DANVILLE – A group of Danville High School students hope to provide a safer option for surrendering pets after hours at local animal shelters.
For their project this year, the DHS Future Problem Solvers team is working with area humane societies to install small animal safe haven hutches and to educate the community on the importance of safely relinquishing animals to a shelter.
The project is dubbed P.A.W.S. (People Against Wrongful Surrender): Promoting Safe and Humane Surrender of Pets.
P.A.W.S. is an expansion of DHS senior DJ Barnette’s Eagle Scout project for which he modified a rabbit hutch he found online.
Barnette, who lives in the country, said he hatched the idea for a safe animal shelter after noticing abandoned pets being dumped off in rural areas.
The teen decided to find a solution so he met with the staff at a local animal shelter and discovered the situation was more serious than he initially thought.
“People would drop off pets in the middle of the night, and they would be eaten by coyotes and other predators,” he said. “They either would tie them up or put them in boxes and they couldn’t escape.
“All these dogs and cats are domesticated, so they’re being left defenseless,” he added.
Having hutches at his home for his own rabbits, Barnette knew a hutch-like shelter could be easily maintained and, since the cage part is up off the ground, it could protect small animals from predators.
Barnette’s first safe animal drop-off shelter is being used at Parke-Vermillion Humane Society in Hillsdale, Ind.
“We definitely use it,” shelter manager Brenda Boatwright said. “We check it in the morning and at night before we go home.
“We much rather them put the cats or kittens in there than dump them out,” she said. “It serves its purpose.”
Now the DHS senior has brought his safe animal haven design to the Future Problem Solvers group of which he is captain. DHS’ building and construction classes will build the hutches.
“We have enlisted the DHS woodshop class to help us,” he said.
The Future Problem Solvers hope to begin by installing three or four safe animal havens at local animal shelters. The Vermilion County Animal Shelter on Catlin-Tilton Road is one location that has shown interest in receiving one.
Not only has Barnette expanded his safe animal haven project, but students from other high schools, including Salt Fork and Schlarman, have joined the FPS team.
“We brought different schools together so we can help our community,” he said.
Salt Fork senior Sarah Kedas said, “We have Sen. (Scott) Bennett (D-Champaign) on board. We want to make legislation to make safe surrender of animals a law.
“It gives people another option and makes it a neighborly responsibility,” she said.
A holiday shopping event at Danville High School next week will benefit the DHS Future Problem Solvers and help them to raise money to cover the cost of building materials for the hutches as well as pet food and supplies for local animal shelters.
Vendors are still needed for the Countdown to Christmas event set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, in the DHS Field House.
Vendor booths cost $30 for one spot and $55 for a double booth. DHS Principal Tracy Cherry said vendors will be accepted through Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Shoppers are encouraged to bring pet food and pet supplies to the event for the DHS Student Council’s Giving Tree, which is the central location where all of DHS’ clubs will place their donations to be distributed to various community organizations, such as the St. James United Methodist Church’s food pantry and the Vermilion County Animal Shelter.
In addition to the vendors, the FPS group is organizing a holiday bake sale, door prize giveaway and drawing. A hot tea, coffee and hot chocolate bar also will be available.
A holiday photo booth also will be set up at the event, and the Vermilion County Animal Shelter will bring pets that are available for adoption in its Adopt-a-Pet mobile.
This year’s Future Problem Solver members are DHS senior and captain DJ Barnette, Schlarman sophomore Lauren Barnette, Salt Fork senior Sarah Kedas, DHS sophomores Rebecca Feuerborn, Zaraieah Lillard and Teriana Reed, and DHS juniors Micah Cherry and Caveon McNeal. DHS graduate Kaleb Medina is the college advisory coach.