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.  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s