ROCKPORT, Maine — On Sunday, Ilianna Kahn celebrated her 12th birthday with a bowling party with 10 or so girlfriends.
Instead of unwrapping books, music or pretty trinkets, the Camden-Rockport Middle School 6th grader received gifts that were definitely practical: Clorox, paper towels, kitty litter, cat food, cat and dog toys. And they were not, in the end, Ilianna’s. For the third year in a row, she asked her family and friends to give presents to P.A.W.S. Animal Adoption Center instead of to her, and after the party, three girls trooped there to deliver the gifts and play with the kittens.
“I used to get so much stuff I didn’t know what to do with it all,” the soft-spoken girl from Camden and Belfast said Thursday of her previous birthdays.
When she first made the decision to use her birthday as a philanthropic opportunity for the shelter, she was a bit anxious she would miss getting presents, but that feeling has now gone.
“I just felt really happy that I was helping out the animals,” she said.
Her father, Russell Kahn of Belfast, said that whenever Ilianna has extra time after school, she heads to the shelter to visit the animals. Her family has two dogs, one cat and three chickens, and she has always had a special bond with animals.
On Thursday, she made a beeline for one of the cat rooms. There are more than 40 cats at P.A.W.S. this week, according to operations director Laura Stupca, and Ilianna clearly knows many of them by name.
“That big orange one is Duce,” she said before going in to play with the affectionate marmalade cat and others.
Stupca said that Ilianna is one of about a dozen local children who have opted to celebrate their birthdays with presents for the shelter animals rather than themselves. It’s welcome, she said, adding that the non-profit enterprise goes through a lot of cleaning supplies, pet food, cat litter and more. The annual operating budget is more than $350,000, so everything helps.
“It’s super sweet to see the kids care about homeless animals. They’re not thinking about themselves,” she said. “It just shows they have a lot of passion for animals.”
Ilianna said that she likes how her idea to have birthday presents go to the animals is becoming a tradition, and she definitely plans to do it next year, too.
“It just makes you feel really happy that you helped out,” she said.
Russell Kahn said that although he nearly ended up adopting a kitten after Ilianna’s birthday party on Sunday, he is proud of his daughter’s ability to think of other people — or animals — besides herself.
“It really doesn’t matter how old you are,” he said. “If you have some interest in something, you can probably help out. Teenagers, adults, even kids can chip in somehow. It does make a difference.”