The main focus of HAWS Kids 'N Critters Day Camps is to educate children about animal welfare issues, one topic being what it means to be a responsible pet owner. We have many games and activities that help emphasize such things as doing research before bringing a pet home, ensuring that a new owner has appropriate supplies, providing exercise, grooming and cleaning.
Sometimes, however, the best educational moments are during periods of down-time. The other day I sat with the kids as they played with a cat and a little girl started a conversation with me about a problem she was having with her parents. Apparently she wanted to get a kitten and her parents had told her they would purchase kitty litter and food, but that she'd have to figure out a way to provide veterinary care. She wanted to know if she could get her future kitten spayed or neutered at HAWS for free or for just a small amount of money.
I explained to her that HAWS provides low cost spay and neuter to people who are on government assistance (Social Security, Disability, etc), but that because her parents both have jobs and can afford pet care we couldn't do the same for her. I also explained that kittens need more vet care than just spay and neuter. Her kitten would need vaccinations, and may need such things as medicine to get rid of ear mites and intestinal parasites. HAWS doesn't provide these services to the public, so she'd need to spend money at a vet any way. Additionally vet care isn't just a one-time visit. She'd have to spend money every year for a wellness check-up, and if her cat got sick or hurt she might need to take the cat to the vet for care in addition to the annual examination.
I'm not sure how the topic changed to litter boxes, but the girl indicated that she only planned to clean the box once a week. I explained that cats are very clean animals, and that they don't like to use dirty litter boxes.
The little girl didn't get it. "But why can't I just clean it once a week?" she asked. I told her that some cats might stop using a litter box if it's dirty and start going potty in other, less desirable places. She still didn't understand about daily cleanings, and so I asked her if she'd want to use a toilet that never got flushed.
I'm not sure the girl was convinced. Typical of many kids her desire to have a kitten to have fun with was stronger than her understanding of the fact that while a pet is fun it's also a responsibility that requires care that isn't always fun. But I hope I at least planted a seed.