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Shelters Spotlight: How Working with Shelter Pets Can Empower Kids

This 10-part series is brought to you by GOOD, in partnership with Purina ONE®. We've teamed up to highlight inspiring organizations that are...

This 9-part series is brought to you by GOOD, in partnership with Purina ONE®. We've teamed up to highlight inspiring organizations that are doing innovative and unexpected things to connect with their local communities and promote positive perceptions of shelter pets. Read more about how pets—and the people who love them—can brighten lives and strengthen our communities at the GOOD Pets hub.

In Broward County, Florida, the Boys and Girls Club is a true asset to the community. After school, kids in the neighborhood have the opportunity to build not only academic success, but also character through educational, physical, and team-building activities. As kids interact with mentors and peers, they strengthen their self-esteem and find ways to be active. One way kids at the Boys and Girls Club are being empowered to give back to their communities is through a partnership with the Humane Society of Broward County (HSBC).

In their first year-long community service project initiative with the Boys and Girls Club, HSBC will entrust the kids to decide what they want to do to serve their communities, then plan a course of action and implement it, teaching them how to take ownership of projects, and make decisions. Carrie Neff, the Humane Education Coordinator says, “We offer them guidance and facilitation by talking about different ways pets need help, then helping them come up with ways that maybe they can do education outreach for their peers, school, and people in their neighborhood, or even inspire people to donate toys or food to shelter pets.”

As kids get introduced to dogs and cats through HSBC, they learn about pet safety, including how to approach dogs and cats to communicate with them, as well as how to understand pets’ body language and needs. “I have noticed a change in the way these kids are seeing pets. A lot of them are initially terrified of dogs, even puppies, because they come from neighborhoods where pets are usually guard dogs chained up behind a fence, and that’s all they know, but after they work with us, rather than seeing them as growling and threatening creatures, they learn they can trust them,” Neff says.

Through lessons on kindness, compassion, and proper pet treatment, these kids are introduced to a different type of character education that can be applied to how they treat fellow classmates. Neff says that students have even been inspired to take responsibility for their pets at home by chipping in to feed, walk, and bathe them.

Over on the West Coast, students are also building respect for pets through a grant program with Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in Contra Costa County in Northern California. ARF goes into schools (many of which are in lower income communities that receive additional government funding) with a therapy dog, teaching students how to approach and understand pets. School field trips can also be arranged for a 90-minute tour about their mission, community service, and pet care. Students from low-income families can also get scholarships to participate in educational programs that normally have fees.

Teens from sixth to twelfth grade can come to ARF to do a community service day twice a month, making blankets, treats and toys for pets, or organizing donations. By contributing to ARF, they see how they can add value to their communities. And, by overseeing projects and other teen volunteers, students take on leadership roles that inspire them to volunteer at the shelter on a long-term basis.

Kaitlin Lewis, ARF’s People Connect Specialist, says, “These kids are very eager to learn. Knowing how to take care of an animal and knowing that they do need care, just like them, helps them grow respect for other beings.”

Photo Courtesy of Humane Society of Broward County

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