This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Valley Humane Society teaches pets aren't toys
This column was published in the Tri-Valley Herald on January 8, 2008.
By the end of this year, Wendy McNelley will have stood before every second grader in Pleasanton and delivered to them a dog or a cat, along with its own carrying case.
With these pets come a profile that tells the animal’s name, age, what it eats, and some of the animal’s special traits.
Oh, it’s worth noting that the pets are plush stuffed animals.
McNelley, program director for Pleasanton’s Valley Humane Society, has already met this past December with 120 kids in their classrooms to introduce this new program, called Keeler’s Kids, that allows children to experience the level of commitment needed to care for a pet.
“It's just wonderful to have those light-bulb moments where you can see the students understand what a big responsibility it is to own a dog or cat,” McNelley said. “This is a hands-on lesson, so they take away so much more than if we just went in and lectured for 45 minutes.”
Named after Joyce Keeler, a 40-year educator in Livermore who left a significant donation to Valley Humane Society after her death in 2005, Keeler’s Kids teaches students about pet overpopulation and the importance of spaying and neutering. Then, through use of a workbook and catalogs, the children go to a pet store and to a veterinarian to learn what costs are involved.
“The kids are always shocked at the $300 to $400 price tag,” said McNelley, who shared a funny moment when the youngsters quietly totaled the expenses. One little boy finished his addition, smacked his forehead, and announced "Sheesh, this is getting expensive. And money doesn't grow on trees, you know!"
McNelley said such moments allow the children to see that pets require money, time and effort, and are not toys. In fact, when McNelley and her helper went back on a second day for another round of classes, two little girls from the previous day were carrying their pets to lunch with them.
“They didn't want to leave them at home where they would get lonely,” McNelley said. “One little girl had put a sweater on her dog because it was cold out. I loved that.”
The students are surprised to learn that in most cases they will have their animals until the children grow up and turn 26 or 27 years old. McNelley said most students are not able to fathom being that old.
Kids also learn that for every pet in this country to have a home, every person would have to adopt 15 dogs and 45 cats. This means that a home of four people would have 60 dogs and 180 cats.
“At first, the kids think this would be fun,” McNelley said, “but then we talk about all that poop. Yuck! They get the point.”
At the end of the presentation, students fill out an adoption application and contract, similar to the documents used at Valley Humane Society. At this point, if they don't think they’re ready for the responsibility, the children may choose not to adopt their animal. “It’s a pivotal moment in the lesson when they really comprehend the amount of work ahead of them,” McNelley said.
McNelley hopes one day to expand Keeler’s Kids to other school districts, but needs to focus for now on Pleasanton. She would also like to adapt the program for high school students.
To make a donation or to learn more about Valley Humane Society and its many worthwhile programs, visit www.valleyhumane.org or call (925) 426-8656.
After a 30-year career in banking, I'm now an English teacher at Las Positas College in Livermore, CA. My love of education prompted me to serve as an elected school board trustee and to earn my doctorate in Educational Leadership from Saint Mary's College. My dissertation is associated with two semester-long studies I conducted with student veterans about the benefits of writing about military experience.
For many years I wrote a human interest column for the Bay Area News Group, and this blog is where I posted many of my favorite columns.
Reach me at email@example.com.