Looking to address extreme overpopulation in local shelters and neglect in the area, Lauren Bronson helped form Pet Awareness Week for Students, or PAWS.

Alongside Bronson was Steve West, Vanessa Chavez and Rob Hopkins from Leadership Bakersfield class of 2016 to develop the project in one year’s time. The group was tasked to create a community project and came to the idea of organizing a program that would bring responsibility to the lives of young children, as well as enhance the lives of animals.

The responsible pet program is geared toward elementary-school-aged children, specifically third-graders.

“Lesson plans and materials are all provided to the teachers; the curriculum meets the standards of the state in reading and math,” explained Patricia Irwin-Boles, founder of H.A.L.T. Rescue and a current member of the PAWS team.

They created a core curriculum-based four-day lesson plan that culminates into a fifth-day assembly. It entails visual aids and key points learned from the lesson plans given to the teacher. The assembly is hosted by KRAB Radio DJ and current member of the PAWS team Danny Spanks; Kern County Animal Control Officer Heidi Salinas; a local furry, actually it’s just 21-year-old Zachary Ringle dressed up in a dog costume; and Bambi, a rescue dog.

PAWS first started as a partnership with H.A.L.T. Rescue, a foster-based dog rescue that has been opened since 2008. H.A.L.T. has played an integral part in the success of PAWS, carrying the program forward into the 2016/2017 school year, expanding into six schools with the hope of taking the program into an impactful 2017/2018 school year.

“An important piece of the project was continuity … and now PAWS is 100 percent completely absorbed by H.A.L.T.,” said Bronson.

According to the PAWS website, its mission is “to impart respect and empathy toward animals while teaching the importance of responsible pet ownership to elementary school students. Our long-term vision is to help foster a cultural shift in our community’s concern for animal welfare, ultimately reducing neglect and the number of animals in Kern County shelters.”

To raise funds, PAWS teamed up with Ridgeview High School photography teacher Claire Miller and her students and created a student-for-student project, a PAWS calendar featuring local pets. Photos and the design of the calendar were completely done by students of Miller’s photography class. The calendars will be on sale from now until March for $20. All proceeds will go to bringing PAWS to classrooms.

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