“Who wants to help?” a female voice rings out.
“I want to help!” the voices of kindergarteners answer back.
“Who wants to help?” the teacher again asks the children seated in the auditorium.
Fifty kids rise up from their seats and respond at the top of their lungs: “I want to help!”
“That’s what I like to hear!” the teacher says smiling, quieting down the crowd. “Because I’m here to show you how you can help.”
I got to sit in on (and help, because I got caught up in the rally cry as well) the second of the three class curriculum Bark Avenue Foundation (BAF) holds for LA’s BEST.
I thought I’d be lost having missed the first class, but Laura, one of BAF’s Humane Presenters, reminded the kids of last week’s events much like a good television show narrator summarizes last week’s episode.
“Remember those letters you wrote?” she asks the attentive audience.
They nod enthusiastically and a few yell out, “Yes!”
“Well I took those to the businesses. You asked them for help, and they’ve donated all this.” Bolts of fabrics are on cafeteria tables, and LA’s BEST staff members are cutting them into long strips. “They’re helping you so you can help the shelter animals. Today we’re going to make cat toys and dog toys out of all the material they donated.”
She’s interrupted by the frenzy of excitement from the children.
“And why are we making toys for them?” she asks rhetorically. “They might be sad, waiting for someone to pick them and take them home. But if we give them a toy maybe they’ll be—“ she pauses half a second and waits for it…
“Happy!” a chorus of children’s voices ring out.
“That’s right. We want to help make the shelter dogs and cats happy. So here’s what we’re going to do….”
First Laura shows them the cat toy—a simple toy made of rectangle of fabric, newspaper, and catnip. She shows them how to roll it and tie it in a knot, and let’s them know that if they can’t tie it, all the adults will help (including me.)
She instructs the first group to go up and grab fabric and newspaper, and then stations herself on the floor with a container of catnip, ready to add a pinch to every little package.
The kids take up spots on the floor and at the tables, rolling the fabric and doing their very best to make this seemingly simple object. Every child is dedicated to making this cat toy. I watch some struggle on their own; others ask for help; some proudly show theirs to me.
Once all the kids have made one, Laura collects them into her bin. These five and six year old kids just made a difference. They created something in the universe—not just physically, but emotionally—to add to the greater good. And they had fun along the way.
After the excitement dies down and the kids are all seated back in their chairs, Laura takes a survey of kids who can braid.
“This one is a team project. I need you all to find a partner who can braid. We’re going to make dog toys now.”
Laura brings up a volunteer and shows the class how to make a tug toy for a dog. Laura knots the three strips of fleece and then holds it up for her partner. Her partner braids it nice and tight, and when she gets down to the end, Laura ties the end in a knot: instant dog toy.
The kids pair up and make a sort of double line in the middle of the room as one holds the knot and the other braids.
Minutes later, there is a large stack of braided tug toys in Laura’s bin. As the kids take their seats, Laura shows them a card she is going to hand out.
“This is an invitation for you and your family to come to the shelter on December 1st to hand out these toys to the shelter pets. Do you want to go?”
The kids are really excited. Making the toys was fun, but seeing the effect they will have would be spectacular (and they’d get to pet some dogs and cats.)
Laura hands out the cards. “Make sure you give these to your parents and ask them to bring you. It’s Saturday, December 1st. Then you can see for yourself how happy they’ll be because of something you made for them!”
The kids pick up their invitations and all file out as Laura and I reset for the next group. Only a few minutes of silence, and the next fifty kids–third through fifth grade–come in and take their seats.
Laura briefs them on last week’s presentation and then asks them to share something they have done that was kind. Hands shoot up around the room. Some answers keep with the animal theme, “I saw a stray cat and he looked hungry, so I brought him some food,” while others show that kindness extends beyond our four-footed friends: “I helped my grandma fold laundry.”
One little boy, Frank, tells of finding a stray dog with a broken leg and how he and his dad picked him up and took him to the vet. In the end, Frank got his first dog and this dog got a good, loving home.
Being older, the toy-making portion of the process goes much more quickly, but the kids are equally proud of their accomplishments.
Many expert braiders want to make more than one. Like the younger group, they too are invited to come to the shelter to hand out toys.
Laura then turns her attention to one of Bark Avenue Foundation’s primary goals: spay and neuter. Laura asks how many kids have a pet at home who has had puppies or kittens. Almost the entire room raises their hands.
“Who knows what spay or neuter is?” Laura asks.
Not many raise their hands. One child’s voice shouts out from the silence. “It stops them from having babies.”
“That’s right!” Laura nods. One boy in the back looks shocked at such a thing. He raises his hand to inquire further.
“Does it stop them from having babies for right now, or will they never have babies again?”
“It’s forever. They’ll never be able to have babies,” Laura says matter-a-factly.
The boy’s jaw hits the floor. He looks around for some support from his friends on being aghast, but no one else seems concerned. He raises his hand to ask one more question, “But if they can never have babies, then how will we ever have more dogs and cats?”
He is gravely concerned that neutering his dog could lead to the extinction of canines. In all honesty, it is a good question if you don’t know the numbers of animals in shelters. There will also always be licensed, professional breeders who do it for the love of the breeds, homing their dogs with the same care rescues do. Dogs and cats aren’t going on to be on the Endangered Species List any time soon.“There will always be enough puppies and kittens even if you get your dog or cat fixed,” Laura assures him. “Do you know how many kittens you get from your one cat who isn’t spayed having a litter? Let’s say she has six kittens and they all have six kittens and those six kittens have six more kittens and it goes on and on. From that one momma cat having babies, in seven years you could have over 370,000 cats!”
The boy’s jaw drops again.
“And do you know what happens to all those kittens?” Laura asks. “Many end up at the shelter. And that’s not fair for all the dogs and cats who have been patiently waiting for a home. You know everyone wants a cute kitten or puppy. They often get a home first.” Laura dives into an analogy. “Let’s say you’re standing in line for ice cream, and you’re being really patient in this long line. Then this cute little two year old comes bouncing up—and everyone loves adorable toddlers—and they let him go to the front of the line. Then guess what? He gets the last ice cream! You’ve been standing there all this time, waiting your turn and then this cute little kid comes up and takes the last one! That’s how the adult dogs and cats feel at the shelter when new puppies and kittens come in.”
The faces in the audience make it clear that this scenario has hit home.
“All of you who have puppies and kittens, raise your hand. I have a flyer to give you for your parents. It tells them how and where they can get spay and neuter services for free!”
Bark Avenue Foundations holds spay and neuter clinics around Los Angeles two or three times per month, offering free or low cost surgery, vaccines, microchip and sometimes even flea and tick medication and pet food. Volunteers canvass neighborhoods with flyers, and they spread the word via social media. But sometimes the best word of mouth comes from the lips of a child.
The hands go up again, and Laura goes around the room, asking first, “Spanish or English?” and handing them the appropriate flyer.
The reasons for not spaying or neutering a pet range from not knowing about the procedure at all, not having the money for it, not having access to it, and not knowing the benefits of it. In some cases it is simply a language barrier. Not all students who speak English in school speak it at home. Bark Avenue Foundation makes sure to reach those beyond the language barrier, with bilingual volunteers and literature.
Language, culture, and age should never exclude anyone. No matter what language you speak, where you’re from, and how old you are, we all want the same thing:
I want to help!
And Bark Avenue Foundation is here to show you how.