Back to School!
It’s that time of year; days are getting shorter, vacations are distant memories, and teachers are reviewing math, science, and social studies lesson plans. But, what about humane education?
For that matter, what is humane education? In essence, humane education is the teaching of compassion and respect for animals and others. It’s when a third grade teacher plans a unit on community helpers and includes a visit to the local animal shelter; it’s when a fifth grade teacher shares information about proposed dangerous dog legislation and asks her class to debate the pros and cons of the possible ordinance; and it’s when the art teacher takes her students outside to draw a nature study, and asks them to observe every detail, including the fast-moving ant colony and the skedaddling squirrels. And, sometimes, humane education is taught when classroom visitors emphasize the importance of speaking up for animals.
This will be my fifth school year visiting students as the director of the Washington Animal Rescue League’s humane education program. It is my job to, not onlyencourage young learners to be compassionate and respectful, but to instill in them a sense of responsibility. I tell students about the many wonderful cats and dogs in our care at the League and explain that those animals and many more are in shelters because of people: People who get rid of rambunctious puppies and dump litters of kittens. People who don’t have time to care for their old cats or claim that the kids aren’t caring for the family dog. And sometimes people who say that they just don’t want the animals anymore.
And animals who wind up in shelters are the lucky ones. Thousands more are abandoned in parks, countrysides, school yards, and other open spaces every day. But even children can do something about it.
I tell fourth graders that it is perfectly okay NOT to live with a cat or dog. Taking care of a companion animal is a huge, life-long responsibility. But it is never okay to walk by an animal in need and not help. Thousands of cases of animal cruelty are reported every year in our area alone; there’s no telling how many other incidents of abuse and neglect go unreported.
My dog, Nigel, would have died had it not been for a police officer who responded to another call nearby. Nigel, a big, incredibly sweet black Labrador retriever, was tied to a porch railing outside an apartment in plain view of passe rsby. Not only was he tied to the railing, but his snout was tied shut. Kids and adults saw a starving dog every time they passed. But no one did anything. No one called the authorities.
When the police officer arrived to the area, she saw the emaciated dog and made the phone call that saved Nigel’s life. Nigel weighed only 48 pounds when he was rescued. Within days he weighed in the mid-50s, and a couple months after I adopted him, Nigel reached his optimum weight of 75 pounds. Many students have met Nigel in their classrooms since he came to live with me 7 ½ years ago; they express anger toward his abuser and vehemently claim that they would never just walk by. But what should they do when they see an animal in distress? I emphasize calling the proper animal welfare agency. I also caution against approaching an unknown animal.
My visits include role plays where students practice reporting animal cruelty. We also figure out what it would cost to care for a cat or dog; we price out food, supplies, veterinary visits, training, classes, and all of the other essentials and extras that go with caring for an animal companion. We read books that highlight the human/animal bond and we write poetry in celebration of National Poetry Month.
Take me Home
The shelter has dogs.
The dogs are big and jumpy
I love those small ones
— by Precious,
The association between kindness to animals and respect for all beings is not a new concept, nor is the teaching of humane education a recent classroom phenomenon. With the formation of anticruelty societies in the 1860s came the teachings of kindness to animals. Most humane organizations have humane education programs. During the school year, the League’s education program includes multiple classroom visits plus a field trip to the League.
Dear three Black Puppies – I enjoyed playing with you. You made me calm. The reason you made me calm because you didn’t bite me. I’ve been bit by a dog and I know how it feels. Black puppies you made the trip AWESOME!
Your friend, Rayana
Educators are responsible for teaching kids so that test scores rise, but society has a much greater obligation. In the words of the 1933 PTA Congress –
Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind and considerate in their relations to each other. Character training along these lines will result in men and women of broader sympathies, more humane, more law-abiding –– in every respect more valuable citizens.
The WashingtonAnimal Rescue League can help. Teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents can find out more about our humane education program by contacting me at email@example.com. And please visit my blog at warlkids.blogspot.com.
School is open. Drive safely. Watch out for children who need our guidance and for animals who need our help.
Debbie Duel is the Washington Animal Rescue League’s Director of Humane Education. She has been with the League since 2008 and has more than 20 years experience teaching humane education.