Did you know that Guilford County has a fledgling volunteer program that is actively involved in trying to teach our next generation about responsible pet ownership? Now entering into it’s fourth year, the Guilford County Pet Responsibility Program operates under Juliet’s House Animal Rescue, and it is modeled after a very successful program in Moore County.
Ruby Wescoat has been instrumental in bringing this program to Guilford County. Through years of volunteering with animal shelters, she saw first hand the impact of pet overpopulation. Ruby felt that bringing this program to Guilford County could be an excellent way to spread the word that overpopulation is a fixable problem. Beyond teaching students about preventing pet overpopulation through spaying and neutering, she also sees tremendous value in teaching all children how to advocate and care for animals while also learning how to be exemplary pet owners.
The program utilizes a network of volunteers who go into elementary schools and help teach 4th grade students about responsible pet ownership over a 6 week period. For the first 5 weeks, volunteers spend anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes in individual 4th grade classrooms. On the final week, all the 4th grade classrooms from the school gather together for an entertaining and rewarding assembly. Throughout the program, students are introduced to the concepts of responsible pet ownership, pet overpopulation, spaying and neutering, appropriate ways to interact with animals, kindness to animals, and safety around animals. One of the favorite weeks for the students is when they get to meet a certified pet therapy dog! The conclusion of the program is geared towards empowering the students to believe they can be responsible pet owners, and encouraging them to carry on the message of responsible pet ownership to others.
In the 3 years the program has been in operation, over 1500 4th grade students in 11 elementary schools in Guilford County have been reached. The classroom teachers love how the program not only engages and teaches the children important concepts about pet ownership, but also how the program integrates elementary education and character development skills through things such as math activities, essay writing, practicing cause and effect thinking, learning patience and compassion, and understanding the importance of standing up for others. For the writing activity, students can write an essay about what responsible pet ownership means to them. During the final week’s assembly, the essay winners are announced. Winners receive a voucher for a free spay or neuter through the Loving Pet Inn Adoptions STOP Program (Spay Today Outreach Program).
Ruby and all the program’s volunteers have been consistently struck with how well the students receive the program. They are engaged, participate, smile often, and seem to learn and absorb the key concepts of the program. One of Ruby’s favorite stories is about a student who took the essay contest to an impressive extreme. In addition to writing an essay about responsible pet ownership, the student also spent extra time researching the topic on the internet, creating drawings, and making a poster supporting the essay ideas. While this alone was encouraging and impressive, what made the story even more special was finding out the student was difficult to engage in regular classroom activities and had been struggling in school. This was one of the first times the student’s classroom teacher had seen the student become engaged and excited about something.
The Guilford County Pet Responsibility Program has managed to do so much with only a handful of volunteers. Ruby would love to see every elementary school in Guilford County have the opportunity to bring this program to all 4th grade classrooms. If you are interested in volunteering with this program or helping to bring the program into your elementary school, then you may contact Ruby Wescoat (firstname.lastname@example.org). Visit the Guilford County Pet Responsibility Program’s website for additional information.
Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS