Pet Parenting 101
Paws-Ability’s Pet Education Program teaches chlidren about responsible pet ownership.
At Supply Elementary School, Teri Dammann’s fourth grade classroom is buzzing with excitement. Four volunteers from Paws-Ability are in the house for the fourth lesson of a custom-designed Pet Education Program. Each Friday for five weeks, the team introduces students to a variety of topics revolving around responsible pet ownership – and today the group has brought Bella, Debbie Eckert’s certified therapy dog.
The program uses videos and interactive activities to highlight an unfortunate problem in Brunswick County – pet overpopulation. Each week students learn an “I can” statement about what they can do to help solve this problem. The children also learn that the best overall strategy is to spay or neuter.
“They learn how unaltered pets multiply quite quickly as well as how much money it takes not only to adopt a pet, but also to maintain them in a responsible manner,” says Anne Overcash, a Paws-Ability volunteer and team leader.
In a money lesson, students receive a list of items that are necessary when adopting a dog or cat. “We provide estimated costs for each of these items including adoption fees, a collar with ID tags, a leash, flea/tick/heartworm medications and so on,” Overcash explains. “Then each group is given a specific amount of money and they determine if they have enough to adopt the pet of their choice.”
The activity provides for glitches in which students then have to problem-solve as a team. Overcash says the leaders have been impressed at the creative solutions the teams come up with on their own.
Derrillyn Harbeston has been an active volunteer with Paws-Ability since 2013 and has helped teach the Pet Education Program for the past three years. Her favorite activity is the DATs game, in which the students learn how quickly pets can reproduce from just two unaltered pets. “The game moves very fast and the students love it!” she says.
Overcash adds, “The game includes very real problems, such as not being able to care for all of the pets properly, so some may run away. This leads to the very real discussion about what may happen if they are not cared for in the wild.”
The game concludes as these former pets may end up not surviving or at the animal shelter. “We also discuss the very sad situation that is caused when the animal shelter is full,” Overcash says.
The DATs game is a student favorite. It provides a hands-on visual as the plastic pet game pieces fill up the shelter and heaven buckets. “At the end of the game, we demonstrate how two unaltered dogs and their offspring can have up to 2,000 puppies in two years – and the number of cats is even greater,” Harbeston shares.
Those numbers always surprise the students. “I didn’t know dogs could have that many puppies,” says 10-year old Summer with a shrug. “That is amazing!”
Teacher Jessica Howerton is thoroughly pleased with the program. “They really look forward to the next lesson,” she says. “With just a few hours of class time, we can transform Brunswick County. The kids were so emotionally impacted by the lessons, I feel sure they will be more thoughtful in their pet ownership decisions in their futures.”
Howerton sees the results of the lessons in her homeroom morning discussions. “They are already making connections to how they are currently involved in pet care at home and making plans for the pets they hope to someday day adopt and care for,” she says.
Fourth-grader Corbin, in Jackie Brock’s homeroom, says he enjoyed the whole program. “I loved meeting the dog,” he says. “I learned about how I can help the community, and maybe I will be a veterinarian – or maybe just volunteer at a shelter.”
“We really love this program,” Dammann says. “It is engaging and high-interest. The kids can relate to the topic, because it is applicable to their lives.”
This is Dammann’s second year collaborating with the nonprofit. The veteran teacher has been teaching for 26 years, 18 of those in Brunswick County schools. “The program supports our writing program by providing a real-life writing experience,” she says. Dammann is referring to the writing component, which is aligned with North Carolina fourth grade writing standards. “An editor from the Brunswick Beacon will be reading these essays in a writing contest,” she adds.
The final event is a celebration with representatives from the Brunswick County Board of Education, Brunswick County Commissioners, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Animal Protective Services and the students’ parents and guardians.
Paws-Ability’s Pet Education Program is made possible through generous community support. “We are really grateful to our sponsors over the past three years, including BEMC, South Brunswick Islands Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Shallotte, Grand Strand Realty Group and ATMC. They pay for the entire program for the schools,” Overcash says
Back in Dammann’s homeroom, the room is quiet as the students get to work writing in their essay planners. Ten-year-old Jacob reflects on what he learned and what he plans to write about. “I like to learn about the animals,” he says. “But I also learned about what I can do to help stop pet overpopulation.”
Want to help Brunswick County’s pets?
Paws-Ability is a nonprofit group that raises funds for Brunswick County rescues and provides educational programs across the county. For more information about the nonprofit, visit paws-ability.org. To volunteer, contact Anne Overcash at firstname.lastname@example.org or Derrillyn Harbeston at email@example.com.
If you’re interested in donating or becoming a sponsor of the Pet Education Program, contact Janie Withers at firstname.lastname@example.org.