For her fifth birthday, Sarah Orton didn't ask for new toys, a new pet, or anything else a typical 5-year-old might ask for. Instead, the young Finksburg resident asked family and friends to give her cat and dog food, which she could then donate to the Baltimore Humane Society.
Sarah got her wish and shortly after her birthday May 15, she donated a handful of bags of food to the Reisterstown animal shelter.
"It just shows the depth of her loving heart," said Wendy Goldband, director of marketing and public relations with the Baltimore Humane Society. "It's generosity like that that keeps the shelter open and running."
Unfortunately, that was Sarah's last trip and donation to the Humane Society shelter.
She died Oct. 10 of unknown causes. The family is still waiting for test results to determine why their daughter died at such a young age.
Parents Chad and Kendra Orton described their daughter as bubbly, vibrant, very selfless with a high self-confidence, and just a "happy little girl."
"She was just a sweet girl," Kendra said.
Sarah, who had just started kindergarten at Mechanicsville Elementary, was the youngest of two Orton girls. Her older sister is a first grader at Mechanicsville.
To honor Sarah, the Orton family has created the Sarah Jayne Orton Memorial Foundation to help care for the animals at the Baltimore Humane Society's no-kill shelter. The family had also asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Humane Society.
"She just loved animals, she didn't care what it was," Kendra said of her daughter.
The Ortons adopted their family pet, a beagle named Scooter, in 2001 from the Humane Society. Sarah's birthday request for cat and dog food to donate to "Scooter's second home" didn't surprise her parents.
"For a young girl, she was not selfish at all," her father said, adding the family felt it was fitting to honor their daughter in this way due to her love of animals.
The Humane Society has also decided to place a plaque inside the dog kennel memorializing Sarah, according to Goldband.
The plaque will be displayed inside the kennel on a rainbow-colored wall, which was Sarah's favorite color.
"Every time we'd ask her what her favorite color was, when she was younger, she just said 'rainbow,'" Chad said.
Kendra added that the plaque is a sweet gesture by the Humane Society.
Goldband said the shelter is "very grateful" for the family's support, but admittedly had mixed emotions when Sarah's aunt, Nicole Mathews, proposed forming a foundation in Sarah's honor.
"You hate to feel like you're taking advantage of something like that and benefiting from it," she said.
Goldband said this is a unique situation for the society that they be included in a trust or foundation, but added that it is particularly important because humane society runs on donations from public because it receives no funding from local government.
Goldband said that Sarah's parents should commended as well for Sarah's generosity to the shelter.
"These parents have obviously taught their children that generosity and taking care of others is a very important part of life," she said.