September 20, 2004
Volume 57, Number 05
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September 20 , 2004
Pooches find foster family at Oxford
By ERIC RANGUS
The newest on-campus residence at Oxford College has a lovely view of the forest behind Williams Gym. Its pristine wooden fence surrounds a spacious backyard. In the corner of the yard is a picnic table. While the residence itself may not be large (just 64 square feet), what it lacks in roominess it more than makes up in comfort and tender loving care.
Like the other on-campus residences at Oxford, it has been unoccupied over the summer, but come Sept. 24 two new residents will arrive. When they see their new digs, they should react like any other new tenant.
They’ll wag their tails.
The POOCH Palace is an 8-by-8-foot shed constructed and maintained by Oxford students as a foster care facility for adoptable dogs rescued by Pound Puppies and Kittens, a local nonprofit, animal-rescue organization.
The idea of POOCH (Pets of Oxford Community Hotline) began several years ago in the mind of Sandi Schein, director of Oxford’s Counseling Center. The owner of two adopted dogs herself (including one she found on the Oxford campus), Schein saw an immediate need to deal with the many stray dogs that roamed the campus and surrounding area.
“When I was first hired, I heard stories about dogs being dumped here because this is a rural community,” Schein said. “It’s not uncommon for dogs not to be spayed or neutered, and there are different attitudes here than in the city, where there are leash laws.”
Schein finally was able to act on this idea in 2002, when she found an abandoned puppy—she thought he was a black lab mix at the time; he actually was a pit bull mix—on the railroad tracks and took him in. Her own dogs didn’t take to the new resident, though, so Schein moved him to Oxford.
Utilizing a donated crate Schein set up the pup—whom she named Buddy—in Oxford’s maintenance shed. He was a bit loud, so Buddy eventually moved to a larger pen outside the maintenance shed, also donated. It was covered by a tarp, but that became severely damaged after a storm.
Buddy was the first POOCH member, although at time the program was more a renegade concept than anything else. Students took turns walking, feeding and caring for him. Finally in March 2003, he was placed in a home, and Schein, along with several others in the Oxford community, were inspired to do more.
Schein teamed with another animal lover, Gayle Doherty, associate professor of physical education and dance at Oxford, and they drew up a plan to create POOCH. It was presented in fall 2003, and while there were legitimate concerns over health, safety and aesthetics, there was strong support from students, and Dean Dana Greene supported the idea.
“We are deeply grateful to Dean Greene,” Schein said. “She gave POOCH her official stamp of approval. To do so, I imagine, she viewed POOCH, first and foremost, as a benevolent service to the communities of Oxford College and Newton and Rockdale counties.”
The POOCH idea—that the Oxford community could serve as a foster home for two unwanted pets at a time until they were adopted—passed with several guidelines. Dogs had to be spayed and neutered; they would be chosen by Pound Puppies and would be adoptable breeds or mixes; the dogs wouldn’t be allowed in any buildings; they would have to be walked on the outskirts of campus; and their keepers would have to clean up after them.
So, after its unconventional start, POOCH is now supported by Oxford’s Student Government Association. Like any other club, it has a budget and student executive board. Schein and Doherty serve as faculty advisers.
“This is the best thing I’ve done in terms of service, ever, really,” Doherty said.
Next came facilities. Dogs couldn’t live in a cage or crate, so a suitable home would have to be built. Several students had connections with Cobb County Habitat for Humanity, and they secured building materials; the remainder was purchased, the price covered by fundraisers. Doherty’s husband Jim, who has a master’s degree in craft design and currently builds museum exhibits for the Carter Presidential Library, signed on to direct the project.
Over the course of more than two months, the student laborers built a shed and a wooden fence in a grassy area adjacent to Williams Gym, well out of the way of foot traffic but still easily accessible. Inside the shed, they worked hard to create a home: pawprints painted on the walls and floor leashes, towels, toys and a doggie door to the backyard.
Like any other home, this year will see some renovations. Students will build stoops in the front and back, as well as a bathing area for the dogs.
Periodically during their stay, dogs will be taken to the PetsMart in Conyers to meet with prospective owners. While the goal is to find homes for each dog, the POOCH pups will rotate frequently. Schein said that if dogs are only on campus for a few weeks, it is less likely for students to become attached to them.
The program has been successful and is still growing. Last spring, POOCH hosted five dogs; four have been adopted and the fifth may return to campus this semester. Buddy, too, even returns to campus on occasion to visit with the campus family that helped raise him.
The dogs are not the only ones who benefit from POOCH. The program provides great opportunities to improve student welfare, especially for those students with dogs. “In caring for pets, students learn to be accountable, to manage time, to coordinate and share responsbility, and to negotiate needs and values with others,” Schein said.
“I missed my animals at home,” said Chrissy Mattuci, a junior business major from Marietta and POOCH president last year as an Oxford sophomore. She helped design the program as well. “Spend-ing time with the dogs is good stress relief. They are happy to see you no matter what.”
Volunteering for POOCH requires a legitimate commitment from the students. Inside the palace is a sign-in sheet, where students must verify that the dogs have been walked, watered and fed.
“This idea has just blossomed,” Schein said. “There were people in this community who really adopted POOCH as their passion. They were devoted to bringing the idea to fruition, and what happened next was just incredible.”