Monday, February 13, 2017

A Failure to Communicate

One of the questions I ask when taking about HAWS to groups of children is what reason a pet owner might have for no longer being able to keep their pet.  Generally the kids answer with the usual reasons:  can't afford, moving, ruining stuff, not good with kids.  Last week I had an 8 year old girl give me an answer I've never ever had anyone phrase in quite this way.  She said, "The owners and the animal can't communicate well enough."

I was struck by how perceptive this little girl was, and how much truth there was in her statement.  The majority of the reasons for people to give up their pet involves some kind of a communication problem if you think about it.

The fact is that people have certain expectations about their pets, and when the pet doesn't meet those them it's either because the expectations are unreasonable, or the owner isn't being effective in their communication with the pet.

While it would be really nice to say, "Hey Fluffy -- I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't use my couch as a scratching post", the reality is that because our pets don't speak our language it makes effective communication even more difficult.

We (arguably the more intelligent species) might have to learn some of their language, because after all even if pets don't speak verbally they do have their own way to communicate and can tell us a lot if we would just learn how to listen to them.  And knowing what normal species specific behaviors are, and how to provide opportunities for our pets to perform them will go a long way towards resolving conflict.

Additionally, just as in any good relationship, we may have to compromise.  While we might not get everything we want, our pets may also not get everything they want.  You may want the walk to be moving as quickly as possible on your route for exercise purposes and your dog wants to stop and sniff each and every tree, light post and clump of grass.  So maybe you stop occasionally and allow your dog to sniff, because after all they are scent machines on legs and the world is full of wonderful and meaningful scents.  But on the other hand you don't stop as often as your dog would like.

Trying to understand our pets will make the relationship that much more richer.  And if your are struggling to communicate effectively and make the relationship work you can always seek a relationship expert to help you.  Many people call those professionals behaviorists and trainers. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Zen of Turtle

One of the least difficult programs I do is my weekly Friday visit to Saratoga STEM Academy during Connect - the hour in the middle of the day where the middle school students eat during the first half, and find something to do the second half.  For the animal lovers the visit from HAWS is one of their favorite things, and I get steady stream of kids stopping by to find out what the animal of the week is.

It's an easy program because I really don't have to do anything other than supervise the kids with the animals, answer questions they have about HAWS and the animal I brought, and listen to them talk about their own animals.  While there isn't a specific lesson being given my hope is that the exposure and opportunity to listen and be listened to will have a positive influence on them.

Typically the hour is very noisy and very chaotic.  Students are coming and going, talking to each other loudly, yelling out the door to a friend who is passing by, and off in a corner carrying on conversations having nothing to do with me or the animal.

A few Fridays ago I brought Hulk, our Red-earred slider that is currently residing at HAWS and looking for a home.  As turtles go Hulk is a bit on the shy side.  He doesn't like loud noises and, while tolerant of handling, takes a while to come out of his shell -- literally.

As beautiful of a shell as Hulk has, the kids really wanted to see the rest of him.  And when I explained that he didn't like a noisy environment they all shushed each other, formed a ring around Hulk and waited.  It was a long wait.  Kids still were coming and going, but as they came in they were instructed by their fellow students to keep quiet.  And as they were going they carefully tip toed out of the room. 

I thought for sure the kids would get sick of the wait after a few minutes and go back to being their typical rowdy lunch-time selves.  But they really surprised me in that they kept very quiet for over 10 minutes, and as Hulk very slowly cautiously moved his head out they whispered in excitement that he was doing so.  And after a few minutes when he moved his legs out they maintained their silence respectfully.

Animals have a wonderful effect on people - even turtles on middle schoolers.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

5 Freedoms

I'm known about the 5 Freedoms for quite some time now, and we've even incorporated some 5 Freedom activities into our summer camp program.  Lately, however, I've become a bit obsessed with finding ways to incorporate the 5 Freedoms into many of HAWS education programs on a regular basis.

The 5 Freedoms were developed by the United Kingdom Farm Animal Welfare Council as a way to keep livestock in a humane manner.  The 5 Freedoms have since been adopted by many organizations and professionals that care for animals, including animal shelters/humane societies.

The 5 Freedoms are as follows:
  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
What I love about the 5 Freedoms is that they so clearly define the majority of what we are trying to do in our education programs.  These are definitions that show what a responsible pet owner provides to the pets in his or her care, and also helps facilitate empathy towards animals.  It shows that we can change an animal's emotional health just by making an effort to provide the 5 Freedoms.

What I also love about the 5 Freedoms is that in order to meet the criteria of all five a person needs to know what the needs of a specific species are, and requires that a pet owner do some research so that they can provide them.

As I go through the school year working with the kids in our clubs, after-school programs and other programs I'll be looking at ways to introduce the students I work with to the 5 Freedoms.  Hopefully it will make them think about how they can make life better for their own pets.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Gone to the Dogs

Camp Gone to the Dogs is the most popular summer camp held at HAWS each year.  The camp is geared towards kids ages 10-14 years of age and limited to 15 campers.  Campers are placed in groups of three, and each group gets a shelter dog to work with and care for the week.  This summer the campers got to take care of puppies! And caring for puppies, while a lot of fun, brings with it special challenges and responsibilities other than frequent clean-up.

Puppies under 3 months of age benefit greatly from socialization to people, other animals and new things in their environment as long as it isn't overwhelming or scary, and they are allowed a choice as to whether they want to engage with whatever it is they are being exposed to. 

Our campers therefore had a great opportunity to help our adoptable puppies with socialization.  The fact that they spent all week with kids over 10 years who were playing, feeding and walking them allowed them to be socialized to older kids.  But our campers went beyond that!

One of the things we did was have "Crazy Dress Up Day".  Dogs can sometimes become very
frightened of people wearing clothing or costumes outside of what they've experienced.  We told the kids to come with winter clothing (summer puppies sometimes freak out when they are adolescents and people start wearing heavy jackets, scarves and hats), different hats, sunglasses, Halloween costumes, and anything else they could think of.  The kids put on their crazy clothing and spent time playing with and giving treats to the puppies. 

Another thing we did was a few days of environmental socialization.  We placed as many different types of things on the floor as we could think of; exercise pens laid flat, a tire, crinkly plastic - anything the puppies could safely explore walking on, over and into the objects.  The campers were instructed not to force the puppies to do anything.  An important part of socialization is allowing the puppy to make a choice and encourage him to be brave without pressuring him to do something he isn't comfortable with.  And of course lots of cookies were given for being brave and trying new things. 

HAWS camp is finished for the summer; in a few days the kids will start school, and the puppies have already gone to their new homes.  But we hope the kids who attended our Camp Gone to the Dogs learned something about how to properly socialize puppies.  And we know that the efforts they made  during camp have created a lifetime of benefits for the puppies they worked with. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Campers Helping Cats

Camp season is in full swing at HAWS.  Each year I look for new things to do with the campers.  Many of the kids are repeat campers from previous years, and we have quite a few that attend multiple sessions.  New activities are important so that these children have opportunities to experience and learn something new. 

Over the years we've seen that some of the cats in our adoption ward are stressed or even afraid of the environment while in their cages.  In an effort to help these cats our staff and volunteers will frequently drape blankets over a shelf to provide a tent where these kitties can hide. 

And now that we have our shelter cat Toby I noticed that he adores sleeping in boxes, and I've learned that this is common with cats in general. 

One of the Five Freedoms of providing for humane treatment of an animal is the freedom to express normal behavior.  Cats love to hide in general, and stressed cats need to hide to feel better.  Giving a cat a choice about whether he will hide our come out will make a cat secure, and many times stressed cats will take a break in their hiding spot and then make a choice to come out once they feel better. 

Given this information I decided that making hide boxes for the cats would be a good camp activity.  Boxes are pre-cut and handed out to the campers to decorate.  They're given magazines, construction paper, and drawing material and told to get creative.

The kids love this activity and we found that they needed more time than originally anticipated to finish up.  The boxes are adorable -- the campers really outdo themselves. And best of all it seems that the HAWS cats are loving the boxes too - many times we'll see them snoozing in their cozy boxes. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Blogger Dog, Brito!

My passion is my dogs and part of that passion and the way I connect with my furry family members is through training.  Training a dog shouldn't be looked at as a chore.  Training can be fun and if done properly becomes one big game for the dog.  It's a lot like the way we like to run our education programs here at HAWS; the kids do some fun activities and learn something along the way!

Because of how I want to train my dogs I've become a big fan of dog trainer Denise Fenzi whose training philosophy matches my own, and who has an amazing way of building relationships with dogs.  I've learned a tremendous amount since I've started reading her blog and books.

Recently Denise published a book for children called "Blogger Dog, Brito!".  The book is written from her dog Brito's point of view in a blog format and he writes about being adopted from a rescue, his introduction to his new family, learning new things, and playing fun games.  We get to see how dogs express themselves through body language, and how they can thrive when someone understands them and allows them to have choices.  It's the perfect book for HAWS humane education program. 

Since our camp started this week, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to introduce the book to our campers.  We read the children a few of the chapters, talked about Brito and how he felt during the situations he described, and then we had the kids do an activity.  The kids could choose to either write a blog from the viewpoint of one of the adoptable animals at HAWS, or they could comment on Brito's blog post from the viewpoint of another animal and draw a picture.  Here are some of the results. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kitten Season

We're coming up on what is commonly known as "kitten season".  That time of year when kittens start streaming in from people who have found them under their porches, on their farms, or in an old shed.  They come in for the most part without a mother, some too young to eat on their own, and others a bit older and showing signs of becoming feral. 

These kittens typically end up on a foster home.  The very young ones will be fed by bottle and pottied by hand.  The older ones will be handled, played with and hopefully learn that living with humans is not such a bad thing after all.  Many times they come out of their shell and become more social. 

When I first started working at HAWS 12 years ago kitten season came rushing in with baskets, boxes and carriers of kittens coming through the doors starting in March and running right through until the end of October -- sometimes even later.  Then most of our cat adoption ward was filled with cages upon cages of 8 week old kittens.  And even though the little ones were adopted quickly, there was a never ending stream to take their place. 

We've noticed a huge change in the last few years.  Kitten season has started with a trickle, and doesn't really get going until the middle of June.  The students in my education programs during the school year repeatedly ask to see kittens, and it's rare that I have any to show them in the spring.  And while our cat adoption ward has many cages of kittens at the height of kitten season, it's not nearly to the level that it was years ago. 

I give credit to HAWS for this transformation.  Our spay and neuter clinic offers free spay/neuter to farms with barn cats, and to residents taking care of community cats; the cats that have no owners. We've also created alliances with other organizations to take cats if we are over-full and they are able. 

HAWS has a goal to create a no-kill community.  Right now we fulfilling that definition with dogs and our small animals.  And we are ever so much closer to that goal with the cats that we take in; we get closer every year.   Spay and neuter to reduce the population works, and HAWS is proof of that.