By Cathy Spaulding
Muskogee Phoenix / CNHI News Service
VINITA, Okla. — Dogs at Muskogee Animal Shelter could get frisky if they don’t get out often enough.
But students at Rougher Alternative Academy have their own ways to tame them. Once a month, RAA students take some dogs out for a brisk walk, then they brush them and play with them.
Student BreAnna Smith looks forward to each visit.
“I just like dogs,” BreAnna said as she carried a smoke gray pit mix along the Centennial Trail. “They’re my favorite animal. They’re sweet and it’s like they know something’s wrong with you. And the dogs at the shelter haven’t had good homes. They need someone to love them and show to them that they’re appreciated.”
The students started taking the dogs on their monthly walks last year, said RAA counselor Shirley Morgan-Glenn.
“Research has shown that working with animals is beneficial to kids,” Glenn said. “They get a chance to be with something that accepts them no matter what.”
The visits show the students what happens when people are not responsible for their pets, she said.
They also teach the students how to manage their time and priorities. Students who keep up with their grades, maintain good attendance and have no discipline problems may go after filling out paperwork, she said.
“It teaches them to plan ahead and think about it before the last minute so they can get their paperwork done and their grades up,” Glenn said.
The dogs also appreciate the visits, shelter supervisor Vikki Heuman said.
“It’s excellent for the dogs. They get to go outside,” Heuman said. “The kids get to interact with the dogs and learn a little responsibility, which I think every child needs.”
The RAA dog walkers seem to have their favorites.
Senior Brooke Martin likes the smaller dogs.
“It’s so little, it’s so cute,” Brooke said as she nuzzled a small fuzzy terrier.
Senior Neeka Anderson said the biggest challenge she faces is to keep the dogs from getting into a fight.
However, the walk calms the dogs down.
“It gives them a chance to be out of the cage,” Neeka said.
Sometimes, it even gets a dog adopted.
BreAnna adopted a shelter dog after a recent walk. It’s a white pit mix named Blizzard, who has a red nose
“He just came up to me and caught my eye,” BreAnna said. “He was real sweet.”
The dog-walking program helped Rougher Alternative Academy earn a Promising Practice award from the Character Education Partnership. It is the third Promising Practice award RAA has received, Glenn said.
“I think we can learn a lot from animals, just like we can learn from children and the elderly,” Glenn said.
Spaulding is a writer for the Muskogee Phoenix.