Studies have shown that how one treats animals is a direct reflection of how we treat each other. For that very reason, it is vital that we teach our children the importance of kindness, compassion and respect for animals and instill these values at a young age.
Animals, especially pets, are an important part of our lives and are regarded as family members. Business articles indicate that we spend around 51 billion dollars on our pets annually on everything from extensive medical care to daycare to gourmet diets. About 71 million homes in the U.S. have a pet(s). Yet, our shelters are still bursting at the seams with homeless cats and dogs. Between 4-5 million homeless animals are killed annually. Puppy mills, animal neglect and abuse, including dog fighting, thrives. Animal welfare community outreach is key to educating our communities and sharing the programs and resources that are available to families and their pets.
Having been involved in various aspects of animal welfare, including community outreach, in Chicago for many years, I am proud to bring my knowledge and experience to Allegan County. I am very excited to announce the launching of our official school community outreach program “Kids, Critters and Compassion.”
The program is approximately one hour long, is geared mainly to 3rd to 6th graders and is supported by a colorful power point presentation. At our recent visit to Glenn Elementary School, even the K-2nd graders were participating as enthusiastically as their older schoolmates.
It is very important that our kids learn about pet care and responsibility for a pet’s entire life span. We focus on the importance of their daily needs and bring awareness to our pet’s feeling and emotional capabilities, learning that their needs aren’t so different than ours. Those of us who own pets are well aware of their companionship and the comfort they bring to us in so many ways.
For many reasons, including health and behavioral, spaying or neutering is very positive for our pets. It is the best way to effectively reduce the over-population of unwanted cats and dogs in our communities and animal shelters. Many of the children already know the meaning of getting a pet “fixed”. Along with visuals including cardboard cut-outs of dogs/ cats showing the high numbers, a simple explanation that this is a quick operation to stop our dogs and cats from having puppies and kittens gets the message across well.
Safety around our pets at home is discussed to prevent dog and cat bites or scratches. More importantly, we discuss safety on the street when meeting a dog with an owner and safety around stray animals, especially dogs. Many of the children live in rural areas and can easily be confronted by a dog roaming free, with no collar or owner. Demonstrating to the kids how to behave in situations like this is very important to prevent them from suffering serious injuries from a dog attack. All the kids participate in this and it’s fun to watch how enthusiastic they are about stepping up and demonstrating these techniques to the rest of the class.
Studies by the American Humane Society clearly document what is known as “The Link” – the connection between animal abuse and child abuse, domestic abuse, elder abuse and violence in general. In very simple language, we talk about how wrong and cruel animal abuse is. It is important to let a responsible adult know if they witness cruelty to a person or an animal so the proper authorities can be contacted. Dog fighting is rampant throughout the U.S., including western Michigan. It is surprising and disturbing that our young students are already familiar with this activity. It is vital that this topic is covered, the content of which is age appropriate, with no graphic visuals. It’s wrong, it’s cruel, and it’s a crime.
We conclude with the kids getting to meet and pet the animals we bring along with us, including Sandy’s wonderful therapy dog, Emmy Susu and a few kitties from the shelter. The kids can’t get enough of the animals and they all want to hold and cuddle them.
We leave all the students and teachers with packets of materials including information on all of Wishbone’s community programs along with literature on various animal topics to share with their families.
It’s very rewarding to work with these young children and from my personal experience, they all take away something from our visit. For some, it makes a huge difference in their attitude toward animals. Their enthusiasm to ask and answer questions is very heartwarming, as is their desire to share stories of their own pets.
We plan to start off the New Year by reaching out to more elementary and middle schools in the county.
If anyone is interested in volunteering with us or knows of a school that may be interested in having us present to them, I’d love to hear from you.
Contact Lynda Stein at (800) 475-0776.