With a little help from man’s best friend, Lee County, Georgia, 4-H members are learning how to be responsible.
Started a couple of years ago by one Lee County High School 4-H member, the 4-H dog club teaches students how to properly care for dogs and how to responsibly raise one as a pet. Lee County’s University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H Agent Mallory Wise and UGA Extension 4-H educator Jennifer King coordinate the club. They enlist help from the local animal shelter, Humane Society and area volunteers. Approximately 50 students with various pet ownership backgrounds are in the club this year, Wise said.
“A few of the kids who are participating have an interest in dogs, but don’t have them as pets. Most of the kids who have participated have dogs, but they are coming so that they can learn more about them, how to take better care of them, how to train them, that kind of thing,” Wise said.
The group meets during the school year when the 4-H leaders can target programming to affect the most students. One focus of the club meetings involves learning about the different tasks that come with being a pet owner. Some of the students that have participated discuss the impact the club has had on them.
“I enjoy the dog club because I can learn how to take care of a dog, and I learn how to treat dogs,” said Cameron Mills, a fifth grade 4-H member in Lee County.
“It’s really fun. You learn a lot of stuff about dogs and you get to do fun activities,” said Dylan Smith, a seventh grade 4-H member in Lee County.
Wise estimates that around 350 animals are euthanized in the Lee County area each month, at a cost of between $50 and $150 per animal. Many of those animals had owners who, for one reason or another, were no longer able to care for them.
The goal of the dog club is to teach the students that owning a dog comes with responsibility.
“The first meeting this school year, we had somebody from animal control come out and talk to the 4-H’ers about what it means to take care of a dog. A lot of the kids responded and were surprised, like, ‘I didn’t know it was all that extra work,’” Wise said. “The representative talked to them about the responsibilities of being a pet owner. A lot of the kids seemed to learn a lot from that because they heard it from a different person and gained a different perspective.”
The students also learn about a dog’s dietary needs including why they can’t eat chocolate or use toothpaste made for humans. Instead, the students learn to make peanut butter dog treats. The 4-H’er members also learn that simple household items or toys can be harmful for dogs.
“Overall, the response has been pretty positive. The kids want to know more,” Wise said. “They are all interested in continuing this education, doing more for their animals and spreading awareness throughout the community. They are more confident in their abilities to care for their dogs and are exploring options to volunteer in local animal shelters and even pursue careers in animal care.”
For more information about the Lee County Dog Club, contact the Lee County UGA Extension office at 229-759-6025.
(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)