Browsing the internet for pet/animal stories, I am continuously surprised by the scope of cruelty towards animals. I am often shocked and disgusted by all the accounts of people doing horrible unthinkable things to their pets or helpless other animals. It’s true that in the U.S., many pets are lavished with love and anything their doggie or kitty hearts could desire, but we still need to make progress in alerting people to widespread animal cruelty.
This week, USA Today featured an article about how educating people about the proper treatment of animals is a growing movement. The article starts with a little bit about Rescue Ink, a New York based group of volunteers who are committed to rescuing animals from cruelty. Their spin on it comes from their appearance, tough guys clad in leather and decorated by tattoos. Rescue Ink has an intimidating image but they seek to communicate politely and effectively to those who have been mistreating animals. In their 8-months of operating, they’ve been quite successful and are planning to form chapters in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Rescue Ink is an example of a small but growing movement towards educating people about humane treatment of animals. In the past, anti-cruelty messages were largely spread in the form of be-kind-to-animal posters, but those efforts have been obviously replaced by much more dedicated and serious endeavors. Some efforts are aimed at contacting animal abusers directing and others at children in hopes of preventing future cruelty towards animals. The Austin Humane Society just launched a program where kids visit the shelter to read books with compassion-to-animal themes to cats waiting to be adopted. Rescue Ink is launching a program this fall that will teach kids compassion towards animals and also how to spot and then report abuse. Four years ago, the Institute for Humane Education in Maine began offering distance-learning graduate degrees in addition to workshops (attended mostly by educators) in humane education. Children and teens are definitely the target audience of many other efforts. The ASPCA is partnering with Dosomething.org, a teens/tweens site to provide content for the animal-welfare segment. Humane Society of the United States Youth, has been focusing on educating children for 25 years, with their publication KIND News, a humane education publication that now reaches 1 million kindergartners through sixth-graders.
These humane education efforts seeks to break cycles of abuse, especially for children who live in dysfunctional families/neighborhoods and may not know what humane treatment of animals looks like. Children, however, are not the sole target for humane education. Safe Humane Chicago, an alliance of animal and community advocates aimed at reducing violence, has amassed a volunteer corps that has spent many many hours this year with children and adults from violence-ripe communities. In 1915, The American Humane Association started Be Kind to Animals Week because they believes that there’s a link between animal cruelty and other forms of violence and that developing a broader scientific knowledge base is key to devising new strategies. Humane education seeks to change the way people think about the treatment of animal, and in turn, change the way people treat animals.