Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Pet Sounds: Susan Giblin’s life may have been short, but her impact has been huge.

 There’s a famous children’s quote by teacher and scholar Forest E. Witcraft that’s been modified and expanded over time to emphasize the space we share with all living things:

“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove … but the world may be different because I was important in the life of animals and the creatures on this earth.”

That sums up well the life work of Harrisburg native Susan Giblin, a paralegal turned animal rights advocate who lost her battle to leukemia at age 46 in 2010. Immediately after her passing, the Susan Giblin Foundation for Animal Wellness and Welfare was established in her honor and today remains a small local nonprofit doing big things to help animals in central Pennsylvania.

Susan’s husband, Mike Giblin, a local businessman and musician, launched the foundation almost on impulse at her funeral, astounded by the large attendance and emotional outpouring.

“They say the funeral of a youngish person is usually well attended, but when 300 people showed up, I decided, along with her friends that very day, that we needed to do something to continue her legacy,” Giblin said. “It wasn’t until she was gone that we got a sense of just how far her reach and impact really was. It was very inspiring.”

A celebration of life memorial service held in her honor that year at the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (HMAC) morphed into the first fundraiser for the foundation. The fundraisers that followed each year all have been held at HMAC, where Giblin is a partner.

The Susan Giblin Foundation works to raise and distribute funds to support animal caregiving organizations, foster awareness and education of complementary animal therapies, and support the continued education of those in the animal medical field.

The biggest event occurs in February, when grants are awarded and bands play thematic sets. Past themes have included songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s, bands fronted by women and one-hit wonders. It’s a true community event with purpose for a woman who shone locally.

Susan worked for many years as a paralegal in labor and patent law before turning her attention to the veterinary field after spending 15 years volunteering at the Helen O. Krause Animal Foundation, where she helped to place animals in loving homes. She later worked at the Dauphin County Animal Hospital and Boiling Springs Animal Hospital, and, at age 42, went back to school to get her undergraduate degree from the veterinary medical technology program at Wilson College.

While volunteering at the Helen O. Krause Animal Foundation, she met Lisa DeOrnellas, a hospice nurse and current executive director of Hospice for All Seasons in Grantville. The two became close friends during their time volunteering together.

“Susan made everybody she knew feel like they were the most important person in her life,” said DeOrnellas, who currently serves as president for the Susan Giblin Foundation.

What would Susan think of a foundation bearing her name?

“She would hate that her name keeps getting brought up, but she would love to know how many animals she has helped and what it’s done for communities in central Pennsylvania,” DeOrnellas said.

Since its inception, the foundation has donated $41,505 to about a dozen organizations, including Steelton Community Cats and The Emma Zen Foundation, which has provided pet oxygen masks to fire and emergency medical services departments in the area. The foundation also funded a cat rescue in Paros, Greece. Susan visited there and wanted to help almost immediately after learning about the island’s large stray cat population.

“People come from the mainland and dump cats there regularly,” Michael Giblin said. “Susan would fill her pockets with cat food when we were out exploring the island. She was the pied piper of cats.”

The foundation’s focus is grassroots support in the community, Giblin said, and that mission reflects who Susan was.

“Her life was not very loud, but it was very large,” he said.

To learn more about the Susan Giblin Foundation for Animal Wellness and Welfare, visit www.susangiblinfoundation.net or follow on Facebook at Susan Giblin Foundation for Animal Wellness and Welfare.

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