Dog Days of Summer, Vol 1: Sharon St. Andre, Ruston’s dog whisperer

(Each week during the summer, the LPJ will have canine-related feature stories for all of you dog lovers.)

By Malcolm Butler

As a little girl, Sharon St. Andre said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she grew up. She just knew she wanted it to be outside.

And fortunately for Ruston residents and their canines, Sharon followed her dreams.

“I didn’t like being inside,” said Sharon. “When I went to school there weren’t things like hiking and climbing and going to dude ranches and being a cook. Or I would have done all of those things, but they didn’t exist or at least I didn’t know about it. So, PE was the closest thing that I could get to that. But with it came an elementary education degree too.”

After earning her undergraduate degree from Louisiana Tech, she initially taught physical education classes before eventually going back to earn her master’s degree in a slightly different field.

The turn in the career path came after a visit from a stranger.

“One day we were shelling peas and this truck drove up and (Track) got out and basically asked if I wanted a teaching job doing this ag thing,” Sharon said. “I had never heard of it. I didn’t even know what that is. So, it was a big learning process for me.”

And learn she did.

“I went to Tech to get my masters and my plus-30,” said Sharon. “So, on my plus-30 I took all ag related classes. I took plant science and animal science and horse training and all those things.”

Once in the ag class business at the high school, Sharon had to become certified as a vet tech in order for her students to get their credits in the classroom and the school to receive grant money. Little did she know at the time, but that requirement would lead to life after teaching in the classroom.

“I had to work clinical hours because a vet assistant then turns into a vet tech,” said Sharon. “So, I had to find a vet to work for. Patrick (Sexton) and I knew each other from Louisiana Tech. When I was in grad school and he was an undergrad, we worked at the horse farm together. So, we already knew each other. I asked if I could come do my clinic hours.”

After retiring from Ruston High, Sharon continued working with Sexton and his gang of animal lovers at the Animal Health Clinic. And these days she spends her time talking to a different breed, literally.

Sharon is a bit of a dog whisperer if you will. She and her team of both full-time workers and part-time LA Tech students teach baby canines how to be good citizens as part of Puppy Preschool.

“She has a special gift,” said Sexton, owner of Sexton Animal Health Center located on East Kentucky. “She has a teacher background so that’s one aspect of it. But she is so fascinated with dog behavior and studies it and learns it. She is constantly looking for new methods and how to interact.”

According to Sharon, dogs have their own language so-to-speak, and she can learn a lot about them through those.

“They have a conversation,” said Sharon. “It may not be with words, but you can see their body language. You can see their eye contact. You can watch things that they do that are indicators that there is fixing to be a problem or that this is going to work out just fine.”

Dog whisperer.

“It’s funny to watch the dogs with her,” said Melanie, whose border collie Fancy attended Puppy Preschool. “They will look at her like ‘What are you going to tell me now?’ Or, like ‘Did I do okay? That wasn’t right, was it?’ The dogs know.”

Both her co-workers and the human owners who bring their “babies” to Sharon have an unbelievable appreciation for her talent.

“Anyone that knows Sharon knows she has the brightest, most energetic, and positive attitude; and the dogs know it too,” said Sara Liner, who worked with Sharon at Sexton Animal Clinic for three years.

“I don’t have kids but Ms Sharon embodied everything I imagined you would want your perfect teacher to be for your kid,” said Morgan. “We got crafts sent home. Even though there were always a ton of dogs, you always felt like your dog was important and got attention and love. Fancy would much rather be with Ms Sharon than me any day. Fancy made that very clear.”

(This is the first of a three-part series on Sharon St. Andre and Puppy Preschool)