Joel Schwartzberg is a father and cat-rescuer from Chatham, New Jersey. A nationally-published author and essayist, Joel works in executive communications for the ASPCA. Learn more about his personal writing at joelschwartzberg.net.
While I hope that trip influences their decisions and someday activates their personal interest in animal advocacy, I realized the experience was only half of the lesson. The other half happens at the animal shelter or adoption site itself.
All too often, when kids visit an animal shelter, they cuddle the purring cats and friendly dogs but leave with little education about the true and important realities that put these animals there in the first place.
My kids and I recently spent a Saturday afternoon at the Verona, New Jersey PetCo, where a staff member from Pound Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) showed us some of the adoptable cats she showcases every week. We made sure to give equal time to both the kittens and the more veteran cats. Afterward, in the car, I threw out some new discussion topics.
We didn’t concern ourselves with questions like “How cute was that little cat, Billy?” (Answer: terribly cute). Instead, we openly pondered:
What happens to animals who don’t get rescued by local groups or shelters? What happens to animals who are rescued by a shelter but don’t get adopted? Why are there are so many homeless animals across America? How can we reduce this number?
Though my kids and I have visited shelters and adoption events before, their brains were clearly consuming these issues for the first time.
I told them that many animals become homeless when they’re abandoned or lost. Homeless cat populations are increasing in particular because so many aren’t spayed or neutered, which creates more and more litters. Homeless animal populations can be so large that local shelter and rescue groups have trouble adopting them out fast enough, which puts those animals in danger.
Even when animals are rescued and cared for at shelters, I explained, those facilities are not meant to be permanent homes; those animals desperately need to be adopted.
We also talked about euthanasia. My kids are old enough to understand that, in some cases, communities deem it necessary to put animals to sleep when there’s no other way to responsibly and humanely care for them. Nobody wants to kill animals, but it’s a reflection of how big this problem is.
“That’s why adopting save lives,” I said.
These can be difficult discussions to have with your children. It’s easy to talk about pets as if they’re all as happy and carefree as the beloved dogs and cats in our homes. However, kids as young as eight can not only process real news, but act on it. With more than 7.5 million companion animals entering shelters each year, our kids need to see adoptable dogs and cats not just as cuddly pets, but as desperate animals who need our help.
Once they do, maybe they’ll be moved to donate needed supplies –such as food, newspaper, kitty litter and towels—to their local shelters, host fundraisers at school, or go even further, like these creative kids did.
When they grow up, we hope they’ll be more likely to adopt their own animals; to sterilize, microchip, and put I.D. tags on them; to provide important socialization and enrichment; and even to volunteer at shelters and help care for feral cat colonies.
However families choose to help, it all starts with teaching kids to be aware—not just of the cute, yearning animals before us, but of the tragic peril that too often befalls them.
January 24 was Change a Pet’s Life Day, and in honor of this special day, we’d like to hear from you! How have you made a difference in your pet’s life?
Whether you’ve adopted a dog or donated your time to a shelter, we’d love to hear how you’ve helped animals in need. Share your story and spread the word on your social media channels using the hashtag #ChangeAPetsLifeDay! We’ll feature our favorite stories on the ASPCA blog, and the top five story entrants will each win an ASPCA gift pack. Best of luck!
By actively folding our dog, Mr. Happy, and our bird, Diva, into our daily lives, my husband Matt and I hope our daughter will become a compassionate lifelong animal lover and advocate for animal welfare. She is already learning the ropes of responsibility by feeding Mr. Happy and Diva each morning.
We’ve worked to strike a balance between encouraging our child to love our pets and maintaining the well-being of our whole family. Below are a few tips that have proven helpful for managing interactions between our daughter and our pets:
Enforce a Pets-Only Zone. Mr. Happy will retreat to a spot under our dining room table when he needs a break from the action. We worked with our daughter to help her understand that it’s important to respect Mr. Happy’s boundaries.
All Eyes on Active Play. When Mr. Happy and our daughter are in the same room, we put our smartphones away and keep attention on them.
Create Positive Play Opportunities. Each day we find many different ways for our daughter and Mr. Happy to interact. It can be as simple as blowing a kiss, or sitting on Matt’s lap or my lap to toss treats or toys to Mr. Happy. Our daughter’s favorite thing to do is make pretend food platters for Mr. Happy as seen in the photo above. Sometimes our daughter even tries to play hide-and seek-with our dog. While we taught our daughter that there is “no hugging, no kissing, no touching” Mr. Happy without a parent present, we give her multiple opportunities to pet him throughout the day.
Know Your Household Stress Points and Be Prepared. In my home, the weekday pre-work rush and the dinner hour are our stressful periods given the many tasks that need completion. Matt and I are hyper-aware of this challenge, and are both extra vigilant and use measures such as a baby gate to keep our daughter and Mr. Happy separated when needed.
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.
Kids can be nuts. Add some pets to the mix and the craziness increases exponentially.
Aside from the pet hair and unidentifiable foodstuffs, random stickers and toothpaste stuck to your pants, here are a few telltale signs you’re living with a house of pets and kids:
Nose prints and handprints just below eye level You know how it looks like someone finger-painted clear hair gel on the glass of your windows and front door up to about three feet high, where it abruptly stops? Right. Somebody(ies) or something(s) have frequently had their greasy fingers/paws/noses up against that glass.
The good news is that since it’s below your eye level, you can conveniently ignore it…for a while.
Smelliest garbage can on the block Your trash guys hate you, especially in the summer. Your garbage can has little bags full of litter box scoops or poop-scoop contents. Even if you have small animals, the garbage is often full of shavings, dirty newspapers, puppy pads, cage liners and more. Add a few dirty diapers to the mix and it’s a malodorous recipe. You probably find yourself avoiding putting anything else in the trash and when you do, you hold your nose, throw the trash into the can and run.
An impeccably clean floor It’s a fact: kids are messy, messy eaters. But households with a resident dog typically have freakishly clean floors. The furry vacuum cleaner is better than the most expensive machine on the market. It’s ironic that the kids and pets destroy everything else in the home--but the floor? Pristine.
A less than perfect yard Grass won’t grow in your backyard? You’re not alone. Between the digging, running, jumping, sliding, roughhousing, football games, grass-killing sandboxes and baby pools, you just aren’t going to have a lovely turf. Get used to the bald spots and dog poop land mines and remember you’re making memories. Plus, you’ll have less grass to mow. Yay!
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.
The New Year is a great time to reflect and plan what we would like to accomplish for our pets and kids. Here are just a few goals my family set for the New Year:
We made a resolution to take more walks with our 12-year-old senior pup, Clyde. Our family really enjoys this time together, and it really connects us! We are also planning to take Clyde to the new dog park which opened last year in our town. I think this will be a wonderful learning experience for the kids, as they will see Clyde playing with his friends--some old and some new. And when you think about it, all the same sort of play date rules apply for pets as they do for kids: sharing space, taking turns and welcoming others into the group to play. Visit the ASPCA’s Pet Care section to learn more on how to get the most of your visit to the dog park.
We are also going to start taking Gabriella to volunteer at our local library. Recently, opportunities have opened up for kids to read to shelter dogs. I believe this experience will be extremely fun and rewarding for her and the dogs we get matched up with!
Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a year of celebrating and strengthening that special bond we cherish with our pets and kids.