Lending a helping paw


What began as an effort to find a home for a stray dog recently led to a partnership between East Elementary school teacher Chris Garner and NCK Paws, a resource for people and pets.  

Education is Garner’s main focus.   

I want to educate people about how to treat animals.”

On Tuesday, February 7, she started with a story hour for students at East Elementary school in the after school program.  

For the lower grades, Garner read a story about how to approach dogs and how to take care of them.  For the upper grades, she read a story about reading dog body language.  

Helping her with the lesson was Joy, a Bernese Mountain Dog.      

Pet responsibility and how to care for their pets at home is what we’re trying to teach the kids,” Garner says.  “I wanted to be able to have the children put into practice what they learned from the story.”  

Joy’s owner offered to allow Garner to use the dog.  As a therapy dog, Joy was trained to remain calm and obey commands in similar situations where several kids would be present, and noise would be prevalent.  The children, exuberant from activities in the classroom, responded to the needs of the dog,

Its amazing the way children and dogs connect,” Virginia Thull, a former teacher and member of NCK Paws says.  “Children that are ordinarily loud and full of energy will quiet down and connect with a dog in ways they won’t with their peers or their teacher.”  Thull was on hand to assist Garner with the story hour.

One little girl said, I don’t like big dogs,” Thull says. The other teacher told her to just move to the back.  “By golly, by the time the story was over, she’d moved to the front and was one of the first three kids to pet the dog,” Thull says.  “We helped her take a step in the right direction.  That is what this education is about.”

In January, Garner took an animal down to the O’Connor animal shelter in Concordia that needed a home.  Animal Control officer Heather Atchison  asked her if she would like to be part of NCK Paws.  

I told her I’d love to do that because that is my passion– Helping animals,” Garner says.  

Chris is a perfect person to start this type of program because she’s passionate about education,” Thull says.  “The books she’s reading are very specific about teaching children about pet ownership.  Realistically, we could stop a lot of heartbreak if we could educate the owners of pets.  We can make a quicker impact if we work on education.”

NCK Paws

The organization’s main focus is to help the animals of North Central Kansas.   Members of NCK Paws help to put families who want a pet together with families who need to find a home for a pet says Thull.   Currently, story hours, volunteer transport, and fund raisers to purchase needed items for pet rescues and shelters are how the group fulfills its mission.

The organization has been in existence since January 2011.  Members include people from Belleville, Miltonvale, Clyde and Concordia.   Tuesday’s book event marks the group’s first opportunity to branch out to Belleville.

Shelter Dogs Good Pets

Virginia Thull is a founding member of NCK Paws.  Her work with animals started with work as a volunteer at the O’Connor animal shelter in Concordia.  

Before I started working with animals at the O’Connor shelter, I thought the dogs out there probably were not worthy of being pets,” says Thull.  “ I don’t think I’m the only one who ever thought that.”  Her perception of abandoned and shelter dogs was that they were mean or uncooperative or untrainable.  

Working at the shelter, I realized the opposite is true.  Most of the dogs that go through there are very adoptable and wonderful animals. “

Garner, owner of three shelter dogs agrees.  Garner once owned a therapy dog, which she found on the highway in Oklahoma City.  

He was the best dog I ever had, and he was on the highway,” she says.  Garner donated the mixed-breed dog, “Big Dog”, to the C.A.R.E.S. program, an organization that trains therapy dogs.  

It was the hardest thing ever to give up that dog,” she says.  Big Dog went through training with a teacher in Kansas City, while Garner kept tabs on him all summer.  Later, she learned the first handler did not work out, and she had the opportunity to step in and complete the training.  She jumped on the chance.

Garner taught fifth grade for over 20 years.  She used Big Dog in the classroom, sharing time with the special education teacher.  She also took him to the nursing home.  His presence changed the mood and atmosphere in the classroom, she says.  

Big Dog would invariably pick kids who needed him, who were sad that day,” she says.  “It was amazing how he just seemed to know who needed him.”  

Nationwide Pet Transport

Thull has been an active pet transport volunteer for a few years.   She started when O’Connor Animal Shelter had animals that did not get adopted out.  With a recent commitment to becoming a no-kill facility, a solution had to be found.  That, in part, meant reaching out to area rescues.  

Rescues are usually run by private individuals or non-profit organizations and are not bound as city-run shelters are to strict time limits in which a home needs to be found before euthanization occurs, Thull says.

Thull learned there is a whole network of rescue people who “pull the dog”.  Pulling the dog means, the rescue would adopt the dog, take it to their location and foster it until it is ready to go to a home.  

Thull transports animals.  She’s taken nearly 40 animals to rescues, she says, including cats.  Shes been to Colorado four times.  Once she helped transport a dog from North Platte, for the National Brittany Association in Massachusetts.  

They pulled a Brittany Spaniel from Manhattan to take to a foster home in South Dakota,” Thull says. Through an email network, she became aware.  “The trip was divided into five legs.  After I met the volunteers from Manhattan in Concordia, I drove from Concordia to North Platte.”

From there, she was asked to take a second leg of the trip, and took the dog to volunteers in South Dakota who brought the dog to it’s new owners.  

Thull says she has also assisted with a pet transportation network that starts in St.Louis and travels I-70 in vans.  People bring their dogs to I-70 and put them on the van that takes them to rescues in Colorado.  

Many counties and small towns have limited resources to deal with stray dogs.  The city of Belleville’s policy for dealing with a stray whose owner’s cannot be identified includes three days boarding with an area veterinarian followed by euthanization if the pet is not claimed.

Garner and Thull have both heard stories from owners whose pets have escaped while they are out of town, and came home to learn their pet has been euthanized.  They hope that through education and volunteer efforts, fewer sad outcomes for pets in North Central Kansas are in the future.  

Suggested reading list:  

Tails Are Not For Pulling, by Elizabeth Verdick , 22 page board book
Be A Dog’s Best Freind, by Renne Payne and Jennifer Gladysa, 25 pages
May I Pet Your Dog,by Stephanie Calmenson, 32 pages
Pet’s Playground:  Playing Safe in a Dog-and-Cat world,by Dr. Amanda Chin, 100 pagesImage

East Elementary teacher Chris Garner and Joy, a Bernese Mountain Dog, lead a story hour for students in the Belleville after school program. Selections were carefully chosen to teach pet care skills. Garner is a member of NCK Paws, a group focused on being a resource for helping people and pets in North Central Kansas.  


Multi-Generational may be multi-beneficial

Topics of conversation with the kids this weekend included: (1)There is no money saved for your college education. (2) Mom hasn’t saved nearly enough for her retirement, and social security is predicted to be only a shadow of what it was when my grandparents retired. With high-school aged children wondering how they will achieve their dreams of financial independence in the next decade, these were clearly not the answers they wanted to hear.
These are conversations we need to have not only with our kids, but our parents. Everyone in the country has been affected by the Great Recession one way or another, and to go along in denial will not replenish our bank accounts.
Clearly, things are bound to change. After all, we Americans have too much compassion than to allow our elderly to suffer widespread degrading poverty, nor are we a people that will shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh well” to our children when secondary education is required to advance from retail clerk to professional career.
A natural solution appears to be trending, according to the Pew Research Center, prompting a slew of articles looking at how the multi-generational home is becoming more popular. This trend is bound to continue into the next couple of decades. Life spans are lengthening, and the cost of living is making home-sharing far more attractive. After all, it seems a waste to spend hundreds of dollars a month paying a mortgage and heating and cooling a large space for one or two people to live in, when that same space could be utilized by several. By sharing space and in some instances finances, more families find they can make ends meet once again.
People in their forties or older will remember television shows like The Waltons and The Andy Griffith Show. They taught kids like me and my brothers that family togetherness was worth cherishing, and that more than one or two generations could live together happily. As a nation, our affluence made us less dependent on family. It may have made ours a ruder society in general.
Last week, as I listened to RCHS English teacher Deb Krotz’s report to the USD 109 school board in Belleville, Kansas, about “Safe and Civil Schools”, her comments on manners really caught my attention. Teachers will begin teaching monthly manners classes. It seems that our junior high and high school youth have little awareness of manners, and their expectations for how to be treated as well as how to treat others are sadly lacking compared to a generation or two before. Many of the techniques teachers will use to teach in the multi-tiered system will only work if manners are expected and enforced, in fact, she says. Children learn better if they know they are cared for and about, and manners go a long way towards communicating that care, Krotz says. (If it seems that bullying is on the rise, it may be in part to a lack of enforcement of manners.)
Back to multi-generational homes. Grandparents, in general, often are the adults in our lives that remind us to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when we are little, and who have time to spend with us, talking to us, reading to us, and bolstering our self-esteem with encouraging words at our every accomplishment. If they can become an integral part of our kids lives once again, by sharing a home, how can this be anything but good?
Skeptics will abound, but as the trend increases, more will start to see the benefits.
If you are or have been living in a multi-generational home, please email me at vcoons.telescope@gmail.com

Zipping Along on the “Wrong” side

Returning home after a week of lounging on a white sand beach in Jamaica, enjoying rum drinks and gourmet meals has found me reflecting about life more than I usually do.  
I spent most of the week wearing a bikini and various t-shirts and sun dresses.  Coming home and slipping into my usual work attire was a reality check.  Somehow, I’d deluded myself into believing that the food eaten and the drinks consumed would have no effect at all on my bottom line.  After all, it was an all-inclusive trip, with all expenses paid up front.   Alas, the effect on the bottom line turns out to not be in my check book, but around the waist line.  
Its worth it though, I had my fill and now I’m ready to resume my regular life.  I can honestly say I’d do it all again–and often we can’t always say that when its time to pay up.  
We didn’t spend every moment on the beach or in my ocean-view room.  We went on a few outings and I found the experience eye-opening.  
Drivers in Jamaica may drive very fast, and crazy by American standards, but I didn’t see any accidents while I was there.  Of course, I also didn’t see drivers talking or texting on cell phones either.  
I was surprised we didn’t see many people on bicycles.  I signed up for a bike tour and realized why not.  With most of the neighborhoods built up the coastal hills, and most roads resembling our driveways, in all their various conditions from smooth to crumbling,  I would not have relished riding either up or down those hills from home to work and back again on anything less than the best mountain bike.  Even then, I don’t know if I could do it every day.  
The people of Jamaica use buses to get where they can’t walk to, unless they are fortunate enough to own a car.  
I gained an appreciation for building codes on one of these trips.  As we zipped by, I saw people going about their lives in what to me looked like the ruins of some fine  buildings.  As it turns out, these homes were under construction, not in a state of falling apart.  Most people are building with concrete now, after losing so many wood-frame structures to a hurricane years ago.  Still, the tradition of starting with one or two finished rooms, and adding on to a house “as you go” persists.  Concrete walls with rebar dangling out of the top or the sides indicate the builder’s intention for which direction the build will continue, but how long it will take to reach completion is hard to say.  
Few banks will lend to homeowners who do not have a steady monthly income.  Many people fit into this category, our guide told us, and so they pool their funds together to make progress on their builds.   I found renewed appreciation for our local niche banks that are willing to take risks to lend to farmers and business owners locally, even though income may vary throughout the year.