A Shared Message
BY ANGELA ZUMWALT
Special to The Pilot
A gentle giant of a dog, a man and a woman sat motionless, waiting patiently, in a parked car in front of Westmoore Elementary School.
Inside the school, the animated fourth-graders were shepherded into the auditorium by their teachers.
They were excitedly anticipating their Pet Responsibility program assembly - a celebration of all they had learned during the five session program.
PRC (Pet Responsibility Committee) volunteer Annie Hallinan leveraged the students' excitement with some pointed questions.
How could they help solve the pet overpopulation crisis in their county?
"SPAY AND NEUTER!" the students howled in response. Their response triggered the appearance of the PRC mascot, Speuter, volunteer Betsy Ficarro in a dog costume, complete with a box of puppies with the words "Don't Litter!" on the side of the box. Speuter enjoyed hugs and photos with the students, who concluded that Speuter was the promised "special guest."
Annie Hallinan settled the students down and explained a DVD they were about to see. It featured an 11-year-old blind girl, Cricket, and her guide dog. Cricket had been chosen by the MIRA Foundation USA to receive a guide dog. MIRA, based in Aberdeen, is the only organization that funds and provides guide dogs and training to young people between the ages of 11 and 16.
The students sat in the half light, intently watching the story of Cricket and her dog. Meanwhile, outside in the car, Dr. Bob Baillie, founder and chairman of MIRA USA, his guide dog, Devon, and his colleague, Candy Hitchcock, received the signal and made their way into the school.
As the video finished, Devon led Baillie into the auditorium. This was the man and the dog the students had just seen in the video.
Baillie talked with the students about his life with Devon and how he could not do a tenth of what he is able to do without Devon. During the Pet Responsibility program, they had learned about advocating for animals. He explained how Devon advocates for him.
He also told them about his other dog at home, Dixie. She is a "Heinz 57" rescue dog. After observing Baillie with Devon, Dixie has actually taught herself how to guide him. He indulges her at home and holds her collar as she takes him to various rooms on command. Baillie commented on the fact that intelligent and loving dogs like Dixie are euthanized every day in our shelters.
Baillie and Devon are committed to the messages presented during the Pet Responsibility program and have appeared and spoken at many of the program assemblies in the county schools.
MIRA USA has recently launched a fundraising program based on recycling cell phones (phonesformira.com). Boxes for cell phone collection are located in each school in Moore County.
At the assembly, a small group of students proudly presented to Bob Baillie a large collection of cell phones that had been collected at the school. To mark the occasion, a T-shirt featuring Devon and MIRA USA was given to each student.
The assembly concluded with PRC volunteer Linda McKarney reading the "PRC Pack Pledge" aloud to the students. The pledge commits the students to treat the animals in their lives with respect and responsibility. The pledge was on a laminated poster to be signed by all the students and the principal and displayed at the school. Principal Lisa Scott closed the assembly by accepting the pledge poster on behalf of the fourth-grade students of Westmoore Elementary.
For more information on MIRA USA and upcoming events, visit miranusa.org. To volunteer with the PRC, call (910) 949-9953 for upcoming training sessions.
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