Monday, January 20, 2014

Service Learning and Critter Club

Service learning is a tool that a lot of humane educators use in their work with kids.  Through service learning kids learn about an animal welfare related issue and then perform a service using what they've learned.

This semester our Critter Club members were challenged to do a service learning project and were given a choice of 4 different topics.  Two of the topics were very popular with the kids when put to a vote, and so we allowed them to split into two groups with a different topic for each group.

One of the groups chose the topic of puppy mills.  Although these are kids who are already sympathetic to animal welfare, I think they learned a lot and were appalled at the conditions in which dogs are kept in breeding facilities.   They chose to do a movie to be placed on YouTube and spent a lot of time on-line doing research and looking for photographs to use.  

While most of the kids in this group were already aware that puppy mills aren't very humane, I think they were shocked at just how bad they really are.

The other group chose the welfare of circus animals as their topic.  They put together a PowerPoint and originally were going to present it to parents, but we ran out of time as the semester is almost finished and the club runs on semester basis.  We decided to make it into a video and place that on YouTube as well. 

As we started the service learning project I introduced the students to the "Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare".  Originally developed in the United Kingdom as a guideline to how farm animals should be housed, it's been adopted by many facilities that house animals all over the world.  Animal shelters in particular have adopted this concept.

The circus animal group used the Five Freedoms as part of their presentation to show that circus animals do not enjoy the standards required to ensure that their physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Not only did the club members learn about an aspect of animal welfare not directly related to animal shelters, but they also had to work as a team and in some cases compromise in order to work on the project. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Education through Experience

HAWS Kids 'N Critters Winter Camp ran during the school's break and was huge success.  Because of how the holidays fell during the week this year, for the first time we ran 5 single day sessions rather than 2 and 3 day sessions.  This allowed families to have more options and work around their own schedules, and it also meant that we were able to accommodate more children -- many of whom were new to HAWS. 

The last two days of camp ran during a cold snap in which the outside temperature was in the single digits.  Normally our schedule would have had kids walking dogs outside, but we modified it to allow small groups of kids to work with dogs and do some training in the comfort of the indoors instead.  

Before we brought the dog in to the kids I prepared them for how to behave around the dog, what we were going to be training, and how to safely deliver treats so that fingers didn't go into the dog's mouth.  
One of the kids asked what kind of dog was going to be coming into the room.  When I told him she was a pit bull mix, he said, "My dad says pit bulls are dangerous."  I started to explain to the boy that wasn't true about all pit bulls, and that the news tended to overly report pit bull attacks compared to attacks by other breeds, causing people to be prejudiced.  (For a great information on this see Dr. Ian Kupkee's blog post.)

I quickly realized that he wasn't hearing me and didn't want to believe what I had to say, especially since it was contradicting his dad.  I finally said, "Well, why don't you spend some time with Cider and then make up your own mind." 

Cider came in the room and we proceeded to work on sit for polite greetings, and then taught her to navigate obstacles in the form of crawling under chairs and walking through a tunnel.  Initially she was a bit fearful about them, but the kids did a great job using treats and their voices to encourage here.  She very quickly felt more comfortable and the kids felt proud of their accomplishment. 

After a half an hour of work Cider was a bit tired, and the kids were able to pet her as she relaxed on the floor.   And the boy who thought pit bulls were dangerous admitted that she was a really nice dog.   Sometimes showing people is better than telling.