Avondale woman goes to the dogs

Avondale woman goes to the dogs
Rebekah Harp with three of her rescued pooches, one-eyed Captain Rhett Butler, Emma and Capt. Jack Sparrow.

Soft-hearted doesn’t begin to describe Avondale resident Rebekah Harp. A Special Education teacher at W.E. Cherry Elementary in Clay County, Harp has an affinity for special-needs dogs and kids.

Harp did not go out of her way to get these dogs. Someone would tell her about an abused or abandoned dog and she would spring into action. Once Harp brings them into her family, she names them after literary characters.

Aunt Pittypat, at age 15, has no eyes. “She was attacked by a hawk when she was a puppy, right in my backyard,” said Harp. “It was the most horrible day of my life. I called Daddy (Jim Harp) and he came over and held her all the way to the vet and talked to her in his sweet Southern voice.”

Aunt Pittypat with Wesley, a student in Rebekah Harp’s class

Aunt Pittypat with Wesley, a student in Rebekah Harp’s class

Pittypat rules the roost and is the bravest little dog. Now she is deaf, but she goes out into the backyard and finds herself a patch of sunshine to sit in, said Harp.

Captain Jack Sparrow was being kept in a taped cardboard box without food or water. Now he runs hurdles and plays a dog game called Fly Ball.

Her Chihuahua, Fiona McGillicutty, was found starving and chained to a garbage can with her face in the dirt. Fiona’s extreme rescue involved some wire cutters and a fence.

Mimi La Rue was thrown out of a moving car.

One-eyed Capt. Rhett Butler had the other eye removed at the Humane Society, for reasons not known, and he was fostered by several families before Harp was asked to take him.

Little Emma, who has degenerative myelopathy, was adopted from an owner who couldn’t care for her. Thanks to Harp’s fundraising efforts, Emma now walks with the aid of $600 special wheels.

Mr. Darcy was simply lonely after his young master left for college and his parents didn’t have time for him.

“Francesca is my miracle puppy,” Harp said. “On an Easter Sunday I saw some teenagers tying her to a tree. They said their mother was going to ‘take the shovel to her’ like she had done to others. They sped off before I could get their tag number. Now Francesca does dog agility demonstrations at my school.”

Harp’s rescues are lucky she is a “fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread.”

While some might think having eight special-needs dogs is excessive, Harp laughingly responds, “Pound for pound, I don’t have a lot of dogs. That’s how I justify it.”

Educated at Wesleyan College and the University of Georgia, Harp holds degrees in special education and psychology, and her job as a special education teacher in a self-contained classroom has given her plenty of opportunities to enhance the lives of her students and dogs.

“When I take them to school it’s like the Beatles just arrived. I’m so lucky that my principal allows me to do what I do,” said Harp. “We have seen so many of the intellectually-disadvantaged students develop empathy and understanding because of interaction with the dogs. It empowers them as well.”

At a recent event the students ran Francesca through her paces on an agility course for the entire school.

“My students got to answer questions and do the demonstrations; they were the leaders,” she said “There have been miracles associated with these kids, whose mental handicaps do not allow for academic success. They could work at Publix or other jobs if they learn social skills. A smile on your face and a pleasant demeanor can do wonders.”

Some of the programs which earned Harp four Teacher of the Year awards include the Heart Boot Camp, where students learn manners; a Humane Society Club, Polite Pug Patrol, Fitness and Book Clubs, and Mimi’s Character Counts.

“Pooches Emma and Pittypat teach kids about tolerance for those who are different, and to have compassion,” said Harp.

Harp has always been for the underdog. Whether helping children or dogs, her heart is dedicated to serving. “We are supposed to help others. I was raised to do good things,” said Harp. “Somebody has to step up and take action.”

Harp’s father, Jim, who substitutes in the classroom sometimes, remarked, “Some of the changes in the students because of the dogs is remarkable. One of her students painted a picture of my little dog who died. Rebekah is so proud of her students and their gifts. I don’t know where all this came from. We love animals and had pets but we weren’t a rescue family.”

In addition to teaching, training her dogs (two are now certified therapy dogs and Mr. Darcy is in training), Harp gives presentations, makes jewelry for her business, Mutt Works, which donates 20 percent of sales to dog rescue, makes dog clothes, volunteers at church and of course, has to find some time for her three cats –Jane Goodall, Sydney Lanier and Little Edie Beale.

She also organizes numerous fundraisers for animal rescue, with hilarious names like the Spay Café – where they serve SPAY-ghetti, and at Avondale United Methodist Church “Where Jesus takes Care FUR You.” 

“The long and short of it is, I adopted a dog therapy team,” laughed Harp. Her dedication to the disadvantaged – whether animals or people – demonstrates her ability to find that little niche where they can succeed – and exploit it.

y Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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