You know that kid: the kid in class who always has the answers, is always sucking up to the teacher, who stays late to put books away, always has the class assignment on time, and is never the kid you tell any secrets to if you don’t want adults involved.
You know that kid.
You might have been that kid.
Last week, Humane Education presenter Lisa Potitker met that kid.
During Lisa’s presentation, there was one little blond-haired girl that kept shouting out the answers (with hand raised to be polite of course), and Lisa found herself stopping her often. “I love that you know a lot of things, but why don’t give your friends a chance?” she asked.
“I don’t have any friends,” the little girl said, almost matter-a-factly, as if this was just the way things were.
The rest of the class supported her claim.
“No, she doesn’t.”
“She tattles on everyone!”
“My mom said I shouldn’t play with her.”
“My dad says she causes problems.”
While honesty and transparency is always welcome, this seemed particularly harsh. The worst part of it being that it was just accepted. She was that kid, filling the archetype of your childhood memories.
Lisa recognized this as a teachable moment. After all, this is what humane education is about. She turned her attention back to Lucky, Lisa’s real life pit bull featured in the humane education curriculum.
“You know Lucky didn’t have any friends,” she said to the little girl. “She didn’t know how to make friends,” she said to the class. “She was aggressive, and tried too hard, and sometimes came across mean when she was stressed out. But I still love her.”
Lisa shared with the class her favorite quote: “You are so much more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.”
“Lucky was much more than her inability to make friends or the bad choices she had made when she was scared.”
She asked the kids to think about the worst thing they had ever done, and how they had regretted it. “But you also need to forgive yourself,” she said. “And forgive others, because you know they have the same kind of regrets you do.”
Lisa went on to lead the class in a discussion about second chances and how important it is to understand that we all make mistakes, but we need a chance to make things better, to do better. Whether you’re a human or a dog, “you are so much more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.”
They discussed labels–those archetypes we’re familiar with, that we grew up watching in John Hughes movies and saw reflected in the classrooms around us: the brain, the athlete, the basketcase, the princess, and the criminal. But we are all so much more than that as well.
Using pets as examples–the pit bull with the ears that had been chopped off by her previous owner; the cat who hissed and clawed at every human who tried to show her love; the Chihuahua that piddled every time someone reached out to pet him–Lisa taught the class that actions don’t define everything you are. We all make mistakes. We all do things that may not be right. But we can’t hold onto the labels others give us–or we give ourselves–because of something we’ve done.
“If Lucky had been labeled aggressive, I never would have been able to adopt her. And she wouldn’t have the loving brothers she has now,” Lisa explained. “Everyone deserves a second chance.”
The next week when it was time to make posters for the shelter animals and Lisa instructed everyone to work in groups, the little blonde girl asked if she could work alone. “I don’t work well with others,” she stated, something she accepted about herself after being told it again and again, and reiterated by her classmates.
Lisa reminded her of the previous week’s lesson and about shedding labels and getting (and giving) second chances. She had her join a group of three girls and together they worked really well, creating a masterpiece they were so proud of they wanted to hang it up in the school.
While the poster they created was “Be kind to shelter animals” and “Save pets,” the lessons Lisa taught them reached beyond the shelter cages. She taught them to be kind to one another. Save each other by giving someone – and yourself – a second chance.
“Empathy: the action of, or capacity for, understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”
-Merriam Webster Dictionary
Although autism is a spectrum and each person has a unique set of challenges, when one thinks generally of autism, one often thinks of trouble reading others’ emotions. And yet, those on the spectrum sometimes seem to have the most empathy for our animal friends.
During a recent BAF Humane Education presentation at LA’s BEST, Lisa Potiker, Founder and Creator of Lucky Dog Humane Education, and MA Education, Early Childhood Education Specialist, witnessed that first hand when she posed the question to her class “Why do you think a pet wouldn’t want to live in a shelter for a long time?” Read more…
Managing BAF’s Unsheltered Pets and People (UPP) program in a city as diverse Los Angeles means communicating with people who speak a variety of different languages: Spanish, Russian, Armenian, Tagalog and many others. But when James came to ask for help, there was no Rosetta Stone course to bridge the communication gap. Mute and deaf, he had no language at all. He wasn’t fluent in sign language, and he didn’t have advanced lip-reading skills. He lived in a world of silence—but not loneliness. He had his cat Beth.
James had become increasingly worried about lumps he had felt on his companion’s chest. His housing navigator at Los Angeles Family Housing contacted BAF to see if their UPP program could provide assistance. Through two interpreters—one to sign the exact words being used and the other to translate those signs into a way that James could understand —James was able to fully comprehend the options for Beth, what could possibly help her, and the process. In return, he was able to express his concerns. With UPP’s help, not only was he able to make an informed decision about her care, but he is receiving financial assistance for that care. Using funds from the PetSmart Charities grant, BAF was able to schedule and will pay for Beth’s veterinary exam, Xrays and blood work to get a diagnosis and suggested course for care.
If the tumors haven’t spread and the veterinarian agrees that surgery is in Beth’s and James’ best interest, then Beth will have her mammary gland tumors removed at the end of the month. But BAF’s involvement doesn’t end when Beth’s tumors are removed; the UPP program will continue to be there for Beth and for James. Whether it be practical help of providing pet food and supplies, financial help in paying for the surgery and follow-up visits, or emotional support for James as his faithful companion undergoes surgery and the ongoing care needed, BAF will not abandon them.
It doesn’t matter what language you speak—if any at all; the Unsheltered Pets and People program will always answer the call. When it comes to people and their pets, the staff and volunteers of BAF will bridge any communication gap. Because when it comes to our pets, we all speak in the same language: love beyond words.
Being an animal rescuer is something in the DNA. You don’t stop rescuing just because circumstances aren’t optimal. It’s an instinct to care for animals, to give voice to the voiceless, to put your own comfort aside for that of another being. Perhaps we all have that gene; it’s just not turned on in everyone.
Martha Guerra has that gene and it is on and working in overdrive. For years, hers was the doorstep the abandoned puppies and kittens were left on. She was the one you called when you had found a litter of kittens under your porch and no mamma nearby. Hers was the door you knocked on when a dog got hit by a car and you didn’t know what to do. A teacher by trade, an animal rescuer by nature, she was always just a moment away, ready to provide whatever was needed. That is, until she had no phone to call. And no doorstep to walk up to. And no door to knock on.
Martha suffered a brain injury, and like so many people in America, one medical catastrophe sent her life spiraling downward. Diagnosed with systemic lupus on top of the mounting bills for her brain injury, Martha found herself with no money, no job, and no home. And yet…
She could not turn away an animal in need.
She had lost everything—but not her ability to help others. A friend of hers provides housing for the animals she rescues, but she needs to provide everything else—food, vet care, and eventually, forever homes.
After her injury and then her declining economic situation, outreach for education and adoption became near impossible. But Martha refuses to give up. She always finds a way. And she found that way through Bark Avenue Foundation.
Reaching out to BAF via email about her situation, Martha learned about the Unsheltered People and Pets program. She met up with them in person at their monthly clinic at LA Family Housing in North Hollywood where .. UPP provided food and supplies, talked to her about additional resources and mobile clinics, and arranged for four of her cats to be spayed/neutered all free of charge.
Whether you’re a dog, a cat, or a human, being homeless is circumstantial; it is not who you are. Martha is an animal rescuer, and remains so regardless of her situation. She sees the animals she helps in the same way: for who they are and not the circumstances in which they are currently in. This is how Bark Avenue treats everyone who comes to them: by recognizing the individual, getting to know the person (or dog or cat or other pet) and then help make their situation a little better.
Everyone needs help sometimes. BAF tries to be there for as many as possible —even the rescuers who find themselves in need of rescue.