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Whitlow kids collect coins for canines
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Carly Ingram connects with Lucky, a dog in the Canine Assistants, during a recent visit to Whitlow Elementary. Students collected money to donate to the organization, which provides trained dogs for disabled children and adults. - photo by Jennifer Sami

For two weeks, students at Whitlow Elementary School collected pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

Wednesday, the students got to experience firsthand what their efforts went toward, as they walked into a room of fluffy and friendly Labradors and golden retrievers.

The kids recently collected about $1,000 for the Coins for Canine program. The money benefits Canine Assistants, an organization that trains and donates service dogs to children and adults in need.

“There are a lot of kids that were stuck at home and couldn’t come to school ... and these dogs help change that,” said Lysa Gazza, a volunteer with the organization.

“We have a lot of kids in this area that are on our waiting list, so it’s important for the kids to realize that these dogs can change lives.”

The collection was timed to coincide with Exceptional Children’s week which ran through March 4.

“We thought it would be great to do [then],” said Sharon Hamilton of the school’s PTA. “We’re showing the dogs and educating children on what they do and how they serve children with disabilities.

“We’re hoping more of Forsyth County schools will help run this program for Canine Assistants. The children just love these dogs and they respond so greatly to them and just learn so much about what they do.”

Wednesday, the students got to meet Sirius, Sams, Rita, Dora and Lucky . They were shown a video and watched a demonstration of how the dogs respond to more than 90 commands.

These dogs are trained to do whatever is needed, including opening doors, carrying books, pulling wheelchairs and, in one case, moving laundry from the washing machine to the dryer.

The dogs come at no cost to the recipient, though they are valued at more than $25,000, Gazza said.

“We take care of the dogs for the lifetime of the dog and we pay for recipients to come in for a two-week camp,” she said.

The nonprofit organization relies heavily on corporate supporters, but recently started branching out into schools.

“As far as getting help from the community, this is our first time to bat on it,” Gazza said. “A lot of people don’t really know that we’re there and we have about 1,000 people on our waiting list, so we’re desperately in need.”

The Milton-based organization has about 1,000 service dogs in use and gives out about 90 a year.

There are a few students in Forsyth County that are on the waiting list, Gazza said.

“It’s based on need, not on the waiting list. The more you need a dog, and the more that dog can really change your life, that’s how we decide,” she said.

“We see these dogs change their lives.”