Meredith Course Aims to Help Local Pets Find Homes

Meredith College summer class “Who Let the Dogs Out?” has more than just an unusual name to set it apart from a traditional college course. Students in the six-week course learn photography skills that they use to highlight animals at the Wake County Animal Center, which receives approximately 17,000 surrendered animals annually. The primary goal of the class is help these animals find permanent homes.

Taught by Associate Professor of Art Shannon Johnstone, the class is considered a hybrid course because learning takes place both in the classroom and online. Each week, Johnstone gives the students a question that must be answered on their blogs.

“I am really happy to be teaching a class that combines traditional classroom learning with online hybrid learning, all with an emphasis on service and community collaborations,” said Johnstone. “I love working with students as they learn how photography can literally save lives.”

Students serve as volunteer photographers for at least seven hours each week. The images they take are provided to the Wake County Animal Center for use on its website.

Each student maintains a personal blog featuring 20 or more photos that are meant to showcase animals that need homes. This year, student Lauren Symonds created a class Facebook page to highlight pets of the week. Visit the page at https://www.facebook.com/TheMeredithAngelsTails.

In addition to taking photos, students in the class also spend time just visiting with the animals, holding them and helping with obedience training. These interactions are some of Symonds’ favorite parts of the class.

“The animals are so full of love and it feels so great to be a part of the process of finding them homes,” Symonds said. “Working with the staff and volunteers is also wonderful. They have taught me so much about being non-judgmental towards those who surrender their pets, and looking at each animal as an individual with an individual personality and not as property like they are defined as by law.”

This is the second time this class has been taught at Meredith. The subject grew from Johnstone’s own photography series focusing on the issues of animal overpopulation and the importance of responsible pet ownership.

Symonds said the realities of overpopulation make the class challenging, but also underscores the importance of the class’s goal to help more animals find home.

“It is hard to watch the families make the decision to surrender their pets and it is hard to see the animal scared and unsure of their future,” Symonds said. “It is also hard to know that some animals must be euthanized. The shelter does everything they can to keep the animals from being euthanized and a lot of factors go into the decision. I hope I can inform people about responsible pet ownership to keep these animals from going to the shelter in the first place.”

Class member Brittany Murray hopes the course will be offered more often. “Imagine the difference Meredith College students could make in the lives of so many animals in our community,” Murray said. “I highly recommend the class to anyone and cannot describe the amount of joy you will feel when you see and hear the success stories at the center.”

Murray is a beginning photographer who is pleased that her coursework is making a difference in Wake County.

“Whenever I see that one of the animals that I have photographed or spent time with has a deposit and is getting adopted, I cannot help but smile,” Murray said. “Knowing that my classmates and I all work together to help these animals is an incredible feeling.”

Johnstone gives credit to the Wake County Animal Center for making this partnership a success.

“The Wake County Animal Center has been incredibly generous and welcoming to Meredith College,” Johnstone said. “They love our students and it is great for Meredith to have this connection with our community.”

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