Teaching Teens to Treat Pets Right

Sixteen-year-old Renee is not a cocky teenager, but she thinks she's pretty informed about pet behavior. After all, her family has four cats, and she considers herself to be a responsible owner.

But volunteering 10 hours a week at the local shelter has opened her eyes. "I thought that if you changed the litter box once a week, that was enough. At the shelter I saw what happens to cats that don't get their litter changed daily – they're more likely to get sick," Renee says. "I also learned how important it is to handle cats often. My cats at home get plenty of attention. Here, though, they are in cages. No matter how old the cats are, people have to handle them if they are going to be socialized."

Humane educators are paying more attention to teenagers like Renee. While large numbers of American humane societies still focus their education efforts primarily on young students (18 states have laws that require schools to teach children to be kind to animals) others are including teens and young adults in their programs. Merely loving animals isn't enough, said Phil Morgan, director of the Escondido Humane Society, in California.

"If you're a volunteer kennel assistant at our shelter, for example, you'll pitch in and do plenty of mundane tasks like cleaning out cages and litter boxes," he said. "But you'll also learn how to run a shelter. The benefit? Volunteers enrich the lives of animals and animals enrich the lives of the kids."

Teens Taught Animal Lifesaving Techniques

To help promote humane awareness, other agencies teach teenagers animal life-saving techniques at cut-rate prices.

"One of most popular workshops is Pet First Aid," says Kathan McCarthy, humane education coordinator for the Humane Society of Seattle/King County in Washington. "Our spring class this year lasted two hours and cost just $5. The class was so successful that we've teamed up with the Red Cross and the next class will run 4 hours."

The expanded agenda will include discussion (and demonstrations where appropriate) of wounds, bandages, mouth-to-nose resuscitation, and how to prevent and treat frostbite and hypothermia. Participants who complete the class will receive a Red Cross certification in pet first aid.

Courses on Wild and Domestic Animals

To teach high school kids how to treat both wild and domestic animals correctly, the National Association for Humane and Environmental Education (NAHEE) has a program in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) youth education programs, called HumaneTeen. It includes a Student Action Guide that tells students how to start environmentally conscious clubs in their high schools. The organization also posts an annual newspaper, called the Student Network News. It features profiles of student environmental and animal rights activists, student opinions, artwork, poetry, activity ideas and articles about Earth and animal protection clubs from around the country.

Colleges are even getting into the act. For example, California State University in Bakersfield offers a psychology course called People and Other Animals and the University of Florida has a criminology course titled, Animal Rights and the Law. Other courses range from an Animal Law Seminar at Georgetown University to a Master of Science in Animal Welfare and Public Policy program at Tufts University.

For more information on programs in your area: