YORK -- Four York One Academy students want to make sure the 10,000 animals that go through the York County Animal Shelter each year have the best treatment available.
Since October, sixth-graders Alex Fetty, Brittany McConnell and Marcell Jordan and fifth-grader Cody Sherrin have studied how animals are treated and adopted in York County and have looked into ways that care could be improved.
The students chose the topic after they read about animal abuse cases and stray animals in the paper. They're submitting their work in the state Project Citizen contest, a program that gets students across the nation to apply what they learn in the classroom to make changes in their community.
For the project, they surveyed more than 100 people, made a trip to the Statehouse to see how legislation is made and talked with shelter managers and veterinarians.
With the results of their research, they've sent recommendations to county and state officials about ways to improve animal care.
For example, current state law requires animals to stay at the animal shelter for at least five days before they are released to another agency or put out for adoption. The students propose that by allowing injured animals to be excluded from this rule, they could get better medical attention.
"The five-day waiting period is a good thing and a bad thing," Marcell said. "The owners have five days to come and get their animals, but it's a bad thing because animals have to wait five days."
Chris Peninger, supervisor for York County's animal control, said it's very common for injured animals to come to the shelter.
"Animals, unfortunately, can get themselves into some of the worst situations," she said. "They're hit by cars, they get into running equipment and they get into situations where they can get hurt."
But just because animals are required to remain in custody of the shelter for five days doesn't mean they won't receive adequate medical care, Peninger said.
"Animals that come to us injured don't wait five days before we treat them," she said. "They are given whatever they need to make them comfortable and if, in our opinion, the need goes beyond the scope of what we can offer, then we have a lot of participating veterinarians in the county that we can transport the animals to."
The students think the community could do more to make sure animals receive better veterinary care at the animal shelter.
When he visited the animal shelter, Cody said he was surprised it didn't have an X-ray machine.
"This dog was on the operating table and they were trying to see what was wrong with it, and all the veterinarian could do was something with his hands seeing if there were any broken bones," Cody said. "But you can't see really what's wrong with him just by rubbing his stomach."
Peninger said the cost of X-ray equipment is hard to justify for the amount of times they would need it. It's easier to take the animal to a local veterinarian instead, she said.
The students also looked into raising money through grants or donations to help improve the equipment at the shelter so animals wouldn't have to be transported.
County Councilman Buddy Motz was contacted by the students for the project, and he said his staff is looking into ways animal care can be improved.
"We need to make some updates and changes as far as what our ordinances are and make sure that we have ordinances that would benefit the animals," he said.
He said he was glad the students looked into this.
"We want the community to be involved," he said. "It has to be both us and them to make it work in the long run."
Students from York One have done well in the Project Citizen contests in the past. For the past two years, they've won first place at the state level, and in 2006, their project received a superior ranking at the National Conference of State Legislatures' Project Citizen show case. Some of those winners who are still at York One also are submitting a project on ways to prevent global warming.
Regardless of what happens with the students' work on the animal shelter, teacher Teresa LaValle said it's been a good process for the students to experience.
"It's a wonderful way for them to learn what they're responsibilities are as citizens," she said.