From a laugh-filled cake walk to visits and selfies with Santa, Hannibal High School students were celebrating the Christmas spirit amid their contributions to 18 K-9 service dogs in a U.S. military unit.

From a laugh-filled cake walk to visits and selfies with Santa, Hannibal High School students were celebrating the Christmas spirit amid their contributions to 18 K-9 service dogs in a U.S. military unit.

Family, Career and Community Leaders of America leader Linda Stinson said the idea to adopt 18 K-9 dogs and their handlers in the U.S. military came about during a recent leadership conference. Half of the students wanted to help veterans, and half wished to help animals. FCCLA members took festive approach to helping the dogs receive needed items through a drive that soon grew to include Key Club members, classmates in fellow homerooms, administrators and local businesses.

Stinson said Java Jive, Groomingdales and Edward Jones joined the drive capped off by a weeklong celebration in the high school cafeteria —including “Pin the Bone on the Dog,” writing cards to soldiers and a cake walk and visits with Santa on Friday.

Stinson said she and the students were surprised to learn that the K-9 dogs and their handlers in the unit are regularly targeted, because the dogs work to sniff out Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), bombs and other hazards.

“Here they're serving our country, saving all these soldiers lives — and they're asking for things like dog shampoo and ear drops,” Stinson said.

She said the dogs needed towels, eye and ear wash, hydration tablets, salves and other items. Their handlers needed items like coffee, tea, hot cocoa, beef jerky, hand warmers, liquid hand sanitizer, nasal spray and eye drops.

She said Clint Graham went out and purchased supplies, and a table upstairs is filled with supplies the dogs and their handlers need. Students worked together to gather donations, decorate for the celebrations and lead games like the cake walk. Sophomore Adreke Brumbaugh said he helped hang up paw prints leading down the hallway to the cafeteria, along with setting up the display beneath the Christmas tree and the chair for Santa Claus. Junior Ruby Roisum appreciated the opportunity to gather all the donations together and “get the students excited about it.”

“It's been overall a really good experience,” she said.

Stinson said the donations gathered should meet the goal of 18 packages set to be sent out on Friday — one for each service dog in the unit they helped. She said she plans to send more packages throughout the year, noting the dogs need special boots and goggles in the summer to help protect them from the hot sand.

Veteran Paul Dougherty, who donned his red and white costume as Santa Claus to greet students during the festivities, said the students and other community members showed their compassion as they worked together to help the service dogs.

“I'm a veteran, and I think this is great,” he said.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com