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Caring for Critters Program continues at Diplomat Elementary

By Staff | Feb 28, 2011

An 8-year-old American Staffordshire Chocolate Lab mix, Pebbles, paid a special visit to Diplomat Elementary School last Friday, to appear on the morning announcements, along with visiting classrooms through the Caring for Critters Program that the Animal Refuge Center began three years ago.
Animal Refuge Center Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Morris said when she first began working with Diplomat Elementary three years ago, she played the program by ear before realizing how amazing it actually was. The program helps bring awareness to the students on how to take care of animals.
“This school has been amazing to work with,” Morris said. “The students are so curious and open to learning about how to take care of an animal.”
Every Friday for six weeks, two volunteers from the Animal Refuge Center bring an animal to the school to be featured on the morning news and to visit several classrooms. Each week the volunteers also teach a new lesson of how to care for an animal on the morning news, which is produced by the students.
“It is more of a reality that they are not just seeing the pets on TV,” Assistant Principal Erin Groeneveld said about the animal making an appearance in various classrooms. “It has meaning to the students.”
The center typically brings a dog, instead of a cat, during the visit because they are easier to handle and view in the classrooms. Morris said the animal that is chosen must be friendly with people and children especially, along with being ready to be adopted.
Groeneveld explained that although academics are a priority for the school, a sense of community and responsibility are also high on the list. When students learn a sense of caring and compassion, she said it “fosters a sense of community.”
Each classroom is provided with a picture of a “virtual pet” during the six-week program that is featured on the classroom door. Under the picture is the name, age and breed of the animal.
“The kids are so proud,” Groeneveld said about the classrooms adopted pet. “If by chance they end up here, it’s a big deal.”
Morris expressed that she hopes by teaching the children how to treat and approach animals that are not their own, will prevent neglect and injury.
Since the program began, she said they have had a few adoptions from Diplomat Elementary families.
Groeneveld said that on average three to five families from the school visit the Animal Refuge Center and adopt an animal each year. If some families cannot adopt an animal, they still bring their kids out to the center, so their child can receive a tour, along with seeing their classrooms “virtual pet” in person.
“It fosters a lot of awareness on so many levels,” she said.
After Pebbles made her rounds around the school and received a few gentle pats from students, Diplomat Elementary donated dog food, treats, toys, towels, sheets, beds and cat food that had been collected over five weeks to the Animal Refuge Center.
Morris said the donations that they received last Friday will give them the opportunity to do more around the shelter because they do not have to buy food for the animals. She explained that the donation portion of the program also brings awareness to the community.
If the Animal Refuge Center is not able to use some of the food donated by the students, she explained the center will donate it to other organizations that can utilize the food.
The center also received $150 from the teachers of Diplomat Elementary who donated $2 to wear jeans on a Friday.
“It was a surprise,” Morris said about the cash donation.
She said she loves keeping in touch with the teachers and students at Diplomat Elementary throughout the year, along with seeing the kids at the Animal Refuge Center.
The Animal Refuge Center will be hosting an Adoption Days Saturday and Sunday, March 19 and 20, from 12-4 p.m. The event will be held at the center, which is located at 18011 Old Bayshore Road in North Fort Myers. In celebration of the facility’s 23rd year, all adoptions will be $23 during the month of March.
For more information, visit www.animalrefuge.com or call 239-731-3535.
The center currently has 450 cats and 60 dogs available for adoption.