Guest blogger Sandy De Lisle has a Masters of Science degree in education and has served as a classroom teacher, science museum programmer and program manager for the End Dogfighting in Chicago campaign. She is Senior Manager of Content Development for ASPCApro.
When my husband and I decided to have kids, we agreed that we would raise them as vegetarians. Not wanting to overwhelm our kids or fill their minds with horrible images of animals on factory farms or in slaughterhouses, I decided to take a more positive approach to explaining why we chose to have a meat-free household—by giving them the opportunity to interact with real pigs, cows and chickens.
However, living in the Chicago suburbs does not afford much opportunity to see farm animals, so when my mom told me about SASHA Farm, a farm animal sanctuary outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, I knew this was a chance to gently explain our choice. Within a few weeks of learning about the farm, I loaded the kids in the minivan and off we went. From the moment we arrived my kids were in awe. Co-founder and owner Dorothy Davies gave us a personal tour, allowing the boys to collect the eggs from the hens’ nesting boxes and get up close and personal with more than 300 animals who reside there. The kids relished spending time with Gandolph the turkey, Buckeye the goat and Digger the Texas longhorn. Over the years we have “adopted” various animals at SASHA Farm and have framed pictures of the boys with their favorites throughout our home.
I believe the visits to SASHA Farm have helped to inoculate my boys from the insensitive comments and teasing they’ve gotten for eating differently than their peers. After all, since they had relationships with farm animals, they had little interest in eating them. Their vegetarian diet is no longer a philosophical principle, it’s a belief that has wings and hooves and fur.
Aside from the practical function these farm visits served for my family, they are downright fun! And not just for vegetarians, but for anyone who is curious to get to know individual farm animals, observe their natural behaviors, learn more about how their brethren live on factory farms and just spend time around animals you probably don’t get to see day-to-day. Depending on the sanctuary there are often family-friendly activities going on—especially in the fall. With 25 farm animal sanctuaries across the United States, there is likely one within a day’s drive from you—and many have overnight accommodations onsite.
Guest blog by Emily Schneider, a proud mom of two feisty yorkies and a two-year-old living in the Garden State. Emily works in media and public relations for the ASPCA. Find her onTwitter.
My morning routine is always the same: wake up to a crying toddler who wants out of the crib (I’m lucky he hasn’t mustered up the courage yet to climb out!); get him settled with a toy or book; walk our dogs Olive and Mikey; make breakfast for everyone; get ready for work and leave for the train station with half a bagel in my mouth.
I’m tired just thinking about it.
Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who helps with the daily routine, and we recently started incorporating our two-year-old son to help us with some of the daily pet care tasks and activities. In a subtle way, our son is learning how to be a responsible pet owner as well as strengthening his bond with our family pets.
Here are some of the tasks and activities my son helps us with:
Making Breakfast: This is a fairly simple task that requires very little effort. My son helps me mix the dry kibble and wet food together with a spoon, and he carefully carries each of their bowls to a place mat. I can see the satisfaction on my son’s face when he successfully places each bowl on the mat without spilling a single kibble. Mission accomplished.
Walking the Dogs: My son is too young to go out and walk the dogs himself, but he knows that both Mikey and Olive need to go out for a walk in the morning so they can go potty. Even though my son is really just tagging along because I can’t leave him alone in the apartment, by including him in daily dog walks he feels a sense of importance, and he genuinely enjoys spending time with the dogs. Now, training a two-year-old to use the potty? That’s a real challenge.
Playing Fetch: What to do when you have an energetic two-year-old and two feisty dogs? Grab a few balls and go outside to play fetch! It’s important to find an enclosed area, and keep an eye on your child so they don’t overstimulate your pets. Ask your child to help you throw the ball—it’s a great activity to let both your kid and pets let loose and burn energy.
Cookie Time!: This is my son’s favorite activity. His eyes light up when I say, “cookie time” because he gets to give the dogs their favorite treat as they come up to him and patiently sit until he opens his hand with the yummy goodness. And my son gets a cookie as well (it’s actually a graham cracker, but he doesn’t need to know that). Just like Cookie Monster, all my kids go cookie crazy so we’ve incorporated basic pet training—Sit, Stay, Go – to help curb some of that cookie craziness. They all deserve something sweet and yummy for their good behavior.
Guest blog by Kathleen Makolinski, DVM, ASPCA Senior Director Shelter Medicine Service, within Shelter Research and Development. Kathleen graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. After working as an associate veterinarian for five years, she served as Director of Veterinary Services for a non-profit animal shelter. Since then, Kathleen co-founded Feral Cat FOCUS, a community advocacy group for free-roaming cats and co-founded Operation PETS, a stationary spay/neuter clinic in Western New York.
One day while driving to an activity with my 9-year-old son Charlie, he indicated that he learned about orca whales in school. He wanted to learn more about these wonderful creatures, so he asked if we can visit them in a nearby aquarium. I took a deep breath and tried my best to explain (in an age appropriate manner) that when animals who usually live in nature are housed in captivity, it can be very difficult to meet many of their needs. We should also consider how animals enter captivity, and ask if this was done in a humane manner. In this particular case, I suggested other ways to learn more about orca whales and that we support organizations who advocate for this species.
Other examples where we weigh childhood curiosity and the proper care of animals are inquiries about taking home a recently discovered frog, salamander, or crayfish, participating in ‘swim with the dolphin’ experiences and fishing with his friends. We thoughtfully discuss each situation as it arises and mutually reach a decision that is consistent with our beliefs about animals. Although Charlie is accustomed to explaining his choice to be a vegetarian since his preschool years, it can be difficult to be the only kid who does not participate in a group activity. My husband and I try our best to support him and recognize that as he matures he will rely less on our opinions when making such choices.
Although our family says ‘no’ to participating in certain animal related activities, we have found abundant ways to learn about, interact with, and provide assistance to many different types of animals. We watch related documentaries, follow various websites, tune into webcams, write research summaries and donate to our favorite organizations. Charlie greatly enjoys attending camp at an aquarium that rescues, rehabilitates, and releases marine wildlife. Here, he has become skilled at making enrichment items for residents who are unable to be released and had the great honor of seeing dolphins and manatee swimming in the ocean. We are hopeful that these early experiences will lead to a lifetime of positive interactions for Charlie and the animals he encounters.
How does your family balance curiosity about animals with efforts to ensure their proper care? Please share your experiences in the comments.
On a recent morning, my two-year-old daughter woke me up with a loud exclamation: “Change Diva’s seeds!” She was reporting for her daily pet-feeding duties. Like clockwork every morning, my daughter dumps out the old food for both of our pets pets, puts in new food, demands that we put fresh water in their bowls and stands on her tip toes to turn on the little radio we play to keep the pets entertained during the day.
My husband and I decided early on that our daughter would need to know that to truly love a pet, you need to pitch in to help with all aspects of pet care. Here are a few methods that have worked well for us:
Lead by Example: Our daughter has always been by our side as we take care of our bird, Diva, and our dog, Mr. Happy. I remember balancing her on my hip as she watched me scoop out Mr. Happy’s food. And my husband, Matt, remembers our daughter toddling behind him as he took care of Diva in the mornings. Then one morning, she screamed out, “No-no! Let me do it.” We let her try out feeding our bird. It was a mess with seeds everywhere, but she was determined.
Don’t Force It: Given our daughter’s young age, we believe her participation in pet care is voluntary. We don’t force her to help. However, we do make sure that she finishes her tasks. For example, if she starts changing the bird’s seeds, and then finds her building blocks more interesting, we make her stop playing and return to feeding the bird.
Positive Reinforcement: As soon as our daughter turns on the radio, Diva will start tweeting and dancing. As soon as the kibble hits the bowl, Mr. Happy is enjoying a good chow. Even on our busiest mornings we stop and have our daughter observe our enjoying the food she provided to them. The smile on her face is priceless.
Involvement in Medical Care: Each morning, our daughter watches as we give Mr. Happy his separation anxiety medication and we explain to her what we are doing. It is important to us that she knows that proper medical care is a key part of truly loving a pet. One time, she even noticed an infection in Mr. Happy’s ear. She yelled, “Mommy, Mr. Happy’s ear is red. He needs doctor help.” Sure enough, our dog’s ear was red and he had an ear infection.
Respecting our Pets' Boundaries: For the safety of all, it is critical that our daughter respects our pets' boundaries. From a very young age, we have instructed her not to give food to the pets without first asking us. There are certain parts of the house where our dog is trained to go if he needs a break, and it took some time, but our daughter is finally respecting those limits. We are as firm with her on respecting these boundaries as are we are with other safety routines in our home, such as not touching the stove and not playing on the stairs.
Do you involve your kids in your family’s pet care routine? Please share in the comments.
The chicken industry has designated September as National Chicken Month, so here at the ASPCA, we’re using this month as an opportunity to discuss important chicken welfare issues. Read the first and second installments of this three-part series by the ASPCA Farm team.
We know the feeling: You’re faced with a lengthy grocery list and only an hour to shop for everything you need. If you’ve been using our label guide, you know your way around misleading food labels. But, what do you do when you can’t find humanely-raised chicken in your grocery store?
We understand this dilemma. Today’s fast-growing chickens grow so large, so fast that many can barely stand and they tend to be raised in cruel conditions where they live short lives filled with suffering. No animal should be forced to endure that, and consumers should be entitled to higher-welfare choices at their grocery stores. In fact, according to a recent ASPCA survey, 81% of people say it’s important to them that the chickens they eat were raised humanely and 76% wish there were more humanely raised chicken products available to purchase.*
Luckily, there’s a way to have your voice heard and to influence the availability of humane options in your supermarket. With our Supermarket Request Letter, you can ask your preferred grocery store(s) to carry more humanely-raised chicken. Labels such as Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved, and GAP (Steps 3 and above) represent a big step towards higher standards that are better for chickens and better for your family. So, if you’re tired of searching high and low for more humanely raised chicken, fill out our letter and start taking action today!
Want to get involved? Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #ChickenMonth.
*The ASPCA supplied questions to Edge Research who designed the survey, which was conducted via phone by Caravan ORC International between August 14 and 17, 2014.