By Denise Dick
Mason, a 140-pound English mastiff, lumbered into classrooms at Kirkmere Elementary School providing a real-life element to the lessons of animal care.
Students from the health program at Choffin Career and Technical Center presented animal-safety skits to the young children. This marks the 10th anniversary of the Choffin program, which was written by Stella Camuso, Choffin’s health-magnet coordinator, and the late Jean Kelty, founder of Animal Charity.
“Mason lives in a house with his human family,” Camuso told the children. “He’s neutered so he can’t help make any puppies that nobody wants.”
Mason belongs to Mandi Musser of Canfield, who accompanied her giant pet to the school, allowing children to pet him.
“That’s a horse,” one of the Kirkmere children said as the dog sauntered into a classroom.
“Animals aren’t mean,” Camuso said. “They’re only mean if somebody makes them mean.”
Choffin student Mariah Caban said the program focuses on the importance of spaying and neutering and proper animal care. She believes it gets the point across.
Camuso said the program includes face painting for the children, cookies and coloring books. A poster contest caps off the presentation.
“A week later, they’re still thinking about it because we have them do posters about it and they get it,” she said. The posters are judged by Choffin’s art department.
Tianna Shannon, another Choffin student, said the program also teaches the kids how to feed their pets.
“You can’t give them people food,” she said. “We talk about what kind of shelter they need.”
If an animal is kept outside, it needs proper shelter.
“And you can’t use blankets; you should use straw,” Tianna said.
Instruction also covered pet grooming, she said.
“Most of our students got into health fields working with humans,” Camuso said. “This gives our students the opportunity to be a voice for the voiceless. Anytime you make the world a better place for animals, you make it a better place for humans.”
Nikole Baringer, chief executive officer of Animal Charity, said it’s important to teach young children about proper animal care.
“They are the ones who are going to grow up and own dogs,” she said.
If they know how to treat animals, they’re more likely to report cases of animal abuse and cruelty if they see it, Baringer said.