Pet Committee Throws Party to Thank Volunteers
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
Unlike the animals in early Christmas traditions, the pets in Moore County did not talk to each other or kneel in homage to a newborn savior of mankind this year.
On behalf of dogs and cats across the county, the Pet Responsibility Committee held a party instead to thank volunteers for their service.
"My No. 1 goal is to see no animal put down," said County Commissioner Jimmy Melton in an impromptu address to the gathering at Forest Creek Club House.
Of the more than 4,700 dogs and cats turned in to the county's Animal Center last year, only about 1,700 were adopted.
"That's a tragedy," Melton said. "But if it wasn't for your work, the number would have been 10,000. You saved taxpayers a lot of money by helping to keep our tax rate down. Your work is not going unrewarded."
In the past year, the committee's work has shifted focus from communities to the classroom, where a special pet responsibility module is now part of the fourth-grade character education curriculum. Angela Zumwalt, founder of the committee and now one of three co-chairs, said the program has reached more than 1,000 fourth-graders in 13 schools.
The emphasis is on responsible care for pets, including proper nutrition and health care as well as encouraging people to have their pets spayed or neutered to prevent the birth of hundreds of thousands of unwanted pets.
Many of those unwanted animals either die when abandoned or face euthanization at the Animal Center because the center lacks space and funds to care for all of them.
Bob Baillie, accompanied by guide dog Devon Baillie, kept the volunteers laughing with anecdotes about his experiences in the classroom. Baillie is founder and chairman of Mira Foundation USA Inc., which supports a guide dog program to "give blind children a new leash on life."
Children are always surprised when Baillie describes all the services that Devon, a Bernese (Switzerland) working dog, provides to his blind companion.
"I can walk downtown with Devon, and my wife knows that I'll get back home safely," Baillie said as Devon waited patiently at his feet. "It's a pretty special relationship. Dogs do so much for us."
Teacher Marj Dwyer said her students were impressed by Devon's intelligence and service.
"The children were enthralled. You have the patience of Job," Dwyer said to Baillie.
Then there was Officer Sean Kelly, of the Southern Pines Police Department, who handles Nero, a K-9 officer with a personal mission to enforce "tails and paws" laws. Nero, a multi-trained Belgian Malinois, did not accompany Kelly to the party, but the canine officer is very popular with schoolchildren.
Kelly said he always emphasizes care for Nero when he visits a classroom. He wants to impress the children with the need to care for their pets. It's a message Kelly and the committee want students to retain as adults.
"I give him a checkup from head to tail," Kelly said. "It's the least I can do for him, because he makes sure I come home safely every night. He's not just a pet. He's my best friend."
Few people have a pet or a best friend with Nero's talents.
Nero has been trained to detect the odors of just about every illegal drug available. He also knows how to track suspects from a crime scene and to locate missing persons. His training includes obedience, article searches, criminal apprehension and handler protection.
Kelly allows Nero to demonstrate his many talents for the children's entertainment, but he works into the demonstration the basics of pet responsibility.
Colorful Food Bags
Elsewhere at the party was a display of colorfully decorated paper bags that are used to distribute food to the needy by MANNA! The faith-based nonprofit serves hundreds of meals weekly.
Betsy Ficarro said the pet responsibility students were making posters and drawing on their creative instincts to express concern for animals. As the committee pondered how best to share this creativity with the community, the idea developed to decorate the bags used by MANNA!
"It's a way to brighten their day," Ficarro said of the MANNA! food recipients.
But it is also a means of further spreading the pet responsibility message. She said the decorated bags send a message to a section of the county's demographic that might otherwise be missed.
The crayon drawings picture dogs, cats, birds, homes, trees, flowers and messages about caring for pets. Some of the messages advise spaying and neutering.
Ficarro said that the committee has provided three distributions of decorated bags to MANNA! since September. Almost 300 decorated bags were provided.
In his remarks, Melton told everyone that they can be satisfied with the quality of the county's animal shelter, which he said has become something of a state-of-the-art facility.
He said he has visited shelters in other counties and is often dismayed at the quality of care and conditions in many shelters.
"In many county shelters, there is no such thing as adoption," he said.
Melton commended the committee and volunteers for their cooperative spirit, something he said does not exist in some communities, where different animal welfare groups often work at cross purposes. He said such division works against the well-being of animals.
The Moore County committee's curriculum is attracting attention in other counties, many having expressed interest in incorporating similar programs into their schools.
The curriculum emphasizes overall responsibility by showing the value of pets in everyone's life, then describing the basic elements of care, covering food, water, veterinary care, spaying and neutering.
Students are also given a realistic estimate of the cost of caring for pets.
The goal is to encourage students to understand the importance of preventing the birth of animals that may be abused and/or abandoned.
The Citizens Pet Responsibility Committee was established in 2006. The immediate goal was to reduce the number of animals brought to the shelter owned and operated by the county and thus to reduce the number of euthanizations.
Zumwalt chaired the committee by herself the first two years, when members concentrated initially on the Robbins and northern Moore County area, then on Aberdeen, Pinebluff and environs.
Spay/neuter clinics were held, along with rabies vaccination clinics in these communities, resulting in service to hundreds of families.
However, reaching communities one by one was time-consuming and limited, and the committee decided it was time to broaden its education program. The result was a school-by-school movement that gained support from teachers and administrators.
The committee later elected Pam Partis and Lisa Bridge to join Zumwalt as co-chairs.
Jean Scott, a teacher, prepared the initial curriculum, which is frequently amended to meet changing needs, according to Partis.
"We had to determine the best age to reach children," added Bridge.
They settled on fourth grade as an age when children would be old enough to grasp the significance of the curriculum and mature enough to retain the message into adulthood. Committee members brought a variety of professionals into the classroom.
About 70 volunteers now help the committee with this educational outreach.
Zumwalt said the committee is always looking for new volunteers. The committee will hold a training session for new volunteers on Jan. 13, and anyone interested in participating is asked to call her at (910) 949-9953.
More like this story