By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY June 6, 2003 Maxine licks Ashley Argents chin like theyve been best friends for life.
Any stop in the action at dog obedience training at Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the young beagle crawls into her buddys arms and laps up the attention.
But Argent, a 17-year-old from Liberty, just met Maxine a few weeks ago. She only spends an hour or two with the pup on Monday nights then the cuddly canine goes back to her home at the Glen Wild Animal Rescue shelter.
Maxine is one of a number of shelter dogs who get out for a night on the town each Monday thanks to some 4-H kids from across Sullivan County.
The teens, aged 13-16, gather at the extension building each week for dog obedience, a class that teaches them about animal science and prepares these lovable mutts for adoption one day.
The shelters head, Liz Keller, started teaching obedience courses to kids several years ago, working with Cornell Cooperative to provide helpful hints to families with new pups.
I noticed kids seemed very self-conscious with their own pets, Keller recalled.
But not every kid is lucky enough to have their own dog, she said, and the dogs at the Glen Wild facility need some extra tender loving care.
It was a perfect fit.
Two years ago, the 4-H program paired up with Kellers shelter in a pilot program thats catching on across the state.
The premise is simple. Match a child with a dog, and work from there.
Its really rewarding, said Kristine Lewis, a 15-year-old from the Tri-Valley school who was paired up with Moss, a retriever with a heart (and fur) of gold.
Hopefully hell find a new home, she added, wistfully staring at her new friend and casting eyes at her mom in hopes of taking the pup home.
Lewis is in 4-H and heard about the obedience training through the extension. Like many other students in the class, shes fallen in love with her newfound friend.
Heather Bellock is a dog fanatic.
What does she like about the program?
Everything, she said, the dogs, helping them, just everything.
Bellock, a Sullivan West student, used to have a pup at home, but he disappeared. Now shes itching to bring home Tara, a 6-month-old black and white boxer whos stuck close to her side at each class.
Also a 4-H member, Bellock has found herself working with new kids kids she never met before.
The program was opened to existing 4-H members and advertised in the newspaper to draw in new members who might just bring home a dog.
The shelter animals need help, Keller said. Obedience-trained dogs get adopted faster.
So far, 16 shelter dogs have made it through the program many have been handed off successfully to new owners happy to have a well-behaved friend to join their family.
And its helped the 4-H children as well.
The kids love it, said Laurie Smith, head of the 4-H program. Theyre learning about animal science.
And humane education is a big focus in the schools right now, and its something we want to bring in.
The pilot program has caught on, and other counties in New York State have been calling Smith for tips to get their own projects off the ground.
So far, the longtime 4-Hers and kids who are new to the program have been having a blast with the pooches.
Amanda DeGroat of Loch Sheldrake read about the program in the newspaper, and as a dog lover decided to sign up to help. She was immediately paired with Jeter, a dog rescued from the Bronx and named after the boroughs favorite shortstop.
Hes active, she said with a laugh, trying to calm the bouncy dog. Hes very energetic!
But working closely with the pup has been fun, she added.
As for Argent and Maxine, well, the 17-year-old isnt looking forward to leaving her furry friend.
At least I know theyll get to a better home this way, she said.
To get involved or sponsor a childs participation in the class, call Smith at 292-6180. To adopt any of the animals at Glen Wild Animal Rescue, call 434-7191.