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Meet the 2016/17 National Mutt-i-grees Student Ambassadors

They range in age from 7 to 17. They hail from California, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma. The group includes 11 young women and 3 young men. And when you do the math, they’ve already racked up a collective 30 years of volunteer service, mostly in animal welfare.

They’re clearly getting a head start on changing the world, and we happily welcome them to the ranks of our elite and accomplished Student Ambassadors. You’ll learn more about them and their MUTTS* Clubs in the coming months, but here are a few words of introduction. We’ve listed them in alphabetical order.

* What’s MUTTS? MUTTS is an acronym for Motivated Understanding Thoughtful Teenage Students. It was coined by a group of middle school students in Arkansas who founded the first MUTTS Club. The name became so popular that Mutt-i-grees students now use it across the country. Members of the original MUTTS Club continued to work for shelter pets until this past May, when they graduated from high school. We’re confident they’ll find new ways to help Mutt-i-grees in the years ahead.

Our Formidable Fourteen!

Myleen Acevedo, age 7, 2nd grader, Fenton Charter Leadership Academy, Sun Valley, Calif. “I am interested in helping others who have less than me…This year I will be a leader of the Kindness Crew…to help spread kindness [at] my school.” Toni Frear, counselor at Fenton, says that while Myleen is spreading kindness, she’ll wear a Mutt-i-grees t-shirt as a beacon to other students.

Jimmy Carpio Castro, age 12, 8th grader, Middle School 88, Brooklyn, N.Y. School librarian Kyra Wolfe says that Jimmy became interested in Mutt-i-grees after a group of pups from Animal League America visited his school. Already a campus leader, Jimmy has five goals in mind for the upcoming year, including helping one or two puppies find responsible, loving homes with MS 88 staff or students.

Tabitha Comear, age 13, 8th grader, Schuyler-Colfax Middle School, Wayne, N.J. “My main goal for MUTTS Club this year is to create a donation drive for the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, N.J. This will help my peers and others raise awareness for animals…and help out the shelter tremendously.”

Jennifer Costa, Age 13, Volunteer at Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Norwalk, Conn. Jennifer already had five years’ experience as a volunteer when she began her association last year with Stepping Stones Museum, where she is now part of the Youth Enrichment at Stepping Stones (YES2) Program. “I adore dogs and I want to spend more time making a difference in their lives. Volunteering and working side by side with other teenagers who share similar interests is rewarding. I believe that only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

Ragan Fletcher, age 17, 11th grader, Bixby Central Intermediate School, Bixby, Okla. A three-year veteran of the Ambassador program, Ragan continues to develop new ideas and strategies to help pets and kids in her community. As president of her MUTTS Club, Ragan is planning a pet supply drive for the Tulsa Humane Society, as well as a school field trip to the shelter. She’s also noticed that a lot of kids are interested in becoming veterinarians, so she’s arranging a club visit to a clinic to help them learn more about the profession. She’ll continue to participate in local events publicizing shelter adoption, including Read Across America.

Kennedy Fritzen, age 13, 8th grader, Curtis Inge Middle School, Noble, Okla. Kennedy is a member of the school’s MUTTS Club/Animal Poetry Club, which encourages members to express their feelings about their pets and other animals. Kennedy and her family have three rescue dogs, Bubble Gum, Danger, and Jake. She was recently appointed “Captain” of the upcoming Kitten Bowl IV Party at the Norman, Okla., Animal Welfare Center. In addition, Kennedy will be a MUTTS Club Shelter Buddies Reading leader. In March, she’ll volunteer at the Animal Welfare Expo, organized by a local cat rescue group, Hands Helping Paws, Inc. “With storm season approaching in Oklahoma,” says Kennedy, “I will reach out to my community and invite them to the Expo to have their pets microchipped and obtain free tags.” Kennedy is a member of the National Honors Society and has a 4.0 GPA in the Gifted and Talented Program. She is also co-captain of the Noble cheerleading squad.

Savannah Fritzen, age 12, 6th grader, Curtis Inge Middle School, Noble, Okla. Like her sister, Kennedy, Savannah is a member of the school’s MUTTS Club/Animal Poetry Club, which encourages members to express their feelings about their pets and other animals. Last October, she took part in the club’s Pets, Pies, and Poetry Reading held at the Norman Animal Welfare Center. She’s looking forward to being a leader of the MUTTS Club Shelter Buddies Reading Program, recruiting more MUTTS Club members, and planning activities and collecting supplies for the club’s monthly meetings at the Norman shelter. She’ll also volunteer at the Animal Welfare Expo in March where she and other club members will have an information table. “I want to let people know about the MUTTS Club and what we do at school and in the community.” A 4.0 GPA students in the Gifted and Talented Program, Savannah loves spending time with the family’s three rescue dogs, Bubble Gum, Danger, and Jake.

Eve (Stevie) Guevara, age 13, Volunteer at Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Norwalk, Conn. As a young equestrian, Stevie volunteered to help care for the horses at her riding academy and also assisted younger riders, where she learned “a lot about how to deal with kids and their specific needs around animals.” She also volunteered at an animal shelter and last summer and became a volunteer with the Youth Enrichment at Stepping Stones (YES2) Program. “I would like to give kids who visit the museum more personal training and introduce them more to the shelter world to show them that dogs with disabilities or who went through a bad time in life can be loving companions.”

Lili Kolton-Shaffer, age 12, 8th grader, Stephen Gaynor School, New York, N.Y. With three years of animal activism on her resume, Lili has a deep and detailed understanding of the needs of shelter pets locally and around the world. She’s involved with various school clubs related to animal rescue and helped raise more than $15,000 for animals in the past year. Her empathy has boosted her self-confidence and helped her overcome shyness. “Shelter dogs, especially breeds like Pit Bulls, are often misunderstood and ignored and left behind,” she says. “People with learning differences can feel the same way. So you can say there is a special relationship between animals and people who have similar struggles.”

Mateo Levin, age 13, 8th grader, Stephen Gaynor School, New York, N.Y. Mateo is so passionate about shelter adoption that he recently persuaded a schoolmate’s family to adopt a dog rather than buy one. He told them about puppy mills and helped them search online to find the exact dog they were thinking of buying. Mateo is enrolled in a humane education service-learning program at his school and has already taken part in adoption events with Animal League America. Dedicated, creative, and enthusiastic, Mateo wants to start a talk show on YouTube focused on humane education. “I hope to have guests of all species and ages,” he says.

Victoria McCaffrey, age 14, Volunteer at Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Norwalk, Conn. Victoria has volunteered with the Youth Enrichment at Stepping Stones (YES2) Program for three years and is the leader of the museum’s MUTTS Club. She handles a wide range of tasks, including reading dog-themed stories to the young museum visitors. A strong advocate for adoption, Victoria wants to get her high school cross-country team to practice running with local shelter dogs. She also wants to introduce the Mutt-i-grees program to the larger community.

McKinney (Mac) Meek, age 15, 9th grader, Paul Blazer High School, Ashland, Ky. Mac has been involved with Mutt-i-grees for several years, and in middle school taught the Curriculum to younger children. For the past two years, he’s been the leader in one of the Curriculum’s most active organizations, the Mutt-i-grees/AARF (Ashland Animal Rescue Fund) Teen Council, which has staged many events to educate the community and benefit the local no-kill shelter. Mac was part of a successful adoption event when Animal League America’s Tour For Life® visited Ashland this past spring, and he recently took part in an Ashland-to-New York humane relocation transport, helping prepare dogs and cats for their second chance on Long Island. This year, he plans to expand the teen council’s role in humane relocation and, he says, “develop more ways to raise awareness of the ongoing need to support animal rescue.”

Julissa Ortez, age 10, 5th grader, Fenton STEM Academy, Sun Valley, Calif. “Julissa cares about animals and people,” says counselor Toni Frear. “She chose the runt of a litter and saved him. She takes good care of her dog, Coco by feeding him, making sure her has his shots, and preparing a comfy bed. Julissa also exhibits empathy for her peers.”

Juthi Roy, age 13, 8th grader, Middle School 88, Brooklyn, N.Y. “Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always volunteered,” writes Juthi. In fact, as a 5th grader Juthi won an award for her volunteer work from the State of New York. A self-described “huge animal lover,” Juthi recognizes the strong link between kids and animals and hopes to put that connection to work. “Dogs…teach people responsibility and empathy,” she says.

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