Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One Door Closes...

Earlier this summer I applied for a grant with a local community organization. The funds I requested were to be used for HAWS annual spring break camp in which we allow local kids to attend a mini day camp here at HAWS for free. The kids are usually disadvantaged children from families that usually wouldn't be able to afford to pay a camp registration fee.

The goal with this camp is to provide a positive experience for the kids with animals, and to spark an interest in investigating a future career with animals.

Unfortunately in the middle of October I heard that we weren't chosen as recipients for this grant. Just as I was exploring options on other ways to receive funding I heard that the DECA club from Arrowhead High School had money they wanted to donate. They loved the idea of our spring break camp and committed to funding it.

DECA is an organization for students who are interested in marketing and entrepreneurship. Students learn skills needed for their future career through projects and partnerships with area businesses. They also have a commitment to giving back to the community, and because many members of the club love animals wanted to help our organization.

Non-profit organizations like HAWS rely on donations and grants to help us with many of our programs. It's very heartwarming to see a group of high school students put their time and energy into helping others.

Thanks Arrowhead DECA!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the adoption of my dog Belle. Thinking about this amazes in so many different ways. I can't believe she's 15 years old -- soon to be 16 (the shelter thought she was about 8 months old when she was picked up as a stray). On the one hand I can't believe that it's been 15 years already, but on the other Belle has been a part of my life for so long that it's hard to remember a time when she wasn't a part of it. And adopting Belle was my first experience in animal welfare - I have to give her credit for being such a great dog and allowing me to take my first step towards what ultimately became my passion and my career.

What amazes me even more is that in one dog's lifetime there have been significant changes in animal welfare in the south eastern area of Wisconsin. When I saw Belle 15 years ago for the first time, she was in a room that held several stainless steel cage units that had two levels. Belle was in a cage on the top level -- a cage that HAWS currently would use for our feline residents. It was barely bigger than a medium sized crate.

Recently the state of Wisconsin passed a law regulating any business or organization that sells more than 25 dogs a year. One of the regulations concerns size of the primary enclosure. The cage Belle was housed in during her stay at the shelter would be illegal now. It's not that the shelter I adopted Belle from was horrible -- it's just that back then there was a different way of thinking about sheltering.

Another thing that strikes me is that at the time I adopted Belle I had another dog who was listed on my adoption application. Not only did the shelter not require that I have the dogs meet prior to the adoption, it would not have been allowed. Back then shelters did not want any more animals in their building than those that were residents. They didn't want to bring in any more disease than they had to, and they didn't want to risk the health of the adopters dogs.

This is another big change from 15 years ago. I don't know of any shelter in this area that doesn't make it a requirement of adoption for a home's existing dog to meet the shelter dog being considered for adoption. Shelters want to do everything they can to make sure that the adoption is successful. Part of that means allowing the dogs to meet on neutral territory and assessing the meeting to see if they are likely to be compatible.

Belle's anniversary was yesterday and we're starting on our 16th year together. While we most likely won't be celebrating another anniversary together 15 years from now, I cherish every moment that we have had and will have together. And I look forward to seeing the progress of animal welfare and shelters in the future.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Critter Club Goes to the Llamas

For years Kathy and Mark Harder have been bringing their Llamas to HAWS for camp and other kid programming, and were kind enough to invite us to visit them sometime. Critter Club provided the perfect opportunity since it was a small group of middle school aged kids and because they've been cleaning cages on Saturday mornings they deserved a special treat.

On Sunday morning a school bus picked our Critter Club members up and drove them just over the border in Jefferson County to the Harder Llama Farm. There they learned about llamas, life on a hobby farm, and how much work goes into taking care of farm animals.

The kids moved bales of hay and dropped them down a chute from the second floor of the barn down to the first floor where the llamas eat. They discovered just how heavy dried grass can be!

I think the best part was spending time with the animals -- including the farm's cats,and of course the llamas. And after they got over how cold it was in the barn, the kids really enjoyed sitting in the bales of hay eating apples.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Humane Education is Important

Every now and then a child will tell me something that astounds me and makes me realize the importance of my job as a humane educator. Earlier this week I experienced one of those moments.

When giving a tour here at HAWS I have times where I'm giving the entire group information, and other times I'm allowing the kids to look at the animals on their own before we move on. Often the kids will take the opportunity during these latter moments to tell me something about an animal experience they've had, or tell me about their own pets.

One of the girls this week asked if we had any parakeets - and in particular if we had three that were green, yellow and blue. She wanted to know because she was wondering if her parakeets were here at HAWS, since her mother had "let them go" since the cat was after them.

"Let them go?" I asked. "You mean outside?"

The girl said yes -- her mother had let the birds go outside.

It was then I most likely made a mistake. "Parakeets are from Australia," I said in shock. "They can't survive in Wisconsin!"

I hadn't meant to make the girl feel bad, so I was a bit relieved when, ever the optimist, the 4th grader told me that maybe by now they were in Florida. At that point my shock had worn off and I allowed her to think this was a possibility.

As upsetting as this conversation was to me, I realize that this isn't this little girl's fault. My job allows me to reach children and adults and help them become educated about pets and how best to treat them - and hopefully put an end to the ignorance that creates inhumane actions like releasing pets into the wild.

Perhaps if I reach the child, I may allow the child to educate her mother. Even if this isn't possible I may be able to plant a seed and allow the child to make better choices than her parents.

Later in the tour I approached this same girl. "Tell your mother that if she ever has a pet that she can't keep or doesn't want any more she should bring it here. This is what HAWS is for -- we will be more than happy to help you out with pets you can't have."

Hopefully I reached two family members that day.