By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
Published in the Englewood Sun on February 21, 2016
Recently teachers and students from second grade at Vineland Elementary School in Rotonda West, and first grade at Lamarque Elementary School in North Port, decided that instead of exchanging holiday gifts, they would hold a pet food drive for the homeless animals at the Suncoast Humane Society.
In other generous and selfless acts of kindness, individuals Elizabeth, Maddie and Jessica collected donations for the animals, in place of accepting birthday gifts from family, friends and neighbors.
A 15-year-old young man named Grant spends much of his time volunteering at the animal care center. He states, "I have an undeniable passion (for) animals. I do what I do to keep them happy and safe."
And then there is Iris, who, in celebration of her 11th birthday, set a goal to collect $3,000 in donations, and now is hosting monthly adoption events at her mother's real estate business.
There are many students who choose the humane society to fulfill their community service volunteer hours. It is rewarding to have so many young people wanting to help animals. They come to us from Englewood, Port Charlotte, North Port, Venice, Boca Grande and beyond.
Suncoast offers a distinctive program titled Doggie Tales, which is in collaboration with local libraries. Children are given the opportunity to read storybooks to pet therapy dogs, in a non-judgmental atmosphere, without fear of criticism.
Humane societies and animal-control agencies offer a variety of humane education programs for teachers and students, including pet owner responsibility, animal care, safety around animals, bite prevention, careers with animals, and the teaching of the three R's — reverence, respect and responsibility.
Humane education can be defined as the use of education to nurture compassion and respect for all living things. Although closely connected to how we treat animals, the full meaning extends to other people and our Earth.
This distinct field of education actually was created in the late 1800s, alongside the formation of pioneer humane organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the ASPCA), and the Massachusetts SPCA.
It is interesting to note that the stated mission or purpose of many early humane societies included the prevention of cruelty toward animals, women and children. It was only years later that women and children would be afforded their own advocacy and protection organizations.
As the humane movement grew, activists for animal protection and social change lobbied successfully for the passage of state laws supporting or requiring the teaching of humane education in schools.
After all, education should start with our youth, as they become the adults of tomorrow. Teachers immediately bought into the importance of humane education and begin to teach it. Even then, animal-welfare organizations supplemented lessons by visiting classrooms with a humane message. I wonder if teachers are aware that the teaching of humane education is still mandated by law in 12 states, including our own, Florida.
During the 1970s and '80s, national animal-protection organizations were developing curriculum guides that allowed teachers to blend humane education with the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic. Teachers were provided with lesson plans that were ready-made and easy to deliver. Students were learning compassion along with other important subjects. Oftentimes, children's books do this blending, casting animals as the main characters to convey other information, ideals and such.
How we treat our animals is a reflection of how we treat one another. This is a popular saying in the humane movement and very similar to a quote credited to Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way we treat our animals."
With either saying, the key to achieving a positive solution is through humane education. I believe it is a key to creating a truly humane society.