Humane Education

May 28, 2010
Robert N. Love '11

Over the past two years, the Sigma Nu Fraternity has become more and more involved with animal rescue, fostering, and training in Prince Edward County.  In the beginning, we volunteered at the local animal control facility helping exercise, foster, and socialize abandoned, abused, and stray dogs.  Before we started, nearly 75% of the dogs in the shelter were euthanized.  With the help of Vicki Horn and Ray Foster, Sigma Nu volunteers, and Dr. Julia Palmer, the number of dogs euthanized dropped significantly to 25%.  We continue to volunteer weekly at the animal shelter, however, we realized that there was an opportunity to do more for the community.

This year, one of Sigma Nu's main goals was to educate young children in our county on the importance of being a responsible and good dog owner.  I am proud to say that, with the help of Dr. Palmer, Dean John Ramsay '05, Mac Garrett '12, and Slade Weldon '12 we took our first big step in accomplishing this goal.

If you live in Prince Edward County, or even drive through on an ordinary day, it is not unusual to see a stray dog attempting to cross the road.  Normally this occurs because they have been abandoned by their owner or have run away because of neglect or abuse.  Sadly, these dogs rarely find their way to a loving home.  Many times they are either hit by a car, they starve to death, or they end up at the animal shelter, where they are eventually euthanized.

We thought that a good way to solve this problem was to help educate the youth of Farmville by showing them how dogs should be treated.  In turn, the children would take the information home, share what they had learned with their families, and, we hope, help their families see the importance of caring humanely for their pets.  This not only benefits the pet, it also can significantly decrease the number of dogs abandoned, the number of dogs euthanized, and the number of dogs who spend their lives at the end of a chain.  We believe that the way you treat your pets says a lot about the kind of human being you are and the kind of community you create.

To accomplish our goal, we teamed up with local horse and dog trainer Amy Hall, whose daughter attends the Fuqua Lower School.  Mrs. Hall invited her daughter's class to come out to her farm and learn about the humane treatment of horses and dogs.  Mrs. Hall taught the horse lesson, and we taught the lesson on dogs.  When we saw the first graders arrive in a packed school bus, we could tell they were happy to get away from the classroom and were equally enthusiastic to hear what we had to say.  We split them into two groups.  One group went with Mrs. Hall for 45 minutes and the other group came with us.  Then we switched groups and taught the lesson again.

To capture our students' attention, we brought along two dogs, Dr. Palmer's golden retriever Tucker and a little beagle named Shirley that we rescued last year from Animal Control.  We also brought many pictures of dogs that we have worked with over the last two years.  Our session involved a short lesson on how to care for your dog and a lesson on bite prevention. We also included a Q&A, a quiz, and games with prizes.  Our lesson had the following seven basic points:

    1. Dogs need food, water, shelter, and love.
    2. Dogs should never be chained outside for more than a few hours.
    3. Dogs need regular exercise.
    4. Dogs need obedience training so they can learn to "sit," "lie down," and "stay.
    5. You should never train or punish your dog by hitting him.
    6. You should spay or neuter your dog so that there are no unwanted puppies.
    7. You should never leave your dog in a parked car in warm or hot weather.

These points may seem like common sense but we realize that there are many owners who need to be reminded.  Although there were a number of students who knew a lot of our main points, it was new information to some.  We hope that our lesson will affect the future actions of these students and that it will potentially make a big difference in how dogs are treated around the area.

I believe that each and every student learned something new that day.  The field trip was a big success, the students had fun while learning valuable information, and we had a great time team teaching.  We hope to continue to teach our humane education lesson to local students, reaching beyond the Fuqua Lower School to the Prince Edward County Public Schools as well.