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Dogs’ life gets easier in Washington

Eileen JoyceKindergartner Coral Herron crawls out of the dog house she helped build at Washington School. Students on Monday worked on the houses as part of a community service project.
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The town of Washington is known for many things – its Gold Rush-era hotel, where people with names like “Space” roam its halls; its volunteer fire chief, who serves as its unofficial mayor. And the burg’s only teacher is so well known, everyone simply calls him “Mr. Pete.”

The town is also, according to a few of the school’s students, known for going to the dogs.



As a pair of dogs playfully wrestled on the town’s main street Monday, every student at Washington School noisily hammered boards together in a canine chorus to provide homes for some of the town’s wayward tail-waggers.




“Dogs own this town,” said Justin Custer, 11, a fourth-grader at the school. “I think there are more dogs than people in this town, for sure.”

So the students are taking the problem into their own hands, building doghouses for every derelict dachshund, every poodle without a palace, every schnauzer without a shelter.

As part of their annual community service project, all 10 students at teacher Pete Milano’s school are crafting canine castles, hammering away at a problem even the kids say is serious.

“Dogs will take over this town one day,” fifth-grader Amy Lee said as she and sixth-grader Kayla Wilson demonstrated the sturdiness of their doggie dwelling, made entirely by hand each day during an enrichment period.

Milano picked the doghouse project as the students’ annual community service contribution. By the end of the year, Milano hopes to build a dozen doggie denizens and disburse them, with the help of the Pet Adoption League, free to good homes.

Merv Lee, the town’s fire chief, is advising the students, and aides Janet Romero and Lee’s wife, Kim, help out as well.

“It’s simply a way to give back,” said Milano of the “Woof Over My Head” project.

As principal and teacher of the tiny school, Milano is responsible for mixing the academic with the fun stuff and making it stick for 5-year-old Coral Herron and 14-year-old Steven Ridner, whether it’s fractions, construction or music, which the students played prior to building the homes.

“Between the rhythm in the classroom and the nails banging, I’m doing great,” said Milano as he battled a small headache.

Students at Washington School do everything together, including end-of-year trips to Sacramento and San Francisco, where last year they visited big-city sights and took in a AAA baseball game in Sacramento, staying at youth hostels together.

This year, all 10 students will again visit the City by the Bay at the end of the year.

But Monday, it was all about building doghouses.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Milano said, supervising the action. “Every one of them could be building contractors.”

Brit Cooley, 13, built one of the finished doghouses with Steven Ridner.

“I’ve built ramps for skateboards and bikes before,” Brit said, “but this was a lot of fun. Just the banging and making a lot of noise was cool. I know there’s a lot of dogs that need homes around here.

“As a matter of fact, I’d like one for myself.”


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