Guest blog by Leslie Corn, who has formed a pet therapy team in the New York City area along with her three-year-old rescued Pomeranian, Alice.
The class of Pre-K students sat in a circle on their bright classroom rug.
“Fluffy!!!" said a little boy.
My Pomeranian Alice’s name might as well be "Fluffy" for all the times she's called that!Alice is a confident three-year-old red, brown and black ASPCA rescue dog with white feet, an abundant tail and a contagious smile. She's worked as a registered therapy dog for two years and adores her job. She regularly visits schools, libraries, hospitals, a nursing home, a senior center and various other places. She loves all people, but, truth be told, her favorite people are children. So here we were, with a class of twenty or so kids in a New York City school, along with ASPCA Animal Assisted Therapy Program Coordinator Moira Mahaney, to show the students what a rescue dog, now a therapy dog, is like.
Alice did some of her tricks: sit, down, twirl, and high-four (because, as I explained to the kids, dogs have four toes!).
"What does Alice do? As a therapy dog?" asked a girl.
"She's herself," I said. "She says hi to people with a smile. She wags her tail. You know how you can make people feel special by being yourself, by paying attention to them?" Lots of nods. "Well, that's what Alice does. And people pet her. Alice loves being petted."
I explained some of the ways to approach and touch a new dog: Be sure to ask, "May I pet your dog?”; first let the dog sniff the top of your hand; pet dogs where they can see your hand coming, like under their chins or on their chests, not from behind or on the top of the head. ("Do you like being tapped on your head?" I asked them. Heads shook no. "Dogs don't like it either.”) And when you stop petting, pull your hand back slowly, instead of quickly jerking away.
I added that most dogs don’t like to be hugged. “As huggable as Alice looks, and as loving as she is, she would prefer that you not hug her,” I explained. “She'd love it if you petted her under her chin or on her chest!"
The teacher invited everyone to greet Alice. The children formed a line and, one at a time, walked up to Alice. She waggled her tail as each child approached. Some of the children knew just how to touch Alice. But not everyone. One boy bopped Alice on the head, then snatched his hand away. Luckily, Alice, being her sweet self, just kept smiling.
And there were several huggers. I reminded the children that most dogs don’t like hugs. "But Alice would be delighted to give you a high-four!” They laughed, as Alice tapped their outstretched hands with her white paw.
One of the best things a parent can do to help a child be with a dog—and prepare the child to be comfortable and safe with dogs for a lifetime—is to teach the child how to approach and touch a dog. The lesson needs repeating, until it's ingrained.
After each child greeted Alice, he or she left the classroom for lunch. A boy had stood a few feet away during the greetings. He was the only one left in the room now.
"Don't you want to meet Alice?" his teacher said. “She’s very nice."
He shook his head. But he didn't leave.
Sometimes you save the best trick for last.
"Will you say goodbye to Alice?" I asked him. I waved at Alice. "Bye-bye."
Alice lifted her paw and waved back.
The boy's face lit up. "Bye-bye," he said and waved. Alice waved again.
He giggled. A bit of a pause, then, "May I pet your dog?"
“She would love that," I said. And he did. Gently, on her chest. Alice leaned into his hand.
And that's how Alice helped one little boy, for one moment or maybe longer, feel more confident around dogs.
Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor toVetstreet.comand other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site,Crayons and Collars.
Many parents will be faced with the inevitable request from their kids: Can we get a pet? If you determine that your family is in a position to take on the responsibility for a cat, dog, bird, guinea pig, rabbit or other animal, you’ll have to determine where to acquire your furry new family member.
Adding a pet to the family can help children continue growing into caring and empathetic adults, and pet adoption has many benefits.
Set a precedent. Teaching kids that adoption is a wonderful way to find a new family member will help perpetuate that attitude throughout their lives.
Introduce societal issues. Adoption introduces children to an important issue in our society—pet overpopulation. It also gives them an opportunity and the experience of helping to make a difference by adopting their own pet, which provides a valuable lesson for any child.
Teach compassion. Introducing a child to a pet who has had a difficult start in life can help a child develop compassion for another’s plight.
Lead by example. A common misperception is that shelter pets do not have homes due to behavioral or health issues. Adopting a wonderful pet and introducing him to family, friends and neighbors can go a long way in changing people’s minds.
Show that everyone deserves a second chance. Adopting a pet who needs a new home is a great way to illustrate to kids that circumstances are sometimes beyond our control, even if we’ve done everything “right.” While a cat or dog may not have been a good fit for his former family, he’s getting a second chance at love with yours.
Pets are great for kids in many ways, and pet adoption offers a unique opportunity to teach children important lessons that will last throughout their lives. Visit the ASPCA’s Adopt section to browse adoptable dogs and cats in your area.
Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor to Vetstreet.com and other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site, Crayons and Collars.
Do you have a young animal lover in your family? If so, look no further than your local animal shelter to introduce your child to a variety of ways she and her friends can help animals in need.
Make DIY Projects Animal shelters are always in need of toys, beds and more. Contact your local shelter or rescue organization to find out what types of items they use that you can make at home, such as fleece blanket beds, cat wand toys, ping pong ball toys or even frozen “pupsicles.”
Hold a Supplies Drive Kids can hold a supply drive to collect used items that friends and neighbors no longer need but the shelter does, such as towels or old sheets.
Some shelters use empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls, milk jug caps or empty plastic water bottles to make toys for the pets in their care. Visit your local organization’s web site to see what types of items they need, then start collecting!
Sign up For Camps at Animal Shelters Some shelters hold fun summer day camps for kids of all ages. From preschoolers to high schoolers, kids who love animals get a lot out of these week-long immersive summer experiences. Some shelters also offer camps over spring break and winter holidays, too.
Celebrate a Birthday Looking for something unique for your child’s next birthday party? For a fee, some shelters will throw the party, provide exciting animal-related activities and let the kids meet some of the resident animals. You can also ask that, instead of gifts, guests bring food or supply donations.
Earn Scouting Badges Some scout troops offer badges that troop members can earn by helping animals. Many shelters have programs in place to help scouts to earn their badges by helping the animals in their care. And, if your local shelter doesn’t offer a program now, consider working with them to create one!
News for young readers who love animals: Studio Fun International (formerly Reader’s Digest) has premiered a new line of ASPCA Kid's books, which are based on true pet stories. The line’s The Pet Rescue Club series is aimed at children ages 6-8, and the Rescue Readers series is for children ages 4-8. The line will also feature two board books for young children.
The ASPCA will receive 4 to 5 percent of the purchase price of each book, with a minimum guaranteed donation of $25,000 through December 2017. The books are available for purchase at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Books-A-Million and IndieBound.
Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager, Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and (now) one dog in New York City.
When our 14-year-old dog, Dexter, became ill a few weeks ago, we started researching how to talk to a toddler about a dog’s death. We learned that it’s important to be clear, honest and simple. We read that it’s best not to talk about it like “going to sleep and not waking up” because that may make your child fearful of sleeping.
So when he died and our daughter asked, “Where’s Dexter?” we responded with something like, “Today Mommy and Daddy are feeling very sad because last night Dexter died. He was very old and he was sick and his body couldn’t support him anymore. So he died. And that means he’s not coming back and we’re not going to see him anymore which makes us very sad. You may see Mommy and Daddy crying because we’re sad that Dexter’s not here anymore. But we can think and talk about Dexter, look at his pictures and remember him. And that will make us feel better.”
She didn’t have too much of a response to that but then later asked “Where’s Dexter?” and we repeated some of what we had told her earlier. Then later she would ask “Dexter’s on a walk?” or “Dexter’s at Gaga and Papa’s house?” And each time we told her again. Two weeks later she still says she wants to give Dexter a hug before bed. Death is a difficult concept for all of us and in many ways I’m sure it’s easier that she doesn’t understand and isn’t grieving Dexter’s loss along with us. But it’s hard that she keeps asking. It’s like picking a scab. But it’s still so fresh for me that thinking about it and crying about it still feels good and therapeutic.
We made a video slideshow of our memories with Dexter that we watch with our daughter to help her remember him. And we talk about how soft he was, how she loved to hug him, how he loved to lick her, and how gentle he was. It hurts to talk about him in past tense, but at least we get to talk about him. I think the real pain for me will be when she stops asking about him. So, we’ll just have to keep reminding our daughter what a great furry brother Dexter was to her.