Friday, September 30, 2011

Critter Club Starts Again!

Last spring I wrote a post about a new program we started for middle school kids called "Critter Club". The program was a huge success -- the kids truly enjoyed coming on Saturday mornings to clean cages, scrub litter boxes and fold laundry. I think their parents were a little jealous they don't enjoy doing similar chores at home!

They also enjoyed the educational component to the program where they came to HAWS once a week for an educational program and had opportunities to spend time with HAWS adoptable animals. Many of the kids were invited back to become regular volunteers with their parents, despite the fact they were younger than 13, since they had shown a tremendous amount of responsibility, maturity and committment to HAWS.

Critter Club Fall 2011 started a few weeks ago. We have a total of 16 kids in this semester's program. Some participated in Critter Club last spring, and many are familiar to me since they've attended our camps in the past. We've picked up several new faces -- kids who hadn't been involved in any previous educational programs.

So far things are going extremely well. The club members have been trained in cat cuddling and small animal socialization, and will be trained as dog walkers next week. We plan to have them create a project to help HAWS during this semester's program, and they'll have a chance to visit a Llama farm and help care for the Llamas in November.

One of the best parts about the program is that I get to hold conversations with the kids and hear their thoughts. One of the kids told me last night about a dog owned by a relative. It upsets her that the dog is crated for most of the day and night, gets yelled at a lot and doesn't have access to water except for certain times of the day. These relatives have kids - I suggested she encourage this family to send their kids to HAWS Kids 'N Critters Day Camp because maybe we could help them develop empathy and learn how to be responsibile dog owners.

While it's a tough lesson for a kid to learn that not everyone is kind to their pets, I'm heartened that this club member is concerned, has empathy for the dog, and wants to make a difference. Hopefully HAWS programs will allow her to continue to feel this way.

Learn more about Critter Club and how your child can apply!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Captivity vs. Freedom

When Lad Lake met for the first time I explained to the boys what HAWS is all about and gave them a tour. One of the special treats they were able to see was the marmoset we had had surrendered. Jerry wasn't available for adoption --he was being housed in a back room that was off limits to the public while we tried to figure out what exactly we were going to do with him.

As the boys were looking at Jerry I explained that I didn't think it was right to keep wild animals as pets. I explained that in the wild marmosets would be able to roam for miles and live in the rainforest in large groups. Kept as pets we can't even begin to replicate that natural habitat, and since they are wild animals being kept in captivity their natural behaviors can't possibly be fulfilled which means that they most likely aren't happy being kept as pets.

The boys, captivated by how cool Jerry was, didn't buy into it. One asked why it was ok for zoos to keep monkeys. I explained that zoos have larger enclosures than what a person keeping a pet monkey would be able to provide, and additionally had full-time staff to ensure that not only were the animals cared for appropriately, but that zoo staff spent a good amount of time providing environmental enrichment opportunities to ensure the animals had the mental and physical stimulation they needed to be happy.

The boys still weren't convinced. And when they heard that captive animals tend to live longer than wild animals they jumped on that as an excuse to keep wild animals as a pet.

"Wouldn't it be better for them to live as a pet and live longer?", one of them asked.

I asked the boys if they'd rather live for 70 years in a jail cell or for 30 years in freedom. They seemed to get it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TAGteach and Lad Lake

Recently I read an article on the website of animal trainer/behaviorist Karen Pryor entitled "Yes, But Does This Work with Kids? How TAGteach Made a Difference at School and Home". TAGteach is something I've been familiar with for quite some time, but this article summed up quite nicely the concept and how it can be applied as a tool for children.

TAGteach is basically clicker training for people. It allows the teacher to break down the whatever is being taught into small steps with each step being reinforced -- just like it would be with animals. The difference is that with people the teacher can articulate to the student specifically what the steps are.

I just started a new semester with my Lad Lake program in which at-risk boys come to HAWS twice a week to do training with shelter dogs. One of the problems I've run into with my previous Lad Lake attendees is that they want to skip steps in the training process. For example -- instead of building on a duration stay and setting the dog up to be successful, they always want to move away from the dog right away. Many of these kids lack patience and self control, and it's more difficult for me to get them to move a bit more slowing in their training steps than it is with the students I work with in my family manners classes.

I've decided to use TAGteach concepts to help the boys define specific steps in training the dogs to do behaviors -- recently I sat down a wrote out the stepts for sit, down, leave it and stay and put together a demonstration video to show them.

Today was the first day that the boys worked with shelter dogs -- we worked on sit and down. And I found that the steps I wrote out served as a good reminder for myself when coaching them so that I could help them help their dogs be successful.