A Decade For Dogs | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Ronnie Woodward.


Melanie Sartore-Baldwin, left, smiles as she holds a puppy in 2014 at the Pitt County Animal Shelter during the first year of East Carolina Universityís Kinesiology 1010 fitness walking course. (ECU News photos)

    East Carolina University's Kinesiology 1010 fitness walking course has been described as a win-win.

    At the forefront, dogs in the Pitt County Animal Shelter benefit from walks led by professor Melanie Sartore-Baldwin and ECU students. Sartore-Baldwin also has seen students benefit holistically since the course began in January 2014.

    "We did one study that students were getting upwards of 4,000 steps before 10 a.m.," Sartore-Baldwin said. "That's not a bad thing. It's actually a really good thing."

    Sartore-Baldwin's passion, foresight and leadership were lauded when she was named one of Pitt County's winners of a state Governor's Volunteer Service Award. She was recognized in December during a Pitt County Board of Commissioners meeting.

    Sartore-Baldwin said with the award associated with ECU and Pitt County Animal Services, it can help promote the service impact by students in the community. She also takes great pride in hearing of her former students who still visit the shelter to walk dogs for enjoyment.

    "I'm very grateful that there are students going out into their everyday lives, after they graduate, who have taken this class and they are advocates for sheltering animals," Sartore-Baldwin said. "That is my biggest takeaway, and that is going to happen for years to come."

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    There also is an emotional aspect to Sartore-Baldwin's involvement with the shelter. Her husband, Chuck, a former information technology professional at ECU who died suddenly in 2020, was a steadfast supporter of Melanie and the ECU class in its early years.

    She has volunteered countless hours at the shelter and shared many experiences with students, in addition to time shared there with Chuck.

    "I now know that time I invested in the shelter was meant for me to really identify my passion," she said. "He allowed me to do that, and he allowed me to invest as much time and effort as I wanted to into these dogs. Without him, I never would have made it this far."

    Pitt County Animal Shelter director Chad Singleton said Sartore-Baldwin is very deserving of a service award.

    "We truly consider her part of our team and know we can depend on her to spread our message, help us educate the community and recruit volunteers who last long after the semester is over," Singleton said. "Because of all her efforts and countless hours of service, Melanie has earned not only this award, but also the respect and gratitude of all of those who work and volunteer at the Pitt County Animal Shelter. I know of no one more deserving for this award."

    Stacey Altman, the College of Health and Human Performance interim dean and a former kinesiology department chair, lauded Sartore-Baldwin for facilitating impact on campus and in the community. Altman was among the supporters in attendance when Sartore-Baldwin was honored by the commissioners.

    "I believe the impact the course and her work has made over the years has been important in many ways and not least of which, and perhaps most importantly, is the empathy that students gain and take back to their communities and families regardless of their career path," Altman said. "It is truly the development of humanity with and through a very vulnerable population. The knowledge related to the fitness walking for health is certainly important, too."

    Sartore-Baldwin credited Chuck Baldwin and Altman each as instrumental to establishing and helping continue the course, which started with a small group of students in 2014.

    Since then, the shelter has expanded and course registration has steadily grown to reach at least 20 students per semester

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    "Those who are invested are really invested," Sartore-Baldwin said. "I don't hide anything from them. I think they need to understand what the problem is and how they are helping. Without these students and without these volunteers, these dogs would not get the mile or two walk they get on a daily basis, which is so incredibly important for enrichment and their mental health and physical health. ... For 10 years, that's a lot of students coming out and, for most of them, having a perception of an animal shelter that differs from what they thought it was going to be. I would like for it to keep going, because those are the outcomes I think are most important."
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