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Russell boy launching pet park effort




RUSSELL -- On a warm summer morning, many students might hit the swimming pool or sleep in.

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RUSSELL -- On a warm summer morning, many students might hit the swimming pool or sleep in.

But 9-year-old Thaddeus Weiss has other summer plans. He spends three mornings a week at Russell Veterinary Service, caring for and cleaning up after dogs, cats and even horses and cows.

As nine dogs barked and jumped impatiently inside their kennels, Weiss worked quickly to make sure their needs were met -- fresh water, a full dish of food and a healthy dose of affection.

He even managed to coax a large chocolate lab back into its kennel after the dog made a quick escape.

"Dogs are obviously the cutest animal," he said.

Weiss, who will be a fourth-grader at Bickerdyke Elementary School, is a two-year participant in the vet clinic's Paws and Claws program. He receives an annual scholarship of $250 in exchange for volunteer work, and also is tasked with raising funds for community projects.

This summer, Weiss has decided to tackle the biggest project in the program's six-year history. With the help of clinic staff, he began raising money last week to establish a pet park in Russell.

"I think it would be fun," he said of a pet park. "The dog I adopted on Christmas Eve really loves to run. But we can't let him off (his chain), or he'll run away."

The vet clinic hosted a laser tag fundraiser as part of Russell's Freedom Fest activities, and that likely will be just the beginning, said office manager Darlene Hrdlicka.

"This is a huge project for our Paws and Claws," she said. "This is what we have decided to do this summer. We don't stop until it's completed."

Hrdlicka said she would like to donate a piece of land she owns north of town for the park. Organizers hope to raise $5,000 to build a fence and maybe even a pet obstacle course.

"We have seen several people come off the highway with emergencies and such, and they will have other pets with them like they'd to air," Hrdlicka said.

"A lot of times people camp in our parking lot until their dog is better, their cat is better, and there's no real safe place to exercise your pets," Hrdlicka said.

Weiss, who hopes to be a veterinarian someday, learned of the program through an ad in the local newspaper. He submitted an application essay, and was surprised to learn he was the only student accepted into the program, he said.

"I said that I love animals, stuff like that," Weiss said of his essay. "I said I knew how to work with dogs, mostly, and I would love to be a vet."

Though he still has a scar on his face where a dog bit him when he was four years old, his affection for animals never wavered. He is a dedicated volunteer at the clinic, even reporting for work during an occasional snow day during the school year.

"I clean kennels, feed and water the dogs. I wash dishes, wash pets," he said. "I've cleaned the cow barn before. It's my least favorite (chore)."

Once a student is accepted into the program, they can continue working as long as they like. So how long does Weiss want to keep working at the vet clinic?

"Until I'm 21," he said confidently.