CHIPLEY - Like most young boys, five-year old Cooper Brock and three-year old Cale Dietrich knew just what they wanted for their birthdays. But instead of baseball mitts or toy trucks, these local children wanted to help shelter animals.
The cousins, who usually celebrate their birthdays together, asked party guests to forego the usual birthday regalia and bring supplies for Animal Control of West Florida's shelter instead.
"The boys were very excited about the idea," said Cale's mom, Holly Dietrich. "We live on a farm, so the love for animals comes naturally to Cale. Both of them were excited at the prospect of helping the puppies and kitties."
Shelter Manager Belva Vaughn says she was touched by the boys' generosity.
"The boys have visited us before, and this was very heartwarming," said Vaughn. "If we could teach all of our children to have that much compassion for animals at that young age, just imagine how much better it would be for all our animals."
The shelter, located in Chipley, has 74 dog kennels and is quite often filled to capacity. However, Vaughn works closely with animal rescue groups nationwide to find homes for as many animals as possible.
"We do our level best to get the animals adopted after waiting for the claim period to expire," said Vaughn. We are very proactive in rehoming them."
The shelter contracts with Washington and Jackson counties and the cities of Chipley, Marianna, Cottondale, Alford, Vernon and Graceville to provide shelter for animals brought in by control officers.
While the shelter cannot accept monetary donations, items needed include cat food, dog food, blankets, and toys.
"We can't accept cash, but if you clean out your old linen closet, we love to get old sheets and towels," said Vaughn.
Meanwhile, the boys will continue their efforts to make a difference for local animals.
"We're so very proud of them," said Dietrich. "I think they got more out of being able to help the animals than if the guests had brought presents for them to play with instead."
Cooper is the son of Mark and Hannah Brock of Chipley, and Cale is the son of Christopher and Holly Dietrich of Graceville.
For more information on how to make donations to the Chipley animal shelter, call 638-2082 between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon.