Lakeshore PAWS wants all ages to be involved with their mission of learning more about dogs and animal rescue. Through their Junior PAWS program, children as young as 5 years old can donate their time to learning more about animals and developing the community and service based skills necessary later on in life.
“It started with lots of families volunteering their time and really enjoying their experience here,” says Junior PAWS coordinator Pam Snow. “There were always comments on how their children or their friend’s children wished they could help out as well. So cofounder Jeanne Sommer asked us to create a program that involved kids, that’s how Junior PAWS was born.”
Junior PAWS currently consists of three kinds of volunteering: the volunteer club, volunteers and outreach. The volunteer club is for children aged 8-16, and meet once a month at the Lakeshore PAWS rescue center. Here they can learn about appropriate dog care and training, participate in hands-on tasks in caring for homeless dogs and enjoying interaction with rescued dogs, giving them the love and attention that they need.
“There’s so many activities that the kids love to do,” says Junior PAWS Coordinator Sarah Bottos. “ They love to fill the Kong toys with peanut butter as well as learning important lessons like dog safety from the American Kennel Club and how to greet a dog.”
Along with dog care, Junior PAWS members also have the opportunity to create dog toys as well as making decorations and putting together dog treat bags to give away at different events.
For groups of children under the age of 18, Junior PAWS volunteers are allowed to organize fund-raising events such as bake sales and car washes, organize donation drives or even act as an ambassador for Lakeshore PAWS by distributing flyers at schools and within their community.
“We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from all the kids who are a part of this,” says Snow. “We thought at first maybe we’d get 10 kids if we were lucky, but has grown to 25 kids and will continue to grow as the year continues.”
“The amount of people who want to be part of this is great,” says Bottos. “I’m constantly getting emails and messages from people who go to our events and want to sign up their kids, cousins and neighbors.”
Junior PAWS outreach is aimed towards adults who visit schools or community youth groups to educate younger people about responsible pet ownership and opportunities available to young people. With the summer ending, and the school year beginning again, the Junior PAWS team is getting ready to continue spreading the word about their event to local schools and high schools.
“We want to reach out to school organizations and let them know that students seeking public service options, there are a variety of ways for them to volunteer here and earn community service recognition,” says Bottos.
Everyone part of the Junior PAWS program hopes to continue gathering new members, but expanding what they do to not only volunteers but to professionals as well.
“We hope to spread the message that this is not just limited to Valpo, but to all of Northwest Indiana,” says Bottos. “We’re hoping to invite different people who are heavily involved in dog rescue and have them show how there are different aspects of dog rescue.”
Along with developing a healthy love and respect for animals, Junior PAWS hopes to develop a love and respect for social service.
“It’s so important to be doing this for children,” says Snow. “We want to show them that service is a way of life and is rewarding in many different ways.”