Vass, N.C. — The fourth-graders at Vass-Lakeview Elementary School put down their pencils Thursday to play with a golden retriever named Bonnie and Ivan, the German shepherd.
But it wasn’t recess. The pups were the stars of a special class designed to help the youngsters understand what it means to be responsible pet owners.
“Overpopulation in the area is terrible. Animals are euthanized daily,” said Kristine Staples, Ivan’s owner and a volunteer teacher with the Citizens’ Pet Responsibility Committee in Moore County.
The committee is made up of more than 50 volunteers who offer a six-session program on pet ownership to all fourth-grade classes in public schools. By Staples’ count, they’ve talked to more than 1,000 kids in the five years of the program.
“Fourth grade seems to be the age they really understand what is happening,” she said. “They are at the time when they have responsibility at home where they have to feed the dog or cat, or water the dog or cat.”
Angela Zumwalt, who co-chairs the committee, agreed.
“Students can take home a message. They can talk about that message, and it stays with them the rest of their lives,” she said.
The students learn about spaying, neutering, care and grooming. Staples said the ultimate goal is to teach the next generation and help reduce the number of unwanted animals that end up in shelters or euthanized.
“It can be very expensive to take care of your pet, and it’s OK not to have a pet,” she said. “Dog food is expensive, cat food is expensive, hay is expensive. And I don’t think people realize what they’re taking on an animal.”
The message seemed to be sinking in with the students.
“I learned that you need to spay and neuter them, make sure that they get their shots,” 9-year-old Bradley Maloof said. “You need to have a leash and tags and stuff for them.”
When asked why love animals, 9-year-old Avery Meredith offered a simple, honest answer: “Because they keep you company and, like, they can make you happy.”