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Four kids sit around a University student.

Elementary school children, assisted by University of Minnesota vet student Abigail Cumpton (center), learn about dog safety skills through coloring books.

U students teach children animal safety

By Mariah Carroll

From eNews, June 8, 2006

Each year, dogs bite more than four million people, and 800,000 dog-bite injuries are severe enough to require medical attention. More than half of the victims who receive medical attention are children, and most are bitten in the face. The attacking dog usually belongs to the victim's family, a friend, or a neighbor. For children, dog bites now cause more emergency room visits than any other activity except for playing baseball and softball.

"This is a serious problem, and the veterinary community should play a role in animal safety," says Dr. Rebecca McComas, an assistant clinical professor with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

Last year, McComas established a dog-bite prevention program for local elementary schools in a partnership with the University's Career and Community Learning Center. As a part of the CVM professional skills course, freshman veterinary students organize and deliver an hour-long dog-bite prevention course to the elementary school students. BARK (Be Aware, Responsible and Kind), a dog-bite prevention program produced by the Humane Society Press, provides the lesson book and activities.

Tips to help prevent dog bites

* Spend time with a dog before you decide to buy or adopt it

* Never leave infants or small children alone with a dog

* Never try to pet a dog that's in a car, behind a fence, or tied up

* Don't play aggressive games with dogs

* If a dog knocks you over, roll into a ball and lie still

* Don't disturb a sleeping, eating, or nursing dog

* Avoid direct eye contact with a dog

Source: College of Veterinary Medicine

The veterinary students show a video about animal safety, role-play with the children, fill out worksheets, give coloring books to the students, and leave a poster for the classroom. The teacher then provides McComas with feedback about the CVM students' performance that is used to enhance their communication skills.

Each year, about 500 students from 20 elementary schools participate in the program, which is funded by a $4,300 grant from the U's Council on Public Engagement.

"The program tests the veterinary students' organizational skills and provides experience with young people and an opportunity to practice their public speaking," says McComas. "The children learn the importance of animal safety." The feedback on both ends has been "very positive," she adds. McComas continues to receive letters from the elementary school teachers thanking her for offering the program. In one letter, McComas was told "the [second graders] enjoyed the visit from the dog, too."

Help for the pooch

The College of Veterinary Medicine's Animal Behavior Service offers diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options for pet behavioral problems. Destructive and unruly behaviors are common reasons people seek help for their dogs. Failure to use a litter box and aggression are the most frequent complaints among cat owners. To learn more, see Animal Behavior Service.