East Rowan High students teach obedience to shelter dogs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 9, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
Shelter dogs are getting a second chance at East Rowan High School.
The school’s animal science class raised money to save four canines from the Rowan County Animal Shelter.
Next, the students used donated materials to build kennels to house the dogs at the school.
But the students haven’t just saved the dogs from possible euthanasia, they’ve also given them a new purpose.
They’ve been working with local trainer Samantha Smith to teach the dogs obedience through the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Program.
About five students pair up with each dog to teach a variety of skills including how to accept a friendly stranger, sit politely for petting, walk through a crowd, react to another dog and come when called.
Smith, a Canine Good Citizen evaluater for the kennel club, volunteers her time at the school about twice a week.
“I incorporate all positive training methods and I can see relationships growing and these lowly shelter dogs turning into shining stars,” she said. “I believe it helps the kids see value in something another person didn’t. It teaches them not to give up.
“Watching an animal come from nothing, knowing nothing and seeing them blossom to a nicely-trained, well-mannered dog and you did it all is such a self-esteem booster.”
Smith said the goal is to get the dogs up to speed to graduate from the good citizen program and be adopted out to local families.
And she hopes some of them will continue training to become therapy dogs.
Brandy Starnes, the teacher of the animal science course, said the dogs aren’t the only ones learning from the experience.
“I think it’s been good for all students because just handling the dogs they can see their own strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “If a dog is not listening they have to figure out why, so it kind of transcends other areas of their life.”
Smith said the students have also learned how to be responsible pet owners.
During the weekends, they take turns stopping by the school to clean out the canine cages and supply fresh food and water.
Junior Fahiem Fate said he’s enjoyed working with Rico, a black labrador and collie mix puppy.
“The first day he was here, we just connected,” he said. “When we first got him he was very aggressive, but I’ve learned how to control him and make him relax.
“I love him. If I could take him home I would.”
Sophomore Chelsi Coates said the skills she garnered while training the dogs will likely come in handy when she pursues a career as a large animal veterinarian.
Senior Nikki Vogeo said training the canines has taught her a great deal of patience and teamwork.
“We all have to work together to get things done, “ she said.
Vogeo has been working with a 3-year-old black labrador retriever named Maddie.
“She’s come so far. It’s been such a good experience,” she said. “I’m really interested in animals, and this class is very hands on, which is the best.”
Smith said as a former Future Farmers of America member who graduated from South Rowan High School, she wanted to let the students know they can work with a variety of animals, not just farm animals like pigs and cows.
“Some of these kids live in the suburbs, and they need to know there are careers working with dogs as well,” she said.
Sadie, a 3-year-old Australian shepherd mix, and Missy, a 6-month-old schnauzer mix, as well as Rico and Maddie will be available for adoption at the end of the month. The dogs are up-to-date on shots and have been spayed or neutered.
Starnes is accepting adoption applications and a silent bid for each of them. The tax-deductible bids will be used to fund the treatment and adoption of future dogs for the program.
Applications and bids must be submitted by May 23.
For more information about adoption, contact Starnes at starnesbs@rss. k12.nc.us.