With World Animal Day on October 4th, it’s a great opportunity to open your family’s eyes to ways they can get involved in animal welfare causes. Lifelong learners and activists generally start out as active participants in causes that matter to them.
The key to a meaningful hands-on experience with animals is to make it positive. Scaring children with images of animal abuse (the ones that even most adults have a hard time viewing) only breeds sadness, anxiety, and anger. By keeping it positive you can create a life-long love, respect, and compassion for animals.
There are a number of great animal welfare organizations worthy of your family’s time. They advocate for the proper treatment of pets, farm animals and livestock, as well as those animals bred for entertainment or scientific/educational purposes. There are also animal rights groups which are against the use of animals by humans for any reason, so if you’re dedicated to teaching your children about larger issues such as animal liberation, veganism or fur and leather opposition, research groups like PETA or the Animal Liberation Front.
Consider what your family’s needs and concerns are; it’s important to find out where your child’s sentiments reside. Some groups focus on one particular animal and its plight, while others deal with farm animals, and so forth. Your son or daughter may already be thinking about how the animals that end up on your table are treated before they get there, or how pets deserve nothing but kindness from humans. Kids pick up on so much from the news, their friends and classmates, teachers, and the world around them, they may already be fully aware of (and bothered by) an animal issue.
If not, do some research together and find out what touches their heart. Here are just a few organizations to start you on your journey:
The Humane Society of the United States – We all know about the Humane Society; it’s the largest animal protection group in the country. Yes, they care for animals through sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers, but they do more than just that. They also advocate for better laws to protect animals from harm, conduct campaigns to reform industries, provide animal rescue and emergency response services, and investigate cases of animal cruelty. You can find out more about their resources for parents and educators on their website, where there are also specific links for kids and teens. They even provide a subscription for purchase, Kind News, a magazine for K-6th grade aged children.
American Sanctuaries Association – Looking to hook up with an animal sanctuary in your area? The American Sanctuaries Association not only provides an extensive list of sanctuaries across the United States, but holds those sanctuaries to a variety of very strict standards while actively working to find placement for homeless, abandoned, seized and abused exotic animals, non-releasable native wild animals, farmed animals and companion animals. They often work closely with local, state, regional and national agencies and wildlife departments in this way. Browse their list of accredited sanctuaries here, or find out more about how you and your family can help.
HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers) – After your own household, where can your little one reach more people about animal welfare issues? Their own classroom and school! Learning how to advocate for animals will strengthen her communication skills and confidence while raising awareness for animals in the process. This group focuses on human rights and environmental ethics as well as animal protection, but does a great job of showing teachers, administrators and students about the importance of awareness. Their website provides wonderful resources and articles for kids in pre-K through high school raising animal issues for kids to consider [like Is a Classroom Pet For You? (The pros and cons of keeping a classroom pet) and Learning Without Killing (a website to help students win a campaign against dissection) and Froguts (which provides an incredibly life-like, NSTA-approved option to dissection)]. Talk about utilizing knowledge to help breed advocates! (No pun intended; breeding is not an advocate’s friend.)
Of course, it’s always smart to consider local organizations, your child’s favorite causes, or even a celebrity animal rights charity. Find out if your humane society is truly “humane” in its treatment of its pets (meaning no-kill and providing proper nourishment, exercise, and love) and start volunteering there. Or see if there are more specific rescue groups, such as racehorse, cat, greyhound, or exotic bird sanctuaries that could benefit from having a helping hand or two.
Sometimes groups aren’t in need of volunteers (or, for insurance purposes, are unable to accept younger volunteers) for the day-to-day operations as much as they’re in need of new ideas. Perhaps your child can brainstorm some fundraising options, like a walk/run, tag sale, lemonade stand, or dance party to benefit the animals and raise awareness. This also gives them insight into the bureaucratic side of how even a non-profit organization is run, and how it often takes breaking through red tape, dealing with a board or committee, and plenty of patience in order to do the right thing and help what’s most important–the animals.
Regardless of the direction or organization that your child and family end up choosing, the greatest benefit will be the communication, awareness, and compassion that you’ll be able to share while opening your family’s eyes to the needs of animals throughout your own region, the country, and the world.