Humane Education

Dear Tuki,
You get to see and hear about a lot of things from your perch there in the shelter. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the Humane Education program offered by the Potter League. Do you think Humane Education in general is having an effect on the Animal Welfare World? I’m curious about what you think!
Thanks,
Wondering Willie

Dear Willie,
You are so right about me seeing and hearing things here at the shelter! That is why I feel qualified to talk about the many topics that come up here in this column, including the Humane Education program that is offered free to the schools here in Newport County.

First, let’s define what we mean by Humane Education. Humane Education is usually defined as the use of education to nurture compassion and respect for living things. In addition to a traditional focus on the treatment of non-human animals, humane education also contains content related to the environment, the compassionate treatment of other people, and the interconnectedness of issues pertaining to people and the planet. Humane education instills the desire and capacity to live with compassion, integrity and wisdom but also provides the knowledge and tools to put our values into action in meaningful, far-reaching ways so that we can find solutions that work for all. Thus, the aim of humane education is to create a culture of empathy and caring by stimulating the moral development of individuals to form a compassionate, responsible and just society.

The Potter League is proud of their continued commitment to providing a free, relevant and engaging Humane Education curriculum to the area schools for the past thirty-five years. With the increasing demand on classroom teachers to have students meet state standards, our Humane Education program is still viewed as an integral part of students’ education. Initially, when the program began in 1982, the targeted population was third-graders. Children in this age group are extremely receptive to new learning, especially those involving human-animal interactions and animal issues, and their natural affinity to and empathy with animals made the program a huge success. Topics in this grade include lessons on responsible pet care, the history of animal domestication, the role of animal shelters in the community, safety around animals, native wildlife and choosing the right kind of pet for your family. Since then, the program has been expanded to include a multi-lesson seventh-grade series. The seventh-grade program consists of a set of lessons involving the humane treatment of animals and is intended to develop critical thinking skills. Topics include coping with coyotes, endangered species, pet overpopulation, puppy mills and animals in sports and entertainment. In addition to the multi-lesson programs, The Potter League Humane Education program offers single-session presentations for grades Pre-K through eighth. Just as in the series of lessons presented in third and seventh grade, our one-shot lessons are intended to encourage the consideration of different issues involving thinking about others (including animals) and their needs, feelings and suffering, thinking about the effects of your actions and thinking about your world and your place in it.

Now let’s talk about Animal Welfare and the effect of Humane Education on the Animal Welfare world. Animal welfare is the well-being of animals. The standards of “good” animal welfare vary considerably between different contexts. These standards are under constant review and are debated, created and revised by animal welfare groups, legislators and academics worldwide. Providing good animal welfare is sometimes defined by a list of positive conditions which should be provided to the animal, known as The Five Freedoms.
The Five Freedoms as currently expressed are:

Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
Freedom to express (most) normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

Humane education plays an important role in creating a compassionate and caring society. Younger children are introduced to simple animal issues and the idea that animals are sentient creatures, able to experience feelings and perceptions, including the ability to experience suffering and states of well-being. As children progress through the levels of humane education, they begin to consider a whole range of ethical issues involving humans, animals and the environment. Lesson plans are created to generate creative and critical thinking, tapping into the moral compass inherent in each individual. Most importantly, humane education has the potential to promote the development of empathy and compassion, critical elements often missing in society today, often the underlying reason for callous, neglectful and violent behavior. By developing critical thinking skills, children not only question the practices and treatment of animals and the environment, they are able to create learning outcomes and opportunities to put what they have learned into action. For example, students could help organize a public awareness campaign for the need to spay/neuter pets or ban plastic bags, question the use of animals in entertainment or collect donations for the benefit of a local shelter.

So, in answer to your question, yes, I think Humane Education has had an effect on the Animal Welfare World!

Till next time,
Tuki