grantors from Make-A-Wish Connecticut, the organization that grants wishes to children with life threatening medical conditions, met with Anna. When they asked what her one true wish would be, rather than ask for something for herself, Anna instead chose the gift of kindness, and told them that she wanted to make a difference for rescue animals at a local dog shelter.
“I want to make a puppy playroom at a local dog shelter.”
Anna’s vision was to create an indoor/outdoor dog-like park for all the rescue puppies and dogs to feel comfortable in and have a nice place to meet potential adopters and families.
Thursday afternoon, Feb. 18, wish kid Anna got a thrill when her wish was granted. Surrounded by family and friends as she stepped out of a limo straight from school, she walked into PAWS in Norwalk for the reveal of “Anna’s Dog Park,” a special room where dogs at the shelter can play and meet their forever families.
Designing and creating the puppy play room was Anna’s dream came true, made possible by Make-a-Wish with the help of local businesses, volunteers and so many supporters.
In a speech Anna wrote (and read by her stepfather, John), she said, “I love animals, especially dogs, and it makes me sad when they don’t have a home. We rescued my dog Franklin four years ago. He’s like a brother to me. I hope all the animals at PAWS find their forever home and make families happy the same way that Franklin has made me happy.”
But it’s no ordinary room. It’s inspired by Anna’s very detailed description, as Make-a-Wish’s Kim Smith recalled.
“She said, ‘I want a tree over here, that would be all the helping hands that will help make this happen. And the pictures (of dogs) all over the room, I want to put it on the back [wall].’ So what we did was we took all the photos from the room and made a mosaic ‘Anna.’ We went to a local park in Monroe, and Anna brought her friend Franklin so these are real life photos of Anna come to life,” Smith explained, referring to the photo wallpaper that turns the room into a space that feels like it’s in the middle of a park come to life. Even the ceiling tiles are painted sky blue with clouds.
This kind of wish was definitely unique, according to Pam Keogh, the president and CEO of Make-a-Wish Connecticut.
“This is our 30th year and we’ve done 2,500 wishes. I don’t know of doing any wish like this before. This is so unique and a testament to Anna, to choose to give back and help these animals,” Keogh said.
Anna’s journey has been long and hard. Diagnosed with leukemia in November 2014, she has faced numerous chemotherapy treatments and procedures. By fulfilling her wish, Make-A-Wish and its volunteers have helped make Anna’s journey a little more filled with hope, strength, and joy, knowing that she would be bringing happiness to new furry friends.
There were dozens of people present for the reveal—Anna’s mom and step-dad, father, and grandparents; her school friends and teachers; Make-A-Wish staffers and volunteers; owners of businesses that contributed; reporters and photographers; and so many more, all of whom celebrated Anna’s generosity. Norwalk mayor Harry Rilling presented Anna with a proclamation in her honor.
There were several local businesses and groups that helped make the room a reality, and they were acknowledged in the leaves on the walls. One in particular, Wilton-based pet food company Blue Buffalo, helped make Anna’s Dog Park happen.
“It was a simple decision, when you’ve got a young girl like this, going through what she’s going through. If she can have any wish in the world, and for her to say, ‘I’d like to provide a better home for dogs and cats and animals, it was a no brainer for us to jump on board and participate,” said Dave Petrie, president of the Blue Buffalo Foundation.
Not only did the company help fund the project but they were so inspired by Anna that Blue Buffalo decided to make another incredibly generous gift: during the event, they announced that they would donate food to PAWS for life, a mission-changing contribution for the non-profit shelter that would help save thousands of dollars and man-hours.
“We’ve been in Wilton since 2003 when we started the company. It’s always important to local places like these shelters, they are in our backyard and we enjoy supporting the local community as much as possible,” Petrie added.
It was clear just how meaningful Anna’s wish was when Georganne Stohr from PAWS became emotional telling the crowd, “Something like this is beyond our expectations.”
Seeing the puppy play room for the first time, Anna, surrounded by her closest friends, looked around wide-eyed. “Oh my god, it’s amazing!” they marveled.
Her mom, Heather Schiaroli, marveled as well at what her daughter had inspired.
“It’s really overwhelming. It means so much to Anna and to see it come to life is great, it makes her so happy.”
Knowing that Anna will impact the lives of so many people and puppies for years to come makes everyone else awed and happy too.