Saturday morning, Junior PAWS gathered to show some love to their furry friends. Youngsters made crafts and treats for homeless dogs at Lakeshore PAWS, the program’s parent organization that rescues homeless animals in need. When the “Puppy Love” meeting concluded, members enjoyed heart-shaped cookies and punch for a job well-done.
The Junior PAWS brings Region kids between the ages of 5-16 together to support homeless dogs and offers them the opportunity to learn more about animal rescue in Northwest Indiana. The volunteers meet once a month and play a vital role in this non-for-profit organization.
“The kids don’t care if it’s picking up trash, folding laundry, or making baggies, they just want to be here,” Junior PAWS Coordinator Sarah Bottos said. “They are passionate about animals, so we are just nurturing what they already have.”
According to Bottos, the dogs residing at Lakeshore PAWS appreciate their younger volunteers. She noted that some dogs are more relaxed with children since they are more their size. In addition, having young visitors helps dogs become more comfortable around kids, which prepares them to be adopted into a young family.
Bottos and Pam Snow created Junior PAWS five years ago after noticing the community’s need for a youth volunteer opportunity. Today, the program has grown, with 20 members coming to the “Puppy Love” meeting.
“It’s amazing that kids want to give up their Saturday morning to do this,” Snow said. “They love it. We created Junior PAWS to teach them about service, compassion, and how to treat animals.”
Cassidy Stewart, Junior PAWS Coordinator, explained the “Puppy Love” meeting was to capture the spirit of Valentine’s Day. The children created a Valentine for each dog’s kennel, a heart-shaped peanut butter treat, and adoption bags, and were even able to spend time petting the dogs.
“We want to make sure that they know that they are all loved,” Stewart said. “That’s what Valentine’s Day is all about—even for the dogs.”
Junior PAWS volunteers cause a lot of wagging tails. She said that while they are walked and get plenty of attention from adult volunteers, there is something special about the joy children bring.
“Some of the dogs don’t have the best stories and some of them weren’t loved like they should have been,” Stewart said. “Having a bunch of kids huddled around and loving them has to be the best feeling.”
Stewart enjoys witnessing the growth in the volunteers as they learn how to help and to interact with the dogs. She said it’s rewarding to dedicate her time to the program, knowing the large impact it makes.
“Our members love learning how to help animals; they are real go-getters. They go above and beyond,” Stewart said. “It’s heartwarming for them, as young people, and they are proud of themselves.”
Jeanne Sommer, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Lakeshore PAWS and Founder of Century 21 Alliance Realty Group, said that Junior PAWS is a huge success, not only for the rescue but also for the entire community.
“It teaches kids that they can be part of the rescue and help they can make the dogs’ stay here more pleasant,” Sommer said. “Kids are our future, so it’s great to have them involved. We are a non-profit that runs on donations, so we appreciate the kids' help and the help of all of our volunteers.”
For more information about Lakeshore PAWS, please visit https://www.lakeshorepaws.org/.