Wishbone program teaches animal welfare to students
Animal welfare is not just about finding homes for unwanted dogs, cats or an occasional bunny.
“It’s about identifying the needs of the community and implementing resources, programs and education for the wellbeing and safety of humans and animals alike,” says Wishbone Pet Rescue community outreach coordinator Lynda Stein.
Wishbone Pet Rescue manages the Allegan County Animal Shelter and Stein is stepping up animal welfare efforts by reaching out to youth at elementary and middle schools.
She says teaching children at a young age the importance of kindness, compassion and respect for animals is key to keeping shelters from overflowing with homeless pets.
It also instills values of how to treat others and how the human and animal bond can bring comfort and companionship.
Stein has been involved in animal welfare and community outreach in Chicago for several years, including healing for dogs and humans through Veterans Advancing the Lives of Rescues and The YMCA of Metro Chicago’s Youth Safety Violence Prevention program for at risk kids and with incarcerated teens training court case dogs—canine victims of neglect or abuse who have been rescued by police and animal control.
“For veterans with PTSD and those who are incarcerated there’s a healing connection with the dogs as silent therapists,” Stein said.
Now that she’s moved to Lake Allegan full-time, she has more time to devote to the “Children, Compassion and Critters” program given in a colorful PowerPoint presentation along with packets of materials including information on all of Wishbone’s community programs, literature on various animal topics to share with students’ families and, of course, shelter kittens and sometimes a therapy dog.
“We don’t take the shelter dogs because we’re not sure how they’ll react in a school environment,” Stein said.
The program teaches not only about kindness and compassion but the responsibility of care for the pet’s entire life span, spaying and neutering, pet safety, animal abuse and how kids can make a difference.
The students are also stepping up to help provide pet care by spotlighting an imals seeking a home, helping out at the shelter and organizing shelter donations.
Otsego’s Washington Elementary students created videos and short biographies of shelter pets seeking homes. (See the videos on Wishbone’s Facebook page.) Through the student’s Allegan County Animal Shelter Community Project, they’ve also collected donations and hosted food drives for the shelter.
Students learned about stereotyping animals, said tutor Jacquie Bennett.
“They learned that some people think black cats are bad luck and it was usually harder to get them adopted,” Bennett said. “After playing with the cats in the community cat room, the students said the black cats had been the most friendly and suggested the online video biographies start with a few black cats, such as “Camry” and “Jetta,” whose specialty is purring.
Breaking down another stereotype, the students met a pit bull breed dog. Several students said they were nervous at first when “Seely” was introduced but after petting and playing with the dog, they changed their views about pit bulls.
The Washington students also participated in a two week donation drive and delivered nearly $250 in cash donations and enough supply donations to fill up an SUV.
Otsego Middle School’s STAND group (Students Taking A New Direction) invited their peers to watch “A Dog’s Life” movie after school and pay $2 or donate a toy or bone for the pets. They’ll be visiting the shelter in May.
“It is very important that our kids learn about pet care and responsibility for a pet’s entire life span,” Stein said. “We focus on the importance of their daily needs and bring awareness to our pet’s feelings and emotional capabilities, learning that their needs aren’t so different than ours.”
Allegan Girl Scout troop 80500 is volunteering at the shelter to help junior level scouts earn their Bronze Badge—the highest in scouting. They bring donations, read to the animals for socialization, do laundry, wash dishes and make cat toys and small beds.
“It’s not just playing, it’s hard work keeping them clean and away from germs,” said fifth grader Bridget McKinley.
The troop on Saturday, April 13, met up with nine six-week-old shelter puppies and quickly learned about responsibility. Fourth grader Ava Snyder said puppies can easily catch diseases.
The girls had their hands full keeping the puppies from wiggling out of their arms, nibbling on shoestrings and fingers and piddling on the floor.
“Touring the shelter, students get true interaction with the animals and see how much work has to be done behind the scenes with so many animals,” Stein said.
The puppies, a pitbull-lab mix, will be up for adoption in a few weeks if they are ready and healthy. The mother “Pickles” is also at the shelter. Applications for adoptions must give two personal references and one veterinarian reference.
If approved, cost is $190, which includes spay and neuter and vaccinations to age. A $100 deposit must be paid if leaving the shelter with an animal that is not yet altered. Proof of a prepaid puppy class must also be presented.
If students would like to see the program and/or help animals at the local shelter, contact Stein at the Wishbone Douglas office (800) 475-0776 Ext. 10.