By Richard Rourk
Unicoi County High School is teaming up with the Unicoi County Animal Shelter for a program that helps students prepare for careers in animal science.
The class is called Small Animal Science and, according to Unicoi County High School educator Holly Rogers, it has been a result of feedback from the students and faculty.
“When UCHS added a second agriculture position, they allowed me to choose which pathways I would teach and because of student interest and feedback and just listening to what classes the students would be interested in taking. I began offering animal science courses,” Rogers said. “This is the second year I have taught the course. Last year I would pick the dogs up before class to work with the students and after the success we saw last year the class grew in size quite a bit. Now we have more students who can work with the dogs, so volunteers from the shelter and Unicoi County Animal Shelter Executive Director Kevin King are graciously donating their time to bring the dogs to the high school so we can work with them on the track around the soccer field.”
According to King, this program is a win-win for the county.
“It means a whole lot to us,” King said. “The program started last year and it is so wonderful to have the youth in the community reaching out to help our animals.”
Currently there are approximately 20 students working with the dogs.
“We had half that number last year and they are training five dogs this year with each student having a different responsibility or role each from: handler, assistant handler, training session recorder and photographer/videographer,” Rogers said. “So far students have worked foundational commands and skills with them that every dog needs to know such as loose leash walking (not pulling while being walked), sit, down and look (having the dog make eye contact and paying attention to the handler).”
According to Rogers, the students will work with the dogs more in depth as the year goes on. “As the semester moves on they will incorporate other commands that are so important for safety as well such as here, stay, leave it and drop,” Rogers said. “By the end of the semester students are required to have taught the dogs they are working with a minimum of 10 commands. Other commands students can choose from to train their group dog with are shake, roll over, as well as other commands. Students will also spend time working with their dogs on kennel or behavior manners such as being kenneled without howling/barking, allowing themselves to be examined for grooming/health purposes such as having their feet looked at.”
Rogers acknowledged that this program gives the students the opportunity to apply hands-on, all the knowledge they are gaining from the class on animal handling, behavior and health.
“The FFA motto and motto for agricultural education is ‘Learning to do, Doing to learn, Earning to live, and Living to serve,” Rogers said. “This partnership with the Unicoi County Animal Shelter and our grooming program has allowed us to just embrace and encompass that so fully and as a teacher I’ve been really excited about how it’s played out for our students, the shelter, and Unicoi County. Our students are learning to do through our classroom instruction and activities and instruction, doing to learn by working and training with the dogs, earning to live by offering grooming services to the community, and living to serve by spending time volunteering with the animal shelter.”
For UCHS student Haley Peterson, the opportunity to work with the dogs at the shelter is very rewarding.
“I’ve been working with Lucy a 9-10 month old lab mix for about two weeks now. It has taught me patience and how hard work could change someone’s or something’s life,” Peterson said. “I’ve alway liked dogs but working with a puppy that is hyper and that has been through stuff has helped me a lot and has helped Lucy become a well behaved dog and she’s gonna make a wonderful best friend for somebody.”
Fellow UCHS student Caleb Swineheart also feels rewarded after working with the shelter dogs.
“It opened my eyes to how hard it really is to train a dog from the bottom up. It is a fun adventure and really teaches you life lessons,” Swineheart said.
Rogers is very thankful for all the joint effort to make this rewarding class possible.
“I have to give a huge thank you to Kevin King and the employees and volunteers from the shelter for donating their time and efforts to make this opportunity possible for our students as well as our CTE and UCHS administration for allowing us to pursue and get involved in this project, the parents of our students for allowing them to be a part of it, and of course my students themselves for all of their hard work,” Rogers said.
For UCHS student Ashley Honeycutt, the hard work is a labor of love.
“I love working with Kevin, a pitbull puppy mix for two weeks now,” Honeycutt said. “It has helped me realize that every dog is different in their own way, I’ve learned to have patience. Working with dogs can be very hard sometimes but with Kevin it is very easy. He is an intelligent joyful dog and is adorable. Kevin will truly make his owner very happy.”
UCHS student Luke Rogers had a similar experience with Scott.
“I have been working with Scott, what I can only assume is a bulldog and boxer mix, and he is a big ball of energy but is extremely loving of all of his trainers,” Rogers said. “Working with Scott has taught me determination and to not give up even when something may seem hard such as learning to sit.”
For UCHS student Riana Upton, the opportunity to work with Scott has been a great experience.
“My group and I have been working with Scott for the past two weeks and it’s really been a good experience,” Upton said. “It helped me learn more about how to work with dogs along with understanding that every dog has a unique personality and you have to be patient with them. I really enjoy animals and training him has allowed me to learn a lot and enjoy what I’m learning. Scott is a sweet high energy dog and working with him has been a lot of work but also a lot of fun and he is such a good dog and will make an amazing pet for someone in the future.”
Rogers and her class encourage the community to go check out the UCAS and to give the dogs a shot at a forever home.
“Go check out Lucy, Scott, Lakota, Kevin Costner and Harley at the UCAS Animal Shelter,” Rogers said.
Those interested in what Rogers class is up to can follow the Unicoi County FFA on Instagram for updates on their training as well as other student projects and activities. You can also follow UCAS on Facebook for updates on the animals and upcoming events like the Bachelor and Silent Auction, that will be held on Feb. 28, from 6-9 p.m. at the Johnson City Country Club. To reserve a spot, please do so on the UCAS Facebook page.