Like many worthwhile values we can instill in our children, animal advocacy attitudes are best begun early in life. Whether or not children belong to one of the six in 10 families that shares their lives with a pet, there exists a need for education about responsible pet ownership, being kind to animals, and helping others to care for their pets. Along with parents, schools can help reinforce the message of care and compassion with the next generation of animal lovers.
Zoologist and author Joanne McGonagle has been working with her local school groups to help create awareness for cats, dogs, and wildlife as well. On her Conservation Cub Club website and in her books for children, McGonagle advocates for all cats big and small, drawing upon her studies in Africa to explain the behavior of domestic felines. Her work has assisted several different organizations including Lion Guardians, a non-profit that works with Kenya’s Maasai warriors to guard and protect Africa's lion population.
Taking that same mindset to the local level, McGonagle recently approached two area schools about a program to help introduce young students to their roles as guardians of pets in their homes and communities.
“I have been studying the power of one, meaning one animal, one face, and one distinct personality,” says the big cat expert. “If I can get children, and adults to understand the unique personality traits of one cat, getting to know and love one cat, perhaps we can get them to care for all cats. And if we can get people to realize that lions and tigers, as well as their own domestic cats have a distinct personality and can't be lumped together as all the same just because they are the same species, this might build positive momentum for support of programs that save the big cats.”
Recently McGonagle worked with Denver Elementary in Wilmington, Ohio for the school’s Science and Literacy Family Fun Night. “The children wrote ‘The Adventures of Gracey at Denver Elementary’,” recalls the zoologist. Working with a photo of McGonagle’s own cat, Gracey, the children looked at their familiar school setting through the eyes of Gracey, an exercise which was not only fun but also promoted a sense of empathy. “Some of the children wrote stories about Gracey being a very good cat, and some wrote stories about Gracey making bad choices. And that is probably an accurate portrayal of all of Gracey just being a cat.”
McGonagle is also working with another local school to help children with the Pennies for Pet Project. “The children at St. Rose School in New Lexington, Ohio are collecting pennies to buy toys and food for seniors with pets,” explains the author.
Part of the initiative will be a hands-on, do-it-yourself project that gives children without previous crafting skills the opportunity to create a no-sew blanket for a senior’s pet, using a piece of fleece. “We will take the seniors in the community a new pet blanket, food and toy,” says McGonagle. In all, the project will assist approximately 30 seniors who otherwise might not have been able to provide their pet with a gift this holiday season.