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Rescue dogs help Hernando High students learn veterinary skills


Derrick, Maggie, Sparky and Jeffy waited expectantly on the Hernando High School grounds for Mary Peter to arrive. Now and then, a tail would wag.

Peter has been visiting for several weeks to teach Veterinary Assistant Agriculture Science Technology students how to train the dogs.

"I own Stillwater Dog Training here in Brooksville," Peter, 58, said. "I want to help the community and I want to help the kids."

The dogs, rescued from Animal Services, have received new leases on life.

Peter taught a basic obedience program, roughly an hour each Friday for seven weeks, to the 16 students in the VAST III and IV classes. "This is such a worthwhile thing," Peter said. "They've done such a good job and have saved four (dogs) lives."

On this final day of training, the students demonstrated what they had learned.

Wearing gentle leaders, head halters that control dogs without hurting their necks, the canines complied as the students told them to sit and stay, lie down and stay, come and not jump up.

At the beginning, Peter said, the dogs were dragging and pulling. "They've learned to walk and not pull and sit when stopped."

The students in the VAST I and II classes did not participate directly in the training, but they did help care for the dogs. The students groomed and exercised the animals, cleaned the pens and took turns feeding them. The students committed to care for the dogs on weekends and breaks.

The school has a washing room for bathing the dogs, complete with dryer. The room has grooming tables and it is where the dogs can go when it is cold outdoors.

The Hernando High veterinary program has two instructors, Rick Ahrens and Kalyn Butler. Butler teaches levels I and II and Ahrens teaches level III and IV.

An intern from the University of Florida, Kelly Rogers, is teaching, as well. Students who successfully complete the program will be certified veterinary assistants and will have earned college credit if they attend St. Petersburg College through a special program.

Freshmen Katie Ward, 14, and Ashley Sins, 14, are just beginning the program and helped take care of the dogs, but weren't part of the training.

"We're in the vet academy throughout high school," Katie said. She would like to be a veterinarian and said the program is giving her a head start.

Ashley hopes being in the program will help her earn scholarships. "I think that will give me great experience," she added.

The girls took their turns with the dogs since they arrived in February. Katie hopes the training will help them be adopted. "This is the first year we've actually brought dogs in," Ashley said.

Ahrens said, "(For) some of these kids, it's the first time they've ever handled dogs except for a pet." There is a difference, he said. And, although the younger students weren't part of the training, the work they did around the animals helped the dogs with their socialization skills.

Senior Taylor Beverland, 18, is taking VAST II and IV classes this year. She expects to go to Pasco-Hernando Community College next year and study elementary education. She isn't planning a career with animals, but says what she has learned will make her a responsible pet owner.

Senior Shelby Duvall, 18, is taking level II, III and IV classes, having only started when she was a junior. She said the dog training classes gave her an opportunity "to watch the behavior of animals." She has seen the dogs when they were fearful, playful, aggressive and shy and said "you learn how to deal with each of these."

Shelby is planning to enter the Air Force upon graduation and said she is interested in aerial photography. As for all her effort in VAST, she said, "I can always use it as a backup plan if the Air Force doesn't work out for me."

Junior Burgandi Shutt, 17, is in level III and plans to go to Miami Dade College to get her vet tech degree and then to the University of Florida to become a veterinarian. Burgandi figures she'll begin her career working for or with someone else, but hopes to have her own veterinary business some day.

"I was thinking of opening up a shelter and doing all the vet work for it," she said.

Rescue dogs help Hernando High students learn veterinary skills 03/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 4:57pm]
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