Larson Middle School students help draft House bill

Students lead charge to make shelter pets the official state pet 

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 25, 2017

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TROY — Larson Middle School English teacher Cindy Christiansen’s sixth-graders were looking at things happening in the world, and they saw that service and shelter animals are the designated state symbols and pets in other states. 

They wondered how they could make that happen in Michigan. 

So they researched. They talked with people from the Michigan Humane Society and the Royal Oak Animal Shelter, and with state Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy. 

The result is House Bill 5069, which Howrylak introduced Oct. 5 and which has been referred to the Government Operations Committee. 

“Incredibly, the research we did is the language of the bill,” Christiansen said.  

Christiansen’s sixth-graders started the initiative last school year. Some of those students returned to her class this fall to explain to her current students why they started the process. 

Her former sixth-graders remain involved electronically, Christiansen said. 

“Our hope is that by making a shelter pet Michigan’s state pet, we will increase awareness regarding animal homelessness and encourage pet adoption throughout the state,” Howrylak said in a prepared statement. 

According to Howrylak’s office, each year over 7 million companion animals enter shelters in the United States, and approximately 2.7 million of the animals are euthanized. According to a 2014 Michigan shelter survey, nearly 1 out of every 4 animals that enter a shelter in the state is eventually euthanized.

Christiansen said she is gratified that the students “see their voices matter. Good writing communicates well,” she said. “They said they feel like writers.  

“It’s driven by their enthusiasm and passion,” she said. “When I’m out of my comfort zone, I say, ‘We’ll figure it out together.’” 

“It was really neat (that) they were interested and reached out to me,” Howrylak said. He said he explained that “the reality of this is it may take a few legislative sessions before it gets to the governor’s desk.” 

He added that a resolution he introduced in the spring was later adopted declaring Aug. 19 International Homeless Animals Day to raise awareness of the large numbers of homeless animals waiting to be adopted. 

“I was happy to be a part of the educational process,” Howrylak said. 

Their next step is to get some buzz going about the bill, Christiansen said. This will include communicating with voters and lawmakers, and hosting events to build awareness about the initiative. 

Her class is active on Twitter @LarsonMS and on the school’s website. 

“It will be something they (her students) remember for a long time,” she said. “We’re creating concerned citizens for the world. I hope advocacy stays with them.”