Bark Avenue Foundation’s Humane Education program started in the Fall of 2016 with Darlene Horvath, Lisa Potiker, and Lollie Raganer blazing the trail into LA city and County elementary schools and clubs. With the help of Lisa Wiehebrink’s book “Love Me Gently,” Lisa Potiker developed a curriculum that focuses on responsible pet guardianship and compassion towards animals while engaging students in critical thinking and problem-solving exercises, and emphasizing the correlation between how we treat animals and how we should also treat each other – with patience, respect, and empathy.
Humane Educators work in pairs, presenting “Love Me Gently” in tandem with a stuffed Cooper-the-dog and felt board presentation where students are given the opportunity to comment and both answer and ask questions. The story is followed by an interactive animal shelter simulation, in which photos of “adoptable dogs” are pinned up on a clothesline and students are able to pretend to “adopt” the dogs. Each time a student chooses a dog, an Educator explains the dog’s fictional situation – why they ended up at a shelter, what behavioral issues they may be combatting, ways to keep a pet safely in a home, etc. These stories help the students understand the dogs’ feelings and the heartache of ending up in an animal shelter. Through these scenarios the students feel empathy for the shelter dogs and understand the importance of a lifetime commitment. Students are given a chance to problem-solve, coming up with options to avoid relinquishment, and/or re-evaluate whether the dog they chose is the right fit for their family. If they decide that particular dog isn’t the right fit, they get an opportunity to pick a different dog until they find one that works, or decide perhaps now is not the right time for their family to adopt a dog, which students are taught is a responsible decision as long as they make the decision before adopting a pet, because as the children are asked numerous times throughout the presentation, “How long do we keep our pets?” To which they all answer with an enthusiastic “FOR LIFE!”
Throughout the 50-minute presentations, several themes are emphasized, including: Pets as family members, whom we commit to for life; patience, compassion, responsibility and commitment being the hallmarks of successful pet guardianship; the importance of maintaining proper identification through ID tags and microchips on pets; spaying or neutering pets as the most effective means of curbing the problem of shelter overcrowding; and shelters and rescue organizations being the best places to go to find a furry family member. At the end of the presentations, each classroom is given a stuffed Cooper and a copy of “Love Me Gently” (in English and Spanish), as well as certificates of completion for each student for their participation in the Humane Education Program, free spay/neuter clinic flyers, and a one-page information sheet for each student to take home to their parents detailing what they learned. Classroom teachers are provided follow-up activities that are aligned to the common core standards for grades K-2 or 3-5.
The program has been a hit with students and teachers alike, and BAF has been building the roster of volunteer Humane Educators as they expand the program’s reach to an increasing number of LA City and County schools, and make a particularly ambitious push to reach as many children as possible through LA’s BEST Summer Program.
Humane Educators have reached over 3,000 students since the program’s inception last fall, receiving enthusiastic engagement from teachers and students. When asked what they remembered from the presentation, students at one school said, “I learned that we need to spay and neuter our pets because there are too many homeless animals already,” and “I learned that if a dog makes a mistake or goes potty in the house or chews your things, he is not a bad dog.” As BAF continues to expand the program, it continues to evolve, and an additional curriculum has been developed for older students, involving more mature subject matter and tailored interaction and presentation techniques. We look forward to continuing to grow this program reaching more kids of all ages in Los Angeles and beyond. Special thanks to our generous program supporters including the Annenberg Foundation and volunteer presenters.
If you’re interested in learning more about this program or volunteering as a Humane Educator, please contact Christy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to help us continue this invaluable program.