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From left, Renee Farmer, Letcher, Andrea Callahan and Ellie Johnston, both of Mitchell, play with the Johnston's dog, Oakley. The three girls are part of a local club, Caring Paws, which raises money and awareness for the Mitchell Animal Rescue. (Jennifer Jungwirth/Republic)

Mitchell area youth start Caring Paws program

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Mitchell Animal Rescue has some helpers this summer.

Operating under the motto "One kid can make a difference," eight Mitchell and area youth are working together to raise money for MAR and generate a buzz about the program.

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The idea for Caring Paws came to 11-year-olds Andrea Callahan and Ellie Johnston, both of Mitchell, after reading their favorite book series, "Puppy Place," two months ago.

"In them they say you should start your own club," Andrea said.

They approached their friends, including 10-year-old Renee Farmer, of Letcher, about the idea.

Since Caring Paws began, the club has made about a dozen pull toys from fleece fabric and an assortment of dog treats, which they donated to the Mitchell Animal Rescue. MAR sells the toys and treats at the downtown Farmers Market to raise funds for the organization. The dog treats are dunked in almond bark and sprinkled with coconut flakes.

Johnston, Farmer, Callahan and other members of the club also volunteer at MAR, donning their Caring Paws T-shirts they made themselves and walking, grooming and playing with the dogs. They've also sold lemonade for MAR and, in their spare time, they pick up trash so dogs don't eat harmful debris.

The next step is dog-walking for a donation. All proceeds will be donated to the MAR.

The inspiration for their work comes from a love of dogs.

"I've loved animals since I was born. And I love helping my favorite animal," Johnston said.

The young volunteers have learned the importance of pet shelters like MAR.

"Most of the dogs have to go to the pound, and the pound can only keep them for so long," Johnston said. "I feel bad for them. They only have a certain amount of time. It's beneficial to have the Mitchell Animal Rescue to save those dogs. They need attention."

"It just tears my heart out when they go to the pound," Farmer added. "It just tears my heart out how they have to do that."

Johnston's family fosters dogs from Mitchell Animal Rescue until they are adopted.

The idea to become a foster family to the pets was Ellie's, said her mom, Stephanie Johnston.

Although it is sad to say goodbye to the dogs, Ellie said, "I felt better knowing they were going to a home where they'd live forever."

In the future, the girls want to hold a bake sale, selling treats and care packages for pets, and create a Caring Paws website.

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