Humane Education Is Important
At my veterinarian´s office recently, I listened as a mother explained to her young child why they were there. Their cat needed to be spayed, and in simple terms she explained how every companion animal, like every child, needed a loving home, and this was one way to insure that they would not be contributing to pet overpopulation. She patiently answered her child”s questions, and the connection between the three of them was sweet. Puffy Fluffy herself was rescued, trying to stay warm in a friend´s barn.
It´s never too early to start teaching children compassion and responsibility toward animals. This woman was setting such a good example for her daughter − − adopting a homeless cat, and making sure she had proper medical care, including neutering. Petting my cats and hearing their stories of being rescued, the little girl would probably remember this day in a positive way and, hopefully, she will become a minieducator herself.
It´s also never too early to start teaching kindness, whether to animals or people, and how connected both aspects are. Unfortunately, we lose great opportunities every day in our schools, where humane education is an unfunded and overlooked mandate.
In New York, state law requires that elementary school children be given humane instruction every week, but how and how much is extremely vague. There is no requirement at the secondary level, although legislation has been supported by NYSHA to change that. However, most teachers are unaware of this law, have too many other priorities, or do not have any idea of how to apply it. Overwhelmed administrators certainly do not promote humane education, either, although we spend enormous and necessary time on character education and anti-bullying initiatives. The relevance just doesn´t seem to be obvious and important.
What is especially disturbing is that it is so easy to find ways to incorporate lessons about responsible animal care into the daily curriculum. “Model Animal” is just one example. Websites of many animal protection agencies offer all kinds of ideas, pro-jects, and plans that fit into any subject matter, but most teachers are unaware of them. Our NYSHA website has several suggestions and links.
Yet one committed teacher can make all the difference. In my school, with just a few staff members, it was easy to set up an animal appreciation club and do some work in the classroom. But this is not enough, and I am hoping to use a conference day in the future to share ideas and resources with colleagues.
As a member of the community, you have several options. Go to school board meetings and ask what is being done to follow the laws regarding humane education, and express concern that they be enforced. Find a teacher you feel comfortable with, and see if he/she needs your help setting up a program. Inquire with local shelters and rescue groups about their availability for humane ed presentations. Of course, follow our legislation news to encourage lawmakers to make reasonable, enforceable mandates so that we can start teaching compassion at an early age and continue doing it throughout a student´s academic career.
Something that outrages all students is animal cruelty. Through humane education, we can teach children that often at the heart of abuse is overpopulation. Teachers, shelters workers, and other presenters have a wonderful chance to engage kids in something that they feel very strongly about and enable them to make a difference. We owe them — and the animals — that.
As always, for the animals,
New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XXV, No. 3, Winter 2011-2012.