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Biker travels states for no-kill shelters

By John Gibb

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Armen Abalian is using two wheels to advocate for those with four legs.

Abalian, 43, traveled to the U.S. from Warsaw, Poland, recently to begin a bike trip through all 48 continental states. He hopes to raise awareness about the unnecessary killing of healthy animals at shelters nationwide.

"It is estimated that four million healthy dogs and cats will be euthanized this year in shelters across the U.S. This is both unacceptable and unnecessary," Abalian said. "This is a very important issue for me. I support all organizations that promote a no-kill approach, and I'm riding across the country to raise donations for those organizations."

In total, Abalian hopes to raise money for 125 no-kill organizations located in every continental U.S. state. He wants to raise $1,000 for each organization, as well as $10,000 for the Best Friends Animal Shelter in Utah, which operates a sanctuary of nearly 1,700 animals.

He has a long way to go to get to his goal of $135,000. As of Wednesday, he had reached $3,000.

Abalian began his three-month journey Oct. 1 in South Hero, Vt. He bikes 60 miles in each state and estimates to bike a total of 3,000 miles by the end of his journey. He plans to finish his final ride in Houston on Dec. 11.

Abalian biked through West Virginia Wednesday and chose South Charleston as his starting point. His route led him to Buffalo before turning around and coming back.

"West Virginia is my thirteenth state that I have traveled through," Abalian said. "I drive from state to state, and I'm covering a lot of ground."

Abalian has two bicycles. He takes them apart and reassembles them daily. He carries a hand pump in case the air in his tires gets low.

"I didn't bring an expensive bike, and I'm sure the professional cyclists would sneer at me," Abalian laughed. "I haven't been let down yet."

He is staying busy.

"I get up early each morning and update social media and my Web page," he said. "This entire campaign is social media based. I have to keep everything current so those who are following me know where I'm at and what I'm doing."

Abalian tries to pay a visit to the no-kill shelters he is supporting in each state. Because of conflicts and time constraints, he cannot make it to all.

"So far, I've paid a visit to no-kill shelters in every other state that I've been to," he said. "It's important for me to see the work they do firsthand."

Abalian is using Firstgiving.com for his campaign. Firstgiving delivers the money directly to the organizations so donors know where their donation is going.

On his website, bikingforanimals.org, there is a state tab, and visitors to the site can click on a specific state and will have the opportunity to donate to an organization within that state.

He is supporting three West Virginia no-kill shelters, including Cause for Paws in Harper's Ferry, Little Victories Animal Rescue Group in Barboursville and Briggs Animal Adoption Center in Charles Town.

Abalian is a Los Angeles native but moved to Poland to be closer to his girlfriend. He has four cats and said his girlfriend shares similar passions.

"She thinks my campaign is great," he said. "She had to stay there because of work obligations, and since I am a self-employed web designer, I just told my clients I was unavailable for three months so I could come to America and do this."

Abalian is jumping between states, living out of his car and oftentimes checking himself into motels.

"I make sure I get eight hours of sleep a night so I am well rested for the rides, he said. "I am staying healthy and making sure I'm drinking plenty of water. It does get tiresome and my body aches a little after each ride, but if I can raise money for a worthy cause, the pain is worth it."

Abalian is a vegan, meaning he doesn't eat meat or other animal products like dairy and eggs. He said he trained for the journey and is beginning to bike with much less pain.

"It was hard at first, but it's a lot easier now," he said. "When I was in New England, I biked up many hills. It's tough to avoid hills up there. My rides in Rhode Island and Connecticut definitely posed great challenges."

Abalian invites people to ride with him. He is tackling Lexington, Ky., today and is slowly working his way westward.

For more information or to contribute to Abalian's campaign, you can visit his website, message Abalian on Facebook or email him at armen@bikingforanimals.org.

Contact writer John Gibb at john.gibb@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.


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