Rancho Santa Fe School youth art and writing contest raises awareness of pet care


Entertaining stories about dogs, cats and even a salt water fish were submitted recently from students at the R. Roger Rowe Elementary and Middle School in Rancho Santa Fe as part of an innovative youth art and literary program.

A contest was created, in partnership with the nonprofit Art for Barks, to help educate youth about the importance of loving and respecting their pets.

“Children are ... important in future pet care and reduction of (pet) abandonment,” said Lynn Moon, co-founder of the nonprofit that is dedicated to bringing together artists and authors to help improve pet care.

In total, 140 students throughout the school were engaged in the literary competition that posed the question, “How is my pet important to my family?” Along with essay entries, 13 students submitted artwork depicting their pets.

Essays included a story about Roscoe, a French bulldog; a goat aptly named Vincent Van Goat; Bella, a therapy dog dubbed “the cutest dog on Earth ”; 11 chickens who soon became six; and a dog named Flower who “brings laughter, love, energy and happiness” to the Johnson family.

Everyone who entered received a certificate of appreciation brightly illustrated with a print from fine artist Lori Faye Bock. First place winners in three age divisions — and the overall art winner — each received a $25 gift card.

The first-place awardees were one of six finalists from each grade division.

In grades K through 2, Piet Kohnke-Sunenshine placed first. Liam Bentinck, Chloe Kumar, Kathryn Schneider, Francisco Theberge, and Scarlett Lee placed second through sixth respectively. Professional book editor Christine Miller judged the submissions.

In grades 3 through 5, Ava Rose Wehlage placed first, followed by Charlie Johnson, Nikki Hemminger, Nick Sanford, Sofie Brown and Logan Johnson placing second through sixth. Retired magazine editor Diane Lofshult served as judge.

And in grades 6 through 8, Carson Wehlage placed first. Devan Tantuwaya, Michael Chang, Luca Csathy, Mia Bregman and Wasay Zaman placed second through sixth. Retired school administrator Jane Ditmar served as judge.

Kaitlyn Zou produced the winning art piece for the fine art submission. Marlana Hand, Annabelle Mutch and Kaitlyn Abstaz placed second, third and fourth.

The art contest was judged by prominent local artist Cris Weatherby who commented that the skill development of the sixth-grade artists was far superior to what she had previously seen, said Moon.

The program was facilitated by second-grade teacher Nona Richard, the literary project chair, art teacher Marika Fagan, who was the art chair, and the enthusiastic support of district Superintendent Lindy Delaney, who stated, “We are all so pleased to see students’ love for animals helping to inspire meaningful and creative expression through writing and art.”

Two of the first-place winners were siblings. Seventh-grader Carson Wehlage and fourth-grader Ava Rose Wehlage each wrote an essay about Carson’s service dog, who helps him communicate with other kids and keeps him safe. “Mom and I went to this service dog school, and it’s a long story, but I got a very cool service dog. The first Autism Safety Service Dog in the United States. It was Lexie!” wrote Carson.

“(Lexie) can open regular doors with her teeth and push the handicap button at store entrances with her paws to make the door open. She can stop my brother from running if he is heading into danger. It makes me proud that she is such an obedient dog and smart, too,” wrote Ava Rose.

Art for Barks has set up a special segment on its website that displays some of the students’ work.

“Properly educated about significant pet care, children will have a profound impact on the future quality of life of family pets,” said Moon.

Visit to learn more about the charity’s online programs click on the Youth Corner link to read some of the essays.