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Play nice: K-9 Ambassadors teaches kids how to deal with dogs

'If we can stop one person from getting bit, it's all worth it'

Julie Burgin works with a golden retriever named Jackson during a class put on by the K-9 Ambassadors. (Contributed by Kathy Davidson)
Julie Burgin works with a golden retriever named Jackson during a class put on by the K-9 Ambassadors. (Contributed by Kathy Davidson)
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CENTER POINT — A volunteer organization that teaches kids how to interact safely with dogs is looking to expand.

K-9 Ambassadors has been meeting locally with kids in preschool classes, church groups, Boy and Girl Scout troops, after school programs and more since 2007, but the presentations have dwindled over the years as leaders have moved on and programs have relocated, said Kathy Davidson, 58, of Center Point, who started the organization. She wants to ramp up the schedule of classes, she said.

“The goal is just to keep the kids safe and help everyone be better together,” Davidson said. “I hate reading in the newspaper when someone has been bit. When a dog runs loose, kids want to run up, but the worse thing they can do is corner a dog and chase it.”

The free service is geared to preschool to second grade aged children and features handpicked dogs, including golden retrievers, boxers and keeshonds to help teach the lesson. The next two classes are 1 p.m. June 22 at the Cedar Rapids Ladd Library, 3750 Williams Blvd. SW, and 6 p.m. July 12 at the Cedar Rapids Public Library downtown, 450 Fifth Ave. SE.

Those interested in hosting a K-9 Ambassadors class can contact Davidson at windys_home@hotmail.com with “K-9 Ambassadors” in the subject line.

The classes are about 30 minutes long, although can go longer if the group is large. The ambassadors discuss how to interact with a dog, including asking permission before petting, letting the dog sniff the back of your hand and what to do if a dog is on the loose. They also do tricks with the dogs to keep the kids entertained, followed by an opportunity for the children to pet the dogs if they wish.

The program, which is sponsored by Iowa City Dog Obedience Club, has 11 volunteer ambassadors who help put on the classes. The ambassadors are mainly people Davidson knows from showing dogs, she said.

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“It is important for kids to get the right information so they don’t do something that would cause them to get bit by a dog,” said Julie Burgin, 69, an active ambassador from Cedar Rapids. “Sometimes we are happy if parents listen in because they can learn something, too.”

Parents and kids both can take the same lessons: barking at dogs is teasing, if a dog is on the loose, don’t run to chase it, or don’t try to pet a strange dog without asking the owner’s permission, she said.

Davidson, who came up with the program initially while living in Fort Dodge, said she was spurred to do it by seeing close calls between dogs and kids.

“Teach everyone to do it right, that’s my goal,” she added. “If we can stop one person from getting bit, it’s all worth it.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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