Monday, November 22, 2010

I Could Never Work There

This is a sentence that those of use who work in animal welfare hear regularly when we tell others what it is we do for a living. I generally assume that people mean that it would be so heartbreaking and depressing trying to cope with the sad stories and outcomes, that they wouldn't be able to emotionally handle it.

It is true that it takes a certain personality type to be able to handle some of the things we see -- there are sad stories that we have to cope with. I don't think there's anyone working here at HAWS that hasn't cried over some of the animals that have come through our doors.

But I think what most people who speak this sentence are missing, is that we do it because we feel we truly can make a difference, and because the stories with happy endings far outweigh the sad stories.

We get to see lost animals reunited with worried owners frantic to find them. We see animals with injuries rehabilitated and adopted out to new homes. Animals up for adoption that get passed over for months on end finally find the perfect family.

Recently one animal was surrendered to HAWS that had most of the staff over the moon in love with her. Oscar was surrendered by the daughter of her owner -- a man who was experiencing medical problems and could no longer care for her or give her the time she deserved. Many of us don't have parrot experience, and were suprised at just how much a Cockatoo has to give. As we discovered just how special and affectionate she was, she spent less and less time her her cage. For over a week Oscar could be found snuggling with one of our staff either behind the front desk, or in someone's office.

Oscar liked to have her neck rubbed, and would push her head into your hands when she wanted to ask for it. She loved to sit on shoulders, but even better was if someone was sitting down she'd sit on your lap and lean into your body. Oscar was all about the snuggling.

Although some of us had fantasized about keeping Oscar as an official HAWS mascot, we realized it wouldn't be the right thing for her. She really needed a home without the activity level of our shelter, and without the sounds of crowds on the weekends, and dogs barking. Because we were so taken with her, and because we knew that she required an adopter who understood parrots and how much attention they needed, we were looking for very special people. And we found them. Oscar's new owners has recently lost their Amazon Parrot to cancer and were ready for a new feathered friend. Their vet gave them an extremely high reference, and Oscar really seemed to like them.

We said goodbye to Oscar last week -- happy that she had the perfect home, and knowing that she was making two people very happy as well. That's what working in animal welfare is all about.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Motivation Impacts Learning

One of the interesting things about the fact that I'm both a dog trainer and a humane educator is how many times things that apply to dogs is also relevant when trying to teach people.

My Lad Lake program this semester has been more challenging than the previous 2 semesters. For one thing the students are younger. Last school year the kids ranged in age from 13 to 18 years of age, while this semester I'm working with kids between the ages of 11 and 14. Also -- with the exception of one, this particular group of students really don't have a background with dogs. They don't have dogs, don't have a passion for dogs, and most have cats at home and are very much cat lovers.

I've struggled with getting the current group of boys motivated to work with HAWS dogs, and show the enthusiasm for training and canine behavior that the other two groups had. And I've had to apply a principle that dog trainers use all the time -- if the dog isn't learning and doesn't appear to be motivated try something else.

My original format consisted of a 20 minute PowerPoint with the remainder of the hour having the boys split up into two groups -- each working with their own designated adoptable dog. A few weeks I knew I was in trouble when I heard a couple of the boys complain that they were bored and didn't want to work with dogs. Part of it was frustration, and part of it was just that the program as it was set up was not working.

So I've changed a few things. I had them doing a competition to see who could get the most sits out of Mystic in a minutes time. I won at 25 sits - while each of the boys was able to do only 9 or 10 sits. And I used that as an opportunity to show the boys how to keep the dog engaged in training by holding his attention. Then they worked with their dogs and did the sit competition again, and really seemed enthusiastic about interacting with the dogs.

Another thing I did was to put together a case history for a dog named Jenna. Jenna is at HAWS, but currently isn't adoptable because she needs some training before she'll be ready for adoption. She is a very young dog who gets mouthy when she's frustrated or overly excited. HAWS Mod Squad -- a group of dedicated volunteers who have been trained to do behavior modification with HAWS shelter dogs, has been working with Jenna, but I also wanted to get the boys involved in her training.

I video taped her behavior and did a case history presentation. Then I asked the boys to brainstorm with me and talk about what her behavior problems were. I was amazed that all the boys were raising their hands and participating -- normally only one of the boys is eager to participate. And even better they made very valid contributions as to what her inappropriate behaviors were.

Then I asked them what we could do with training to improve her behavior. And again I was floored at the wonderful suggestions each of them came up with. They suggested that we train her to sit when people approach, work with her to be calm when petted, and teach her to be calm when her harness is being put on or taken off -- among other things.

The last few weeks we've still had a PowerPoint presentation, but then as a group we work with Jenna on those items for 10 or 15 minutes, and then they work in the two groups with their own dogs. And this seems to have made a huge difference in their attitudes towards the program. Not only are they seeing a tremendous difference in Jenna's behavior, but they are much more interested in working with the other dogs as well. And I even caught them working as a team and complimenting one another.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kids Can Make a Difference!

On Friday HAWS had a visit from the student council of Pewaukee Lake Elementary School. The students of the school decided to do a community service project for HAWS and collected a tremendous amount of items from our wish list. While it's always impressive when kids want to get involved and help out, what is even more extraordinary is that Pewaukee Lake's students are early childhood through 3rd grade!

The student council brought over the school's donations, and then received a tour so that they could see the animals their donations will benefit, and learn about what HAWS does for the community. And of course they were able to meet a few animals after the tour. Pearl the rabbit enjoyed meeting the kids and getting some attention. And humane education dog, Mystic, always enjoys meeting kids.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Teacher's Pet

Having a pet in the classroom can be a wonderful experience for children. Students can learn about the responsibility involved for caring for a pet and develop empathy for others. Additionally a classroom pet can create lessons in a variety of subjects that can motivate students to learn. What part of the world the pet comes from works well into a geography lesson, and the food that the animal eats can develop into a lesson in nutrition or biology.

One of the problems teachers can find in having a classroom pet is that they may not want a pet to be their permanent responsibility -- especially when it comes to breaks in school in the winter, spring and summer, when the teacher would have to either care for the animal at home or make accomodations for him. And having a pet in the classroom may be a fantastic learning experience for the short-term, but not a good idea for the entire year.

A few years ago I developed a program where teachers can foster small animals through HAWS for a temporary basis. The Teacher's Pet program requires teachers to fill out a classroom foster application and promise to be completely responsible for the care and welfare of the animal. The animal is still a HAWS adoptable animal -- however is on loan to the classroom for however long the teacher would like to keep it.

Once the teacher gets their application to me we discuss what animals are currently at HAWS that would be available to become Teacher's Pet fosters. Animals appropriate for this program include rodents (hamsters, mice, rats, guinea pigs), birds such as parakeets and cockatiels, and some reptiles.

Once the animal has been chosen I bring the animal to the classroom and do a 1/2 hour long presentation to the class talking about what kind of a pet the animal makes, what food it eats, how to properly care for it, and how to handle it. The teacher is given a packet of information about the pet and caging, equipment, and a supply of food and bedding that will last a few weeks. While the animal is available for adoption while in the classroom, it stays until the class is finished with it. So far all of the animals in the Teacher's Pet program have been adopted by one of the students in that pet's classroom.

The wonderful thing about the Teacher's Pet program is that the classroom gets a pet for as long or as short of a time as the teacher wants it. It gives the teacher an option to have a pet other than purchasing a pet from a pet store, and then trying to find a home for it once the school year is over. The program is a great opportunity for HAWS to educate the teacher and the students about the care of the particular pet they've chosen. And since the pet has a sign on it's cage that it's a HAWS animal available for adoption, the parents and other members of the public that visit the classroom learn that HAWS has more than just dogs and cats available for adoption.

Today a dwarf hamster went to his new home in Mrs. McSorley's second grade classroom at University Lake School. The kids were very excited and enthusiastic. They all plan on bringing toilet paper tubes and small pieces of vegetable's for Mr. Pibb. And they asked wonderful questions about how often the water in his bottle should be changed and how often they should clean his cage. I have no doubt that Mr. Pibb is in great hands and that the kids will learn a lot from him.