Helping animals by teaching children | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | February 24, 2017 5:00 pm
Last Updated: February 22, 2017 at 12:50 pm
By KATRENA McCALL
Our children are the hope for the future. And the CACE team (Colleton Animal Commitment Education) believes they can make a difference in the welfare of Colleton County’s animals by teaching today’s children the how’s and why’s of taking care of their pets.
FoCCAS volunteers Janice Young, Carol Armentrout, Dr. Rebecca Hughes, D.V.M., and Laura Clark spend hours each week in Colleton County schools, teaching fourth graders how to be responsible pet owners and how to help animals from ending their lives at a shelter.
The lessons came from a curriculum developed by volunteers in Moore County, N.C., Young said, given to Colleton volunteers three years ago when the four went to N.C. to learn about the program.
This year the program is being presented at Forest Hills, Bells, Cottageville and Colleton Prep, with shorter one-day programs for 4-5-year-olds at Academy Road and First Baptist pre-schools. At the end of the elementary school program, CACE holds a graduation celebration, complete with speakers, entertainment, snacks, surprises, and certificates of completion signed by the FoCCAS team and their principals.
The lessons all start with “I Can Be…” — a theme also printed on stickers the students can use. The first lesson teaches “I Can Be A Responsible Pet Owner” — what “responsible” means; how to feed, water, exercise, bathe and take care of a pet’s general health; obedience commands like sit, stay, come and heel; walking on a leash; vet visits — all the basics of providing a safe, healthy home for an animal.
The lesson also discusses that sometimes the most responsible way to take care of an animal is not to own one at all. For those who live in apartments or don’t have the financial resources, it’s OK not to own a pet. But the children can still help spread information on how to be responsible pet owners, whether they own a pet themselves or not, Young said.
The program uses fictional and real life stories to help children enjoy learning. There’s the on-going story of Snowball and Barney. Barney is a black cat who lived with a little old lady and had a wonderful life, had all the great stuff. Then his owner died and had not made arrangements for him. The family didn’t want him, so they just dropped him off at the shelter. Snowball is a pitbull mix that was picked up on the street, scared, hungry and pregnant. She’d never had a shot, never had decent food, never been loved.
“These are like some of the animals we actually get at the shelter,” Young said. “We talk about how the children think Barney and Snowball felt — what could have been done to prevent the two from ending up in the shelter.”
The tale of Snowball and Barney continues throughout the program, with a new chapter at each lesson, and the kids really enjoy their story, Young said.
“They also really like it when you bring personal things in, things that happened at the shelter,” Armentrout said. “The story my kids listen to the most is how I always wanted an animal, but we had a back yard that was very small. My dad always said when we had a big back yard, we’d get an animal.
“Then we moved, and we had a tremendous back yard. I got this dog — I was in fifth grade. And I graduated from high school, and we still had Tippy. I graduated from college; we still had Tippy. I got married; we still had Tippy. I had a baby; we still had Tippy,” she said. “So now they realize that it’s a long commitment to own a dog. When you tell stories like that, it hits home with them.”
Most children don’t think about the fact that a dog can live 15 years when they’re looking at that cute puppy. “We talk about how old you’re going to be when your dog gets to be mature,” Hughes said. “You might be 9, but if you add the 9 and 15, you’re going to be 21 and that dog’s still going to be hanging out. We talk about what’s going to happen then.”
One particular lesson, though, is particularly important to the four FoCCAS volunteers: stopping pet over-population. “The main problem we have throughout our whole state is over-population,” said Hughes, who donates her services as a veterinarian, spaying and neutering pets at the Colleton County Animal Shelter. “We have a lot of options available to help deal with over-population, but it’s all putting out fires. The solution starts by keeping over-population from becoming a problem.”
In December, Laura Clark had the opportunity to talk to the state legislature about the CACE program and received a very positive response. “CACE has been a pilot program for something that might become very useful in our state,” Hughes said. “If that happens, we have a chance to really make an impact, not just in our county, which is wonderful, but if we could do it on a statewide level, we wouldn’t have all these problems about what to do about all these animals who don’t have homes.”
Teaching the next generation about ways to solve that problem is one of CACE’s main objective. “Dats” are one tool used to bring home how quickly the population of unwanted animals grows. Each student is given two miniature dog or cat figures (dats.) Then the instructor decides which ones were spayed or neutered. The students with dats that weren’t spayed/neutered then get another handful of animals. “Now we ask them, ‘What are you going to do? Can you take care of seven animals?’” Young said. “Then they start turning to their friends, asking ‘Can you take one?’ But if the friends didn’t spay either, then they have a handful of their own. Eventually we ask ‘What’s going to happen to these animals? You can take care of three, so what are we going to do with the rest of these?’” Some go to the shelter, but at the end, there are a lot going to heaven.
“At the end, you have tears,” Young said, “when you start giving them the visual picture that these are real live animals.” Many don’t understand the concept of “heaven” (euthanasia) until this part of the program. “One asked today ‘How to you do that?’” Young explained that they are given a shot and go to sleep. The child asked, “When do they wake up?” Young had to explain that they don’t.
She also explained why, talking about the cost of keeping an animal and the fact that Colleton’s shelter doesn’t have enough room or enough funding to keep all the animals, since there are just not enough people adopting pets. Last year the shelter took in 2,155 animals: 133 were adopted, 228 were reclaimed by their owners and 785 were transferred through FoCCAS’ affiliation with other no-kill shelters and rescue groups. But 45.4% still “went to heaven.”
“We would love to be a no-kill shelter. Charleston County has one, and Berkeley County is going to. But we don’t have the funding right now,” Young said. Colleton County pays for the shelter’s building and associated expenses, and the salaries of its employees. All of FoCCAS’ efforts, however, are from fundraising and donations. “FoCCAS does a lot and there are a lot of volunteers who go out there and do things. We’re hoping education is the key,” Young said.
“Spay and neuter is probably one of our main goals to get across to the children. We need them to share what they’ve learned with us, take it to their family, their friends. We try to teach them things so they can be an advocate, even if they don’t have animals. And hopefully down the road, we won’t have these problems,” Young said.
“I tell them that maybe in your lifetime, we won’t have to euthanize pets, maybe we won’t have to have shelters,” Young said. “It’s going to be up to them, the next generation, to really help.”