Puppies and dogs from two local rescue groups were invited to the school to help teach students the significance of caring for a pet.

MIAMI— Nichols Upper Elementary students got a visit from some special furry friends on Friday.

Puppies and dogs from two local rescue groups, Friends of the Miami Animal Control and the Miami Animal Alliance, were invited to the school to help teach students the significance of caring for a pet.

The groups were invited after student council came up with a project idea on how to give back to their community. Nichols began collecting donations for the animal rescue groups including pet food, toys, bedding and other essentials. Student council hung up posters around the school of needed items.

“I sponsor the student council, and we wanted to have a community project this year, so we came up with the animal drive to collect donations to help out the two rescues that we invited,” said Brenda Wright, teacher’s aide. “We didn’t want any money, but it was something that kids could give, even if it was just one can of dog food. I’ve had kids bring in huge bags of food all week. The student council kids were super excited, and they love animals.”

After collecting the items, the school thought it would be helpful for the students to see where their donations were going and the animals it would be impacting. For Wright, it was about educating the students on the significance of taking care of an animal.

“My whole reason behind it all was there’s a huge animal problem, and I feel like all of the rescuing is like a big band-aid,” Wright said. “Of course, those animals need help, but it all starts with education. I hear stories about kids dumping their dog because it chewed up some stuff. I’m thinking, ‘They don’t know.’ I feel like part of the animal problem is just to educate these kids on spaying, neutering and the responsibility of taking care of an animal.”

Wright said the community service project also ties in with Nichol’s after-school program. The students in the program are helping to make dog toys out of t-shirts.

“Our goals after school, they’re going to make dog toys out of t-shirts and it’s really easy,” Wright said. “You cut up a t-shirt, braid it and knot it at the top and bottom. It’s free, inexpensive and the kids learned how to braid. They love making things for animals and they love giving.”

This was the first time the Miami Animal Alliance and Friends of the Miami Animal Control have been invited to a school. The groups said they were honored and thrilled for the opportunity to speak and educate the children on how to care for fur babies.

Wright created a PowerPoint presentation to go along with the speaker’s topics. Amanda Pal, a volunteer for the rescue group Friends of the Miami Animal Control, brought her English Mastiff, Ceasar, with her on stage. The children gasped and laughed in excitement to see a 150-pound dog.

Pal had asked the students “What should you do if you find an abused or neglected animal?” and “What does it mean to abuse or neglect an animal?” The students were eagerly raising their hands and laughing when Ceasar knocked something over with his large tail.

Pal also mentioned the importance of vaccinations, food and how every pet needs a collar and an identification tag. She discussed where to go to have the pets spayed or neutered, which is offered at the Ketcher/Keheley Animal Shelter in Miami.

Different dogs from the rescue group were brought out on stage, including Gertie, a Boxer Australian Shepherd mix. Owner Emily Schertz, 13, is a former Nichols student and was proud to show off her pup.

Schertz brought Gertie on stage where she demonstrated her obedience and agility training.

“I do agility with her, showmanship, obedience and rally,” Schertz said. “I’ve competed in the Ottawa County Fair dog shows and the Tulsa State Fair shows. When I was about 10-years-old, we started rescuing dogs and we went to the pound to take photos of them. We found Gertie there, ended up falling in love with her and adopted her.”

Jena Davidson, a foster parent for the Miami Animal Alliance, described what it means to be an animal foster parent. She has been a foster mom to dogs for approximately eight years and has taken in hundreds of rescues.

“I’m a foster mother, does anybody know what that is?” Davidson said. “I take these babies into my home, and I feed them, love them, take care of them and take them to the vet. Sometimes, I get lots of puppies. You can’t say I’ll take one or two. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”

The rescue groups were happy to share their message to the younger generation and hope to visit more schools in the future.

“It was an amazing visit and I thought it was such a great thing they allowed us to do,” Davidson said. “These kids need to be more aware. They see bad things but they don’t know any different. There are people who can help and we can save these animals.”

“I had a really good time,” Pal said. “The kids were great and I’m hoping they brought home the message that we need to get the dogs spayed or neutered. I’m really excited and hope we get to do it again.”

Wayne Baker, 10, said he learned what to do with stray animals and to always spay or neuter your pets.

“I learned that when you see a stray dog and it doesn’t have a collar, you shouldn’t take it in but take it to an animal shelter,” Baker said. “The animal shelter will take care of it. I also learned that if you abuse an animal, you could go to jail.”

It was safe to say that both the children and the pups were in heaven on Friday. After the presentation, the students waited patiently to pet the dogs, who loved every second of attention and belly scratches.

Kimberly W. Barker is a staff writer for the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at kbarker@miaminewsrecord.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiamiNews_hound.