Animal Shelters and Volunteerism
- Learn why animals end up at shelters.
- Understand what should be considered before getting a pet.
- Learn what role animal shelters play in our community.
- Identify ways in which students can help by promoting animal welfare, volunteering and fund raising.
- Plan, implement and evaluate a volunteer project.
- Learn what you and your community can gain through volunteering.
Students often want pets but don’t understand that many pets end up in shelters because not all families are prepared for the responsibilities of pet ownership. By helping students to see why pets often end up at shelters, hopefully they will become responsible pet owners in the future.
Students learn valuable life skills carrying out community service projects. It ties into the social studies curriculum and gives students practical experience being good citizens by demonstrating initiative, concern, responsibility, teamwork, and involvement in public life.
Curriculum Connection: Alberta Education Program of Studies
Health and Life Skills
Grade 3: Volunteerism
- Select and perform volunteer tasks as a class or a group.
- Assess how individual contributions can have a positive influence upon the family, school and community.
Grade 4: Volunteerism
- Select, perform as a class and analyze volunteer accomplishments.
- Describe the impact of service contributions on self; e.g., increase in self-worth, confidence and understanding of others.
Grade 5: Volunteerism
- Develop strategies for showing appreciation for volunteer contributions.
- Identify, within the school, the volunteer service accomplishments of staff and students.
Grade 6: Volunteerism
- Analyze and assess the impact of volunteerism in the school.
- Identify the volunteer accomplishments of the community, and communicate information and appreciation.
Grade 7: Volunteerism
- Apply effective group skills to design and implement a school–community health enhancement plan.
Why do we have animal shelters?
Start a discussion by asking students why animals end up at shelters. Are they all bad animals? Get students to brainstorm reasons for animals ending up at shelters.
Some animals end up at shelters because owners surrender them. Compare your answers to those found in a survey done by The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy. Most of the reasons stated reflect problems other than pet behaviour. In most cases insufficient thought had been given to the responsibility of owning a pet and whether the owner had adequate facilities and time. According to the study most of the pets surrendered were young and had not been with their owners very long. Many of the pets were obtained from friends. 96% of the dogs hadn’t been to obedience classes. Half hadn’t been neutered. Half the cats and one-third of the dogs had not been to a vet.
Besides being surrendered by owners, some pets end up at shelters because they are found as strays. A small number are taken from their owners because of abuse.
Now have the class brainstorm ways that each of the above problems could have been solved or avoided. Solutions can include:
- spay or neuter pets to prevent having too many pets
- spend time training your pet - get help if you need it
- don’t adopt a pet unless you have the space and time to properly care for that pet
- make sure your pet has proper ID
- do not abandon or abuse pets
As a follow-up, students could design posters illustrating one of the above examples of responsible pet ownership.
What do animal shelters do?
Many people believe that animal shelters are mainly about euthanizing unwanted pets. Sadly there are still significant numbers euthanized, but numbers have been decreasing. In 1973 13.5 million animals were humanely euthanized at animal shelters in the United States. That number has now dropped to between 3 and 5 million. This positive trend is because of humane education and spay/neuter programs.
Source: Pets for Life - A study and activity guide for high-school students and their teachers by the Humane Society of the United States(56 pages)
At the Cochrane & Area Humane Society more than 1,000 animals pass through our doors each year and only about 5% are humanely euthanized due to health or behaviour problems.
Have students research what animal shelters do. Some could visit the local shelter or have a shelter representative visit the class. Some of the services offered by the Cochrane & Area Humane Society are to:
- rescue abandoned animals preventing animal suffering and reducing number of stray animals at large
- provide a safe, comfortable temporary shelter
- spay/neuter and vaccinate all animals before adoption
- rehabilitate animals through fostering, veterinary care, proper nutrition and training
- provide adoption screening and placement and post-adoption services such as counseling, obedience classes
- help reunite lost pets with owners
- train volunteers and provide humane education
Use Animal Shelters: Myth or Fact? as a springboard for discussion of commonly held misconceptions about shelters. (Grade 8 reading level)
For a follow-up vocabulary activity, have students do the exercise All about Animal Shelters. (Grade 7 reading level)
Deciding to get a pet
Brainstorm all the things that should be considered before getting a pet. Have a look at:
- Canadian Federation of Humane Societies' Am I ready for a new pet? which includes an assessment questionnaire. (Grade 5 reading level)
- Best Friends has also prepared a questionnaire for students about the suitability of your home environment for pets. (Grade 5 reading level)
- BC SPCA Thinking of Bringing a Pet Into Your Home? (Grade 8 reading level)
Some activities for students:
- Investigate how long different animals live as this is an important component of the decision-making process. Use the ASPCA Grade 3-5 lesson plan How long do Pets Live?
- Have students research the pros and cons of adopting a shelter pet. Have them look at the costs of getting a “free” pet versus adopting a pet from an animal shelter. There is a cost comparison provided.
- The poster promoting shelter adoptions could be a springboard for discussion. Also check out the Cochrane & Area Humane Society’s information on adopting an older pet from a shelter and the info page Why Adopt? (Grade 9 reading level)
- Play the Perfect Pet Game matching descriptions of people with descriptions of pets(11 descriptor cards provided for people and pets).(Grade 4-5 reading level)
- If you were a pet, what would you like to ask potential owners before accepting them as owners?. Have students make up a list of questions that a pet would like to ask. Consider covering sleeping arrangements, food, health care, play/exercise time, other pets, holidays, owner’s free time, would they mind digging, barking, scratching?
- Interview pet owners for information using the BC SPCA survey ( Grade 6 reading level) or making up your own questions.
- Research different types of pets and determine which would be most suitable for their home. Use BC SPCA - Which Pet To Get (Grade 7 reading level) with its colourful photos and helpful Information about common pets.
- Play the Classified Cat game working with adjectives and do the extension activity to writing a classified advertisement for a cat. Have a look at pet descriptions at www.cochranehumane.ca and try the ad writing exercise in Shelter Helper for Grades 3-8.
Why volunteer for animals?
- It fills a real need in our community. The Cochrane & Area Humane Society sees over 1,000 animals come through our doors every year. 95% of the animals are successfully placed, but we rely on volunteers and donations for the vast majority of our work.
- Working with a local charity provides an opportunity for students to see the direct benefits of their volunteerism on their community. Helping stray, neglected or abandoned animals is an area where students are likely to be highly motivated.
Cochrane & Area Humane Society: Humane Classroom Program
To help Cochrane & Area students:
- learn about responsible pet care and humane treatment of animals
- have fun while undertaking service projects for shelter animals
- be recognized for their efforts to help stray and neglected animals in our community
- There are many other humane lesson plan units linked to the K-12 curriculum that you can use to help your students learn how to care for pets and ensure humane treatment of animals.
- Cochrane & Area Humane Society presenters are available to come to your classroom to teach on a variety of humane education topics, and if appropriate, to bring a shelter pet to meet your students.
- Your class can “adopt” a shelter animal and follow the pet’s story from abandonment and rescue to finding a new “forever’ home.
We have a variety of programs in place that students can easily participate in:
- Annual Mutt Strut fundraiser with doggie fashion and talent shows
- Humane Helpers for young teen (13-15) volunteers
- Collecting items for our “wish list”
- Collecting used books for our book sale
- Contributing to our annual Christmas party for the animals
See the detailed list of possible action ideas below.
The Humane Classroom of the Year Award
Each year we will select a classroom from Cochrane and area that has made a major effort to learn about humane education and help stray, abandoned and neglected animals in our community.
The award will be based on:
- Time spent learning about humane issues
- Efforts made to help animals
If there is more than one really worthy recipient, we will consider shared awards or runners up. Every class that applies will receive a special thank you from the Cochrane & Area Humane Society. The winner will receive:
- An attractive classroom award certificate
- Recognition in local media
- The warm appreciation of all our staff, volunteers and pets!
More Humane Action ideas
Some action ideas adapted from the Humane Society of the United States include:
- Distribute information on animal issues e.g. in the school newsletter.
- Organize an animal-protection awareness day at your school. Encourage students to avoid cruelty and celebrate animals by wearing animal-friendly clothing and eating animal-friendly foods.
- Invite a representative from the local shelter to speak.
- Hold a school-wide poster or T-shirt design contest with an animal protection theme.
- Write letters to the editor of local papers about animal issues such as pet overpopulation and adoption, tagging and licensing, spaying and neutering, safety with animals, and obedience training.
- Hold a “Coins for Critters” or “Pennies for Pets” coin collection. Decorate collection canisters.
- Host a Mardi Paw bake sale. Ask friends and family to donate baked treats—for humans and canines. Sell them on Mardi Gras in February. Is February too far away? Consider hosting a “Barkery” – a bakery for dogs!
- Sponsor an art contest with an animal theme. See if a local art gallery in your community will donate space for the event. Ask students and community artists to enter pieces of artwork at a certain dollar amount per entry. Ask the artists if they would be willing to sell their work and donate the money to your cause.
- See if an upcoming school dance can be devoted to animals. A local DJ or band may be willing to perform for free or at a discount if they know proceeds from the admission charge will go to help animals.
- Promote special events and campaigns—Spay Day, Tag Day, Adopt a Cat Month, Be Kind to Animals Week, and National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
- Teach younger children about pet care or bite prevention (See Lesson Plan Units on these topics).
- Organize a drive to collect old towels and blankets for the shelter or plastic bags for shelter dog walkers.
- If you have a pet, learn how to take good care of him or her.
- Produce an educational video on humane issues.
For more ideas and information, have a look at the following three documents that provide lots of detailed ideas for community service work for animal shelters
- Speak up for animals - kids (Grade 5-6 reading level)
- Speak up for animals - teens (Grade 7 reading level)
- Humane Society of the United States Service Learning – ideas for activities organized by curriculum area
Have students discuss how the project helped the community. How did it also help build a sense of community in their classroom or school? As individuals how did they feel after completing the project?