Poetry + Perseverance = Making a Mutt-i-grees® Difference in Oklahoma
Mutt-i-grees® poets from the Curtis Inge Middle School, in Noble, Okla., stepped to the microphone last October to share their innermost thoughts and hopes about the pets in their lives. The results? Tears, cheers, and pie.
As the stars of the second annual “Pets, Pies, and Poetry Reading,” which was held at the Norman Animal Welfare Center, in nearby Norman, Okla., the students, pictured below, expressed an impressive range of experience, empathy, and love in their poems, all written as part of the school’s MUTTS Club/ Poetry Animal Club.
According to math teacher Denise Swarowsky, the school’s MUTTS Club adviser, more than 100 friends and family members attended the outdoor reading, devoured the donated homemade pies, and afterward toured the shelter.
By the end of the day, 13 cats and three dogs went home with responsible, loving families, who were no doubt inspired by the young poets’ earnest sentiments. “My favorite part of the event,” says Denise, “was watching the kids and parents playing and holding the shelter animals for hours after the event. It was a great family bonding experience for everyone — and great socialization for the Mutt-i-grees.”
Denise’s partner in organizing the poetry reading is Kim Fairbanks, president of Hands Helping Paws, Inc., a nonprofit cat rescue group in Norman where Denise also volunteers. Kim frequently brings cats and kittens to Denise’s classroom to tell the students about pet care, spay/neuter, and what it means not only to love a pet, but also to be a responsible pet guardian. Besides working with Curtis Inge Middle School, Kim takes her group’s mascot, a handsome Tuxedo feline named Weaver, to elementary schools and pre-schools in the Noble/Norman area, where Weaver has become something of a celebrity.
Together, Denise and Kim are driving home the message about pet overpopulation and the need to adopt. In fact, Denise’s students have raised $1,500 by mowing lawns, setting up lemonade stands, and babysitting, all to help fund a Spay Day later this spring — and it wasn’t easy. Noble is poorer than most school districts in Oklahoma and one of many that, due to drastic budget cuts, are now operating on a four-day schedule. In Noble, for example, one principal oversees two elementary schools to avoid hiring a second administrator, and the district superintendent also works bus duty.
During the past eight years, Oklahoma has cut education funding per student more than any other state in the country, forcing teachers to cover all the required testing and teaching in just four days per week. Nevertheless, Denise believes so strongly in the value of humane education, especially for the students in her district, that she manages to work the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum into her busy math classes. And the kids love it.
“Not long ago, I had my students collect data and generate the percentages of pets at the Norman animal center based on gender, age, and breed. We found out that Pit Bulls between the ages of 1 month and 2 years make up the greatest percentage at the shelter. Male and females were about the same. Well,” she adds, “it turns out that one of my 6th graders, Makayla, went with her family and adopted one of the Pit Bulls she 'met' while doing her classwork. They named the dog Brownie. I was absolutely thrilled! And Makayla told me that Brownie got more Christmas presents this year that she did.”
Denise (at left, with her Calico Mutt-i-gree Shea Shea) also reports that several of her students go online and get information and photos of cats or dogs waiting for homes at the Norman Animal Welfare Center. “Then they make flyers to pass out in the community,” says Denise. “And I always have their parents sign off on their work so they know about our efforts for pets, too.”
Kim is equally dedicated to educating her community about adoption. Right now she’s organizing the Second Annual Animal Welfare Expo on March 25 at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman, which Hands Helping Paws will host. Denise’s MUTTS Club students will be on hand to volunteer their services and cover their Mutt-i-grees information table. (Kim will provide us with details and updates as the big day approaches.)
A Mutt-i-grees shelter, Hands Helping Paws, Inc., promotes animal welfare by providing elements for a no-kill community, including feral cat trap-neuter-return (TNR), spay/neuter resources, rescue of adoptable animals, foster care, adoption programs, pet retention resources, medical and behavior rehabilitation, public relations, education and referrals, community involvement, volunteer and leadership opportunities, and fundraising activities.