VALDOSTA -- A group of preteens gathered at the Humane Society of Valdosta/Lowndes County Tuesday afternoon for a relaxed discussion about animals.

The Valdosta Middle School students are members of the nonprofit organization's Junior Humane Society Peer Educators group. It's an after-school initiative designed to address the humane treatment of animals.

Theresa Collins, executive director, said the students have been meeting every other week since March 15. Topics covered include proper pet care, dog safety, the importance of spaying and neutering, rabies facts and the prevention of animal cruelty, she said.

"(We are) teaching the students how to be peer educators so that they can go out and teach their peers how to treat animals humanely," she said.

Collins said the Junior Humane Society Peer Educators group was facilitated by the Valdosta-Lowndes County Recreation, Parks and Community Affairs Department. She said it was an opportunity the Humane Society of Valdosta/Lowndes County had only dreamed about before.

"(We) have been talking about having a humane education program for a while," she said. "(But) we have lacked the resources and the people to develop and facilitate the program. Counselors from the Craig Center approached us and asked if the kids could come here to volunteer or for an after-school program. Nationally, there are humane education programs. Eventually, we are planning to take a humane education program into all of the schools."

Each of the Valdosta Middle School students participating in the Junior Humane Society Peer Educators group are part of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Recreation, Parks, and Community Affairs Department's 3 O'Clock Project.

Christi Bryant, 12, seventh grade, said she joined the group because she wanted "to learn more about animals and how to treat them better." The dog and rabbit owner said she looks forward to sharing her knowledge with others.

Marianne Northrop and Sharon Knowles, Humane Society of Valdosta/Lowndes County volunteers, work with the group on a regular basis. Northrop said she has been impressed with the students' responsiveness and eagerness to learn.

"They are a great group to work with," she added.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call (229) 244-3400, ext. 255.

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