A group of youngsters got their hands dirty, learned important lessons about animal welfare and got to see the fruits of their fundraising efforts during a visit last week to the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown.
Through a field trip sponsored by the Columbia Association, approximately 40 elementary school students went to the nonprofit no-kill shelter Monday to tour the facility and volunteer for the day.
The students took advantage of a day off from school to clear debris and perform gardening duties on the 365-acre campus, then enjoyed a meet-and-greet with animals.
"It's terrific," said Wendy Goldband, a spokeswoman for the shelter, who guided the children on their visit. "We love for people to come here and learn about what we do."
Through the Columbia Association's annual Ten Cents for the Environment Project, children collected dimes and raised close to $400, which will go toward providing for the care and feeding of Kana, a dog, and Shimmer, a rabbit — adoptable animals who are living at the center.
The facility houses approximately 200 dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals at a time.
Goldband said that because of the no-kill policy, there is often a waiting list for the shelter to accept new animals. Some dogs and cats at the facility have been there for years, she said.
Compared to other shelters, "there's not as much a sense of urgency" to move animals out, she told the students.
Humane Society staff educated the students about treating pets with respect, and about the need to spay and neuter pets as a means to help prevent large populations of homeless animals.
Chase Truitt, 10, a fifth-grader at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Baltimore, said he has four dogs at home. Truitt, who has family in Columbia, said he was excited to go along on the Columbia Association trip to learn ways to better care for his pets.
"I think you have to remember that they are part of your family," he said.
Shirley Barber, a program director with the Columbia Association, said it's good for the students to engage in community service.
"They loved cleaning up," Barber said. "Now they know they can help out while still having a good time."
"We're a small group, and we don't get much help from outside sources," Goldband said. "So we really rely on volunteers to help keep [the space] up.'
Logan Fawns, a 9-year-old fourth-grade student at Swansfield Elementary School in Columbia, said she is happy to help the animals.
"I really like seeing the cats and dogs so happy," said Logan, who brought small toys to give to the animals.
Goldband said the shelter, which doesn't receive financial assistance from Baltimore City, Baltimore County or the state, depends on donations — and occasional youth labor — to keep it running.
"This is a happy, beautiful place," she said. "And we want to make sure it stays that way."