WELLS - Last month, the entire sixth grade class at Wells Junior High School gathered in the school’s library to listen to presentations by representatives from Safe Haven Humane Cat Shelter of Wells and the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebunk. Before the presentations, students donated more than 300 dog and cat fleece toys as gifts to the representatives, toys assembled by them as part of their service learning.

“We have invited the shelters to pick up the toys as a donation,” commented sixth grade teacher Bonnie Dill after the event. “They can give the toys to their pets now, give them as an adoption gift when a pet is adopted, or sell them in order to raise more funds.”

Two volunteers from Safe Haven, Maud Lund and Nancy Wilkinson, brought along two nine-month-old cats as shelter ambassadors. “Precious,” light brown and blind in one eye, was found sick, injured and starving in the rain in the middle of a busy road in Wells. “Parker” was also found abandoned and needing care. While at this shelter, both have recovered nicely and become inseparable friends. (For more information including the shelter’s current needs visit www.safehavenhumanesociety.org.)

Representing the Animal Welfare Society was Gabrielle “Brie” Roche who brought two tan-colored rats that she adopted from the society for pets. Roche, who indicated that rats are very intelligent, talked about the society’s mission including rescuing and finding homes for dogs, cats and many smaller animals including birds and hamsters. They also provide education in caring for pets including special needs animals. She said the society currently receives about 80 percent of its animals in need of new homes from other areas of the country including hurricane-damaged places such as Puerto Rico. (For more information on this shelter and its needs visit www.animalwelfaresociety.org.)

According to Dill, these toys were made during student “community group times” in December. WJHS staff members Linda Gaidimas (who envisioned this project) and Brenda Brown cut the fleece into strips which went into assembly kits put together by the sixth grade team for their students to use in making the products.

“Many of the teachers learned, alongside the kids, how to make the toys by braiding gimp-style. Kids taught us how to do it. There was some trimming and knot-tying done by the teachers but 99 percent of the braiding was done by kids,” commented Dill. “The students worked on as many toys as they could. It has been great fun.”

All totaled, students produced over 150 gimp-braided toys, more than 100 traditionally braided toys, and over 80 cat toys with a bell.

- Reg Bennett