A feline's playground in Pleasanton

Pleasanton Girl Scout builds cat-friendly attraction for Valley Humane Society

Pleasanton teen Nagisa Smalheiser tied her love for animals and crafting skills together to build a new feline attraction for a hometown no-kill shelter.

Over the course of four months with a total of 95 working hours, Smalheiser designed, built and installed wall-mounted cat playgrounds for the Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton.

Smalheiser is a member of Girl Scout Troop 31324, Crossroads Service Unit, which serves Pleasanton, Dublin and Sunol. In order to achieve her gold award -- the highest Girl Scout honor -- Smalheiser was required to dedicate at least 80 hours to a community service effort of her choice.

A sophomore at Amador Valley High School, Smalheiser owns two adopted dogs and has experienced the extra care sheltered animals can require.

"I really wanted to help animals in shelters because I know how much attention they really need," Smalheiser said. "So many people don't know about what happens to them before they come to the shelter, so I think it's really important for them to have a good experience while they're here."

Valley Humane Society has an area designated for cats called "Kitty City" and within that space are three suites. Smalheiser helped install cat playgrounds made up of painted wooden boxes and shelves staggered along one wall in each room. Various shapes such as diamonds, triangles and paws are cut out of the boxes.

Melanie Sadek, the executive director for Valley Humane Society said she and the staff are thrilled with the outcome of Smalheiser's project, adding that the playgrounds help to add a more fun and exciting environment for the cats at the shelter.

"The playground is great. The cats started using it immediately. They love that they can jump from perch to perch, hide in a box, or just take a nap," Sadek said. "Providing these cats with multiple opportunities to move around their suite, makes a significant difference in their mental and physical health. Ultimately, helping them find their new forever home faster."

Although the gold award is a solo project, Smalheiser was allowed to recruit volunteers to help bring her plans to fruition, including two family friends who helped with wood supply and woodwork.

After receiving paint and primer donated from Sherwin Williams in Livermore, Smalheiser asked some school friends and other Girl Scouts to help paint the playground pieces.

Smalheiser said she was responsible for obtaining supplies, scheduling the time-line of completion and communicating with shelter staff.

"In other service projects you get to work in a group or maybe your leader organizes everything and you just show up to an event and volunteer, but the gold award is something you take on by yourself. I had to be in charge of everything and make sure all of the behind the scenes work was taken care of," she said.

Smalheiser began the groundwork for the project in June and the installation was completed in September. She found out she achieved her gold award earlier this month; she's the first in her troop to do so.


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