Here at the ASPCA, we’re always inspired when we see people taking a stand for animal welfare. We’re extra inspired, though, when some of our youngest supporters speak up for animals! Pennsylvania fourth- and third- grade animal enthusiasts Veronica J. and Kamryn V. recently teamed up to write a guide book for pet parents titled Hamster Fun Facts. We checked in with Veronica and Kamryn:
Do you have any pets? If so, please tell us about them.
Veronica: I have three hamsters. Midnight is a black Syrian hamster and he is nice, he does not bite. Oreo is a black and white Syrian hamster. Pipsqueak is a Chinese dwarf hamster and stays at my Grandpa’s house. He is small and timid. I also had another hamster named Pipsqueak, but he passed away a month ago.
Kamryn: We had a black Lab who passed away, and we'll be getting a new dog soon.
What inspired you to write Hamster Fun Facts?
Veronica: I love hamsters and needed a project for my media lab class at school. My teacher suggested I write a book on hamsters.
Kamryn: My love of animals inspired me to help write Hamster Fun Facts.
What is the book about?
Veronica: How to take care of hamsters and fun facts about hamsters. It is a great book for someone thinking about getting hamsters or who already has hamsters.
Kamryn: The book has lots of ideas about what you can do with hamsters, what types of toys and food you can give them and it has a lot of fun puzzles to solve.
Why do you think it’s important to be an animal advocate?
Veronica: I think it is important to be an animal advocate because they cannot represent themselves. I want to stop animal cruelty.
Kamryn: Some animals are endangered and need us to speak up for them.
How can other kids your age help animals?
Veronica: They can help animals by volunteering at an animal shelter or donating treats, dog food or toys, etc. to local animal shelters.
Kamryn: You can donate some allowance to a local animal shelter and write your own book.
Thanks for supporting animals, Veronica and Kamryn! We can’t wait to read your next book.
Guest post by Dana Wilkosz of KIWI magazine. The views expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the ASPCA.
I’ve been an allergy-sufferer for almost my entire life. Dogs, dust mites, grass—you name it, I’m probably allergic to it. (As my allergist put it to me at the tender age of five: “You probably shouldn’t have any animals in the house…But you can still hug the trees!” I was devastated.) So I can relate to parents who may be hesitant to introduce a pet to their young child—especially if they themselves have ever suffered from being around animals (itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy throat—so much itching.)
However, you may want to think twice before deciding against four-legged companions completely. A recent study suggests that it is unlikely that being around a dog or a cat for most of the childhood years will increase a child’s chances of developing allergies, and early exposure could actually lower the risk.
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit studied 565 18-year-olds who had been followed from birth. They found that teens who had cats during their first year of life had 50 percent less chance of developing pet allergies later, compared to babies born into cat-free homes. Boys who lived with a dog during the first year of life had about half the risk of developing allergies as compared to those without a dog in the house, though, oddly, this wasn’t true for girls—a fact that researchers were unable to explain.
In fact, being exposed to pets anytime after the first year of life seemed to have no effect on allergy risk at all, which, researchers feel indicates that a baby’s first year is a critical time when it comes to the possibility of a child developing pet allergies. The reason for this? Researchers believe it may lie in the “hygiene theory”—the idea that early exposure to certain environmental factors, like dust or animal dander, might trigger the immune system to develop a tolerance for common allergens, therefore reducing the likelihood of a child developing sensitivities.
Still, researchers are quick to point out that even though the study indicates that having pets early in life could help protect kids from allergies, this doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship—meaning you probably shouldn’t rush out to get a pet in the hopes that it’ll make your child immune to pet allergies. However, if you’re planning on getting a pet, it might be better to get one sooner rather than later.
Fortunately for me, my allergies have never been life threatening, and my mom agreed to keeping pets in the house so long as my symptoms didn’t get out of hand. To this day, I live quite happily with a cat of my own, and though I still take a pill everyday to help relieve some of that awful itching, I’m an animal lover and a pet owner, and I wouldn’t have grown up any other way.
What about you? Did you grow up with animals and allergies? Do you think exposing your child early in life to common allergens could prevent them from developing allergy symptoms later in life? Please share in the comments.
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.
With Thanksgiving and the holiday season right around the corner, I started thinking about family photos and the challenge of getting my son and pets to cooperate for a photo shoot. I tried all sorts of strange tactics when I’m behind the camera: bribing them with treats; placing weird objects and toys by my camera to get their attention, squeaking, barking and when nothing else works, threatening everyone to “stay still or else…” (not my proudest moment). Out of my hundred shots, there is at least one decent photo where my son’s eyes are half-closed and my pets are in the frame.
I asked a few pet photographers for tips on how to capture great photos, because quite frankly, I’m tired of acting crazy just to get one good photo. It shouldn’t be that hard, right?
Here are some tips from the experts I spoke with:
Choose a good background. Avoid distracting objects or backgrounds that are too busy, such as street signs and walls with patterns or posters. Natural light is always best, but it may not work if you have an indoor pet, or if you decide to do the photo shoot at home.
Shoot after playtime. Playing a game of fetch with your dogs, or letting your cat catch chase a laser pointer will help your pets loosen up and relax. You could also get nice photos if your dog has its mouth open or panting, it looks like they're smiling. For cats, some of the best shots happen when a cat is resting after playtime.
Draw attention to the eyes by getting everyone to look up or toward a light source that illuminates their eyes. Experts say this is especially important for cats and animals with black coats.
Avoid using direct flash. Some animals are afraid of the flash and it often gives the photo an unnatural look. If your flash can be adjusted to different angles, try pointing it at the ceiling or a wall to bounce the light and brighten the room.
Find a sound that gets your subject's attention. Wait until everything is set up and then make your noise to get the animal to look at you. I discovered that saying “cheese” and “cookie” works for both my son and pets. It’s important to follow through with a reward after taking the photo.
Allow everyone to act naturally as much as possible. This might not work if your pet likes to curl up in a ball and sleep, or if you kid likes to do jumping jacks, but the key is to not overwhelm your subjects by forcing them to do something that’s unnatural to them. Everyone will pick up on your energy and vibe, so keep every photo shoot fun and know when to call it quits.
I’m not an expert photographer, but I’m starting to get a hang of what works and what doesn’t (i.e. trying to force your kid and pets to stay still). Patience is the name of the game—it might take a few tries before you get the money shot, but the good news is that most people have digital cameras and you take as many photos as your memory card will hold. And the best photos are the ones where everyone is relaxed and happy, so snap away and say, “Cheese!”
Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
Being a working mom poses many challenges, but I believe one of the primary benefits is the opportunity to model what it’s like to enjoy helping others for my almost-2-year-old daughter. Each night, I snuggle with my daughter in our rocking chair and I summarize our day. I talk about what we had for breakfast, who she spent the day with, what activities she participated in and I tell her that mommy was at work and missed her all day. I take comfort that I can tell her about the positive impact I may have had on an animal or on a person while we were apart. Instilling compassion in a child is hard work. It comes naturally to her in some ways, but we also try to find deliberate ways to point out, model and encourage compassion.
My husband recently brought our daughter to visit me at “the office,” which is the ASPCA Adoption Center in Manhattan. They took the bus there, and since that is one of my daughter’s favorite modes of transportation, the trip was already an adventure. She had no idea what was in store for her! When they first arrived, she pointed to every photo on the wall in the lobby (of which there are many) and exclaimed, “Kitty cat!” “Doggie!” “Meow!” “Horsie!” And we hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet.
We walked around and looked at all the animals, and each one gave her a new spark of excitement. We saw big dogs, little dogs, barking dogs and sleeping dogs as well as orange cats, black cats, dozing cats and playful kittens. Some of the animals seemed stressed by her presence, in which case we hurried her along to another dog or cat who showed interest in this small visitor. My coworker gave her a little pug doll which she brought around and “showed” to all the animals. I explained to her that these animals don’t have a home like our two pugs, Dexter and Milton, as well as the other animals in her life. I’m not sure she understood this exactly, but my tone made her scrunch up her face the way she does when we see a “sad baby” in one of our books.
If you’re thinking about adopting a pet, visit your local shelter and watch the delight on your child’s face as they connect with the animals. As parents, we all know that their joy becomes our joy.
Keri Matthews, a mom of two, has worked in the ASPCA’s licensing department for more than five years. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Tom, her children, Gabriella and Tommy, and their Greyhound, Clyde.
When we recently hosted birthday parties at our house for our two children in the span of two weeks, our dog, Clyde, was thrilled! For two weekends, our house was filled with fun activities and guests giving him lots of attention, as well as treats. He was in the thick of things. Here are some ways we incorporated Clyde, as well as pet- themed activities, into both parties:
Trick time: The kids and adults took turns giving Clyde treats as he gave them his paw, sat etc. There are still times Gabriella is hesitant to do trick time with Clyde, since his paw can reach very far and goes up very fast—especially when he’s excited! It’s a work in progress.
Party hats: Gabriella loved picking out the color of Clyde’s party hat. Clyde didn’t seem to have a preference.
Ball tent: Clyde was very curious about the ball tent we set up for both parties. The kids had fun sorting the balls by color in between his paws.
Since the weather for Gabriella’s party was warm and sunny, Clyde got to go in his kiddie pool and have the kids “bathe” him.
Stations activity: The kids drew signs to hang up simple commands for Clyde. We then took him to each station and repeated the commands. Once performed, he got a treat. You can also swap between verbal commands and hand-signal cues.
Face painting: The party guests had the option to have a cat, dog or both painted on their faces
When cake was served, Clyde got treats on a Minnie Mouse plate. He also loved the Winnie the Pooh plate of treats at Tommy’s party.
Birthday parties and spending time with our pets are both very memorable childhood experiences. We are so grateful we had Clyde to help us celebrate birthdays in our family this month!