Lehigh County - "Our animals connect us to the sacred. What are pets, really, other than an attempt to have a little bit of a God in the house?" -- Russell Brand The current autumn weather in Pennsylvania feels more like spring or summer than fall. Not cool. Literally. Projected temps are near 80 degrees some days. Where's the expected crisp chill? It'll be here soon enough, I'm sure

Lehigh County Humane Society Holds First Annual Garden Party at Coopersburg, PA's Bell Gate Farm

Despite the seasonal signs of brilliant-hued mums, cider fests, all things pumpkin spice, Halloween decorations, and colors of mulberry, rust, and hunter green, I continue wearing open-toed sandals and tee-shirts. Consequently, my headspace can't seem to reconcile this unseasonably warm weather with fiery-colored falling leaves; I am as one on perpetual spring break. In fact, I'm even recalling a picture-perfect May day when I road-tripped to the Lehigh Valley, where Bell Gate Farm in Coopersburg, PA, hosted the Lehigh County Humane Society's inaugural Garden Party.

It's hard to miss Bell Gate's entrance: a trio of towering silos stationed sentry-like welcomes all. Checking in, I received my name tag and grab bag, then wandered casually among the crowd. Noticing the natural beauty of the venue's surroundings, I observed how expertly event planners and decorators coordinated expansive grounds to garden party-themed elements. Sectional outdoor furniture along with cheerfully skirted tables topped with floral centerpieces generously dotted the area outside a massive and stunningly renovated barn, arguably the site's focal point. Incidentally, there is a wonderful story on their website explaining just how an extensive revitalization has recaptured a former state of glory. Back in the day, Bell Gate Farm had been dubbed Lehigh Valley's "Camelot" by guests.

Rustic oak wine barrels used as tables and mingling areas on the porch led to the barn's entrance, where there and elsewhere, artists' easels supported posters of animals in cute poses along with witty suggestion quips. A cat, its face poked through a piece of bread, gestured toward the "belly up" area. "Need a drink? You deserve it," read the copy. I was, in fact, in search of the foodstuffs and bar; however, live musicians staged at the entry gave me cause to pause. Musical entertainment was provided by Lehigh Valley's own cabaret jazz band Ginger and The Schnapps. Chanteuse Ginger Brew possesses a brilliant vocal range and was stylishly dressed in beautiful vintage clothing and accessories.

The barn's interior boasts a magnificent design of exposed wooden beams and more than enough space to serve as the perfect venue for any special occasion. Strands of twinkling lights and paper lantern balls hung on high provided warm tones and a cozy vibe. Large tables and accompanying chairs were available for longer spells of meet-greet-eat activity. Party decorations were staged by rel(EVENT). The auction-item table was laden with a medley of unique items, although a wine pool and selfie station were part of the fun as well.

Both live and silent auction items were beautifully positioned and drew plenty of attention from generous guests. Bidding began at 1:45 p.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m. (Catherine Keys of Tom Hall Auctions served as the auctioneer). Proceeds would help support Addie's Fund, which was established when an elderly woman arrived one day at the Humane Society, bereft because increasing costs of pet food and veterinary care had rendered her unable to keep her beloved pooch. A single pet owner's heartbreaking situation was the humble impetus for this worthy cause that--with continued support and contributions--enables others who struggle to remain united with their furry companions.

While the day was a gorgeous gift from Mother Nature, I spent much time barn-based. Okay, and yeah, that's where the food and drink could be had; however, it also is where I met the Humane Society's Certified Dog Trainer, Lucas Holland (CPDT-KA) and his dog along with very special guests Juno, Lucky, Abraham, and Precious, adoptable animals being introduced to the crowd. The pups were festooned with floral neck wreaths and easily delighted in the attention they received. While most guests dressed in springtime finery, a few in the crowd revealed animal-themed outfits or accessories. I spied a woman wearing a kitty hoodie.

Before indulging in the many proffered light bites and sampling wine, I nipped outdoors for a bit of fresh air. The crowd size had grown exponentially. It was good to see folks out and about, enjoying themselves and testing the social waters after being cooped up far too long. Off in the distance, a game of bean-bag toss was taking place in a grassy area, while stage right a cigar bar had become a popular hangout. Surveying the panoramic view and camaraderie, a lone word came to mind ... wholesome. I checked my dog-eared thesaurus and found synonyms such as ethical, good, clean, nice, decent, and uplifting to describe the vibe I felt. Wholesome is a word that matches perfectly its meaning to sound. Witnessing that scene from the porch, I felt something stir within, a nascent idea was fomenting. Like a puppy, said the idea grew into a decision, but I'll save the big reveal for later.

It's time for the sip, swill, and chow-down report, beginning with the wine bar, staffed by two affable folks, who clearly knew their way around a bottle of red, white, and rose. They were eager to share specifics about the featured varieties. Sleepy Cat Urban Winery was in the house (or barn, rather) to show off their cat-themed vino collection. As feline-mother to a 19-pound Maine Coon as well as a much tinier blue-eyed, doll-faced Himalayan, I was keen to taste from all five of the whimsically named and labeled bottles. Additionally, beer and non-alcoholic beverages were served.

Passed hors d'oeuvres and light bites (hot and cold) ran the gourmet gamut from simple yet impressive Caprese Skewers to sauce-bathed meatballs to buttery-flaky croissants filled with chicken salad to a tasty concoction that included avocado and asparagus. Chocolate and vanilla single-serving mousse desserts tantalized with a velvety smooth texture, while dog bone-shaped cut-out cookies featured "woof" inscribed in chocolate icing. The quality and freshness of all ingredients were spot-on, while skillful flair and finesse marked presentation.

The program kicked off with Chairperson Bethany Mihalik's welcome, after which Volunteer Coordinator Stephanie Skyriotis presented the Volunteer of the Year Award. The live auction followed, then LCHS Chief Executive Officer Hal Warner spoke about the non-profit organization's mission, vision, and accomplishments. According to the web page, LCHS "works to fulfill our mission on behalf of homeless, neglected and abused animals. We strive to provide the best veterinary services at affordable prices to pets and their families throughout the Lehigh Valley." Eve Warsinki ("Koda's Mom") was Keynote Speaker, and Vice-Chair, Board of Directors Steve Martucci made an appeal. Closing remarks were delivered by Director of Development Deirdre Federico Snyder. Lead sponsors were AmericanBank and Hovus, Inc. HSA Mechanical, Fulton Bank, and Capital Blue comprised the Family sponsors. As always, a big shout-out to all sponsors for their generosity and participation.

There are so many ways we can help animals in need. Paging through the LCHS "Circle of Hope" brochure, I located a narrative that explained the Society's origins. The story is a tear-jerker, a lovely must-read that can be found on their website. There you can discover the benefits of membership along with the myriad of ways to give. The good work and passion of the Lehigh County Humane Society cannot be underestimated. Matthew Scully wrote, "Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind's capacity for empathy, for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense, because they don't; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us."

I suspect my time spent listening to guests share canine tales was significant. Herewith, the big reveal earlier mentioned: a few months post-garden party, my own menagerie welcomed little 3.4 pounds Tillie Rose Kozden, an adorable Morkiepoo puppy that came bounding into our lives, forever changing them. After a sudden and dramatic growth spurt (as puppies are wont to experience), lil' Miss Tee-row (funny how many nicknames we bestow on our pets!) has topped out at around ten pounds. I'm told it's her expected adult size. She also actually enjoys being ferried about in a car. This is a road-tripping explorer girl after my own heart!

Maybe sweater weather will, at last, arrive so we can peep the fall foliage on a drive to the Lehigh Valley. While there, we may drop in and visit our fur buddies at Lehigh County Humane Society, where such interesting and fun events are always happening!

To learn more about Lehigh County Humane Society's programs, adoptable animals, and how you can become a member, volunteer, donate or otherwise help, check out their web page at lehighcountyhumanesociety.org

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