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Greenwich Kids Raise Money for Mine-Sniffing Dogs

GREENWICH, Conn. – After a group of fifth-graders from North Mianus School in Greenwich read about children in Afghanistan who lost limbs from hidden landmines, they wanted to help. The kids banded together to organize a dog walk to raise money and awareness for the Children Against Mines Program.

“After we read the article we wanted to see if we could help the kids who got injured and lost an arm or a leg because they don’t know if they are stepping on a landmine,” said Lara Varma, one of the students. “Not all schools can afford to bring schools in to show them what landmines look like. It helps to have a dog.”

The dog walk, dubbed Puppies for Peace, will take place Sunday, March 25, from 9 a.m. to noon at Greenwich Point. A 2-mile course will be set up for people to walk with or without dogs. Park passes are not required to attend. The students will be collecting a suggested donation of $10 per family, and all money raised will be donated to the Children Against Mines Program, or CHAMPS .

CHAMPS is a student-led program of The Marshall Legacy Institute , a nonprofit organization that aims to protect people in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand, where more than 600 types of landmines have been left.

“We learned how they got trained and how they are faster than a metal detector and can find more landmines because a lot of them are plastic,” said student Aydin Rose.

The program uses trained detection dogs to sniff out the landmines for safe removal. According to the CHAMPS website, about 1,000 people are involved in landmine accidents every month and most victims are killed. About 40 percent of all civilian casualties are children.

“They’re always kids because they are always playing out in fields, and they don’t know what it looks like. When they do see one, it looks like a little toy because they can be bright and colorful,” said student Lui Luangkhot.

It costs about $20,000 to acquire, train and deliver a certified mine detection dog to a contaminated country. To date, the Marshall Legacy Institute has successfully trained more than 140 dogs in 70 countries.

“We’ve made posters for every single grade level. We made sure we didn’t scare them. One of the girls asked if there were any in America, and we had to let her know that there weren’t,” said Sebastian Jones, another student. “We had some hard questions to answer. One girl asked, ‘Why do the bad people want to hurt them?’ I said that they don’t like people who are different.”

A retired mine detection dog named Utsi will also demonstrate the techniques CHAMPS dogs employ in the field.

Students will set up informational signs around the course, and all dogs will be rewarded with treats upon completing the walk. “Every quarter mile we’ll have fact posters so while they’re doing it, they can get educated as they walk,” said Jones. “Even if you don’t know about it, you just turn up to the beach for some fun and you find out there’s a dog walk.”

Julie Cofone, a fifth grade teacher at North Mianus School who is supervising the organization of the event, says residents can drop off donations at North Mianus School after the walk if they are unable to make it to the beach Sunday.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” said Alex Ramirez.

“You feel really good once it’s done,” said Varma.

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