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Noel Vaughan reaches out to pet Spanky the miniature horse Monday in the Bryant Elementary School music room. Spanky and fellow miniature horse Peanut visited the school as part of a Windchill Legacy outreach presentation about caring for animals. (Maria Lockwood)

Students get lesson in pet care, respect

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Aretha Franklin isn’t the only lady who stresses “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” With the help of two sidekicks, Polly Niemi is giving new meaning to the letters for Superior students. 

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The letters stand for things all pets need — room, eating, safe, people, exercise, clean (and cost) and time.

Monday, Niemi spoke to Jennifer Helenius’ and Julie Milroy’s second-grade classes at Bryant Elementary school. Using pictures of local animals, personal stories and two miniature horses, she encouraged the kids to treat animals with respect.

“This message is a very positive one,” said Niemi, a member of the Windchill Legacy, a nonprofit.

The stars of the show were Spanky and Peanut. When the miniature horses walked into the school music room, smiles lit the students’ faces.

“I do believe that students are very impressionable — and Julie and I are complete animal lovers,” said Helenius. “So we just might have opened up the hearts of some of our students just a bit more toward loving animals.”

The second graders held a “Pennies for Paws” fundraiser for the Humane Society of Douglas County over the holiday season. In addition to giving, the children put together a display featuring animals available for adoption, adapted a traditional holiday tune to feature “Santa Paws” and “Santa Claws” and were visited by canines who found forever homes despite having a rough start in life.

“They have learned to have more compassion and respect for animals this school year, which has been so endearing to watch,” Helenius said. “The Humane Society Fundraiser around Christmas time did start the process of learning for them, and yes, this presentation was a nice way to cement their beliefs and knowledge of caring for and respecting animals, pets.”

For Niemi, the outreach is the result of more than a year and a half of work with the two horses — registered therapy animals. They gave their first presentation three weeks ago, with their hooves encased in tennis shoes (dog shoes for the 13-year-old Spanky, Build-A-Bear shoes for 7-year-old Peanut).

“I think they’re doing awesome,” Niemi said. It’s been about two years since the Windchill Legacy has offered miniature horse outreach. Previous programs focused on Windchill, a 9-month-old colt rescued from an icy field where he was frozen to the ground.

This one stresses how people should care for animals.

“It’s a whole new message, upbeat, positive and extremely educational,” Niemi said.

Eventually, she would like to bring the minis to area nursing homes for visits, as well. But she’s focusing on elementary school presentations right now.

“We’re happy to come teach children about animals,” Niemi said. Teachers interested in setting up a free presentation for the summer or upcoming school year can contact Niemi at 715-398-5299 or sign up through www.thewindchilllegacy.org, under the outreach tab.

In the wake of the May 31 rescue of nearly two dozen neglected animals from a Foxboro residence, the message is a timely one. According to Sheila Keup, executive director of the Humane Society of Douglas County, all the animals surrendered are holding their own. The horses, however, will need months of recovery. A veterinarian who examined the animals said at least three of the horses showed signs of starvation.

Dogs rescued from the property are getting healthier, and Keup is putting together a list of people interested in adopting them “so we can have people ready when they’re ready.”

She’s also hoping someone will come adopt three South American rodents called degu rescued from the home. They are soft, social and like to nestle near your neck, Keup said.

Money is needed to care for the animals, in particular the horses. Donations can be dropped off in person or mailed to the Humane Society of Douglas County, 3302 Humane Society Road, South Range, WI, 54874, donated at National Bank of Commerce or by PayPal. A link to the PayPal account is located on the society’s Facebook page.

The Windchill Legacy is matching donations made to the humane society through their website, as well.

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