Guest blog by Kathleen Makolinski, DVM, ASPCA Senior Director Shelter Medicine Service and Shelter Research and Development. Kathleen gradu¬ated 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 and served as president of 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.
I am very fortunate to have an 8-year-old son named Charlie who is very eager to learn about every type of animal. Given his seemingly insatiable curiosity, my husband and I search for opportunities for Charlie to interact with and build respect for many kinds of animals. These opportunities often include summer day camps, books from the library and internet research, as well as visits to nature centers, animal shelters and museums.
One great way Charlie has learned about animals is in his classroom at school. These “classroom educators” have included a bearded dragon, a turtle, a betta fish, African clawed frogs, finches and gerbils. Students in Charlie’s class provide these pets with regularly scheduled feedings. They also learn about the animals’ anatomical features and how such animals live in the wild. Together, Charlie and I have learned about these animals’ nutritional, lighting and temperature requirements. We have implemented environmental enrichments and shared newly discovered information with his fellow students and his teachers. This summer, we are caring for Charlie’s classroom’s turtle, Zippy.
It’s important for teachers, parents and students to consider the following questions before acquiring a pet for the classroom:
How will classroom pets be obtained—from a shelter, pet store, student or teacher, or from the wild? What are the ramifications of each choice?
Where will animals go and who will provide care during breaks from school?
Is the classroom’s ambient temperature appropriate for the animals when school is not in session?
Who will finance food, habitat furnishings and veterinary care?
Are related zoonotic diseases—contagious diseases spread between animals and human—understood and are steps taken to minimize them?
Are allergen sensitivities adequately addressed?
Given the numerous demands on teachers, do they have enough time to maintain animal habitats?
Although there may be great educational benefit for students who have animals in the classroom, some animals may be better suited to this environment than others. Perhaps students and animals can optimally benefit from a mix of interactions with classroom pets, animals who visit occasionally and during field trips.
Have you or your children interacted with classroom pets? Please share your experiences in the comments.
Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
Teaching children to approach and interact with dogs appropriately is critical to helping them gain and maintain a positive view of animals. My daughter is 18-months-old and has two furry brothers who are both pugs. Her first word was “Dexter,” which is one of our dogs’ names. She calls every animal she sees—including squirrels, birds and cats—“doggie.” In New York City, there are so many dogs around that when she’s in her stroller we hear a cacophony of, “Doggie! Doggie! Doggie!”
I am concerned when I think about my daughter walking of her own volition, with the ability to approach all of these dogs on an up-close and personal basis. We are fortunate to have two loving and patient dogs, but I realize that not every dog loves being patted by toddlers.
Even before asking a pet parent the crucial question, "Is your dog friendly? Can my daughter pet him?" it's a good idea to observe both the dog’s and the pet parent’s body language. If the pet parent appears to pull the dog in the opposite direction from your child, it's best not to approach. In those instances, we say, “What a nice doggie! He looks busy. Let’s wave to the doggie!"
If the pet parent seems to be amused by my daughter, I’ll first ask them if it’s ok for my daughter to pet their dog. If the pet parent hesitates or seems unsure, I might suggest we wave to the dog instead.
If the pet parent says “yes,” we commence petting. I pet the dog along with my daughter to show by example where to pet the dog. I positively reinforce gentle petting and guide her away from patting or poking the dog on the face. Meanwhile, it's very important to watch the dog's body language—you want to see soft eyes, attention-seeking behavior and no stiffness. Don't overstay your welcome; encourage your child to let the dog go about their walk before he or she gets agitated.
When children are old enough, they can begin to ask pet parents themselves if it's okay for them to pet their dog. It's important that they know to ask before reaching for the dog. Ideally, children should not run up to the owner to ask—this might startle the dog.
When I wake up in the morning, before my brain can register what day of the week it is, my ears ring with the sounds of:
Diva, my 10-year-old, egg-laying cockatiel, tweeting and “dancing” in her cage to the oldies station;
Mr. Happy, my 6-year-old rescue dog, who suffers from many forms of anxiety, barking for someone to throw his favorite duck toy; and
My 2-year-old toddler, negotiating potty training and screaming that it’s time for her to feed Diva and Mr. Happy.
All of this happens before 6:15 A.M. I’m Erin, and my home resembles Times Square. It is loud, busy, exciting and sometimes smells like an overturned garbage truck on a hot day. Are my husband, Matt, and I off our rockers for embracing this lifestyle? Probably. We do have a daily pill sorter for our dog, after all. As my answers to frequently asked questions explain below, we can’t imagine living our lives any other way.
Q: Doesn’t having a small child and multiple pets make you crazy?
A: Craziness is all relative. There are plenty of things in the world that are crazier than having both small children and pets—would you cancel a trip to the park for your child or pet to burn off some energy due to a slight chance of rain? I don’t think so.
Q: You have a lot of living things to keep happy. How do you get it all done?
A: Delegation! My pets and toddler often entertain each other. Think of all the fun, interactive games you can play as an interspecies family, such as an updated version of a classic game called, “Clue: What Did I Just Step In?” Watch the whole family gather at scene of the crime to uncover the mystery. Keep in mind, the one family member or pet who is hiding during this game is mostly likely the prime suspect.
Q: If you could do it all again, would you?
A: You bet! Rewind to 2004, when Matt and I brought home our bird, Diva. Even if I knew then what I know now—the mess, the noise and the smells – I would still make the same decision. They’ve all taught me important life lessons ranging from remembering to smile and dance to being sure to give unconditionally.
When we first adopted Mr. Happy, a trainer said he had no hope of getting over his fear of dogs. Guess what? You can teach an old dog new tricks. To me, a beautiful image is not a sunset—it is seeing your dog walk right next to another dog after going through weeks of specialized training.
I’m excited to team-up with ASPCA Parents to share the wonders of pet ownership and raising young children. Stay tuned for next month’s post, when I share what’s worse than having a horse’s head in your bed. Don’t worry—no animals were harmed in the process!
Here’s this week’s roundup of items for the whole family (pets, too!) in the ASPCA Online Store and from our partners. Each purchase will support the ASPCA’s life-saving work for animals across the country.
Green ASPCA Beach Towel:Heading to the beach? Don’t forget to pack this oversized towel, featuring dog and cat images and the ASPCA logo.
K9 Treats Party Pack: Is your dog the most popular pooch on the block? This K9 Treats Party Pack features a box of six doggy doughnuts, a bag of Pea-Mutt Butter and six Orange Paws Treats—plenty to share with your dog’s whole crew.
Cat-Themed Shoes by Vans: Vans has teamed up with the ASPCA to create these lace-up sneakers, featuring a festive cat pattern.
Gray ASPCA T-Shirt: This light gray t-shirt features the ASPCA logo and is made of 100 percent preshrunk cotton.