Cats & Kindness

Connecting Children and Animals for Humane Living

Empathy, active citizenship, critical thinking, responsibility - these are important values. They are fundamental to a humane society and yet difficult to teach. Pawsitive People, a non-profit organization in London, Ontario, has developed a new experiential learning program for schools and summer camps to take on this important challenge.

Marrying the requirements of animal rescue organizations and the need for activity-based learning in Humane Education and Character Development (HECD), founders Melissa Loftus, Brett Shepherd and David , launched Pawsitive People. An American organization called "Best Friends" was their inspiration. Upon returning from a "Best Friends" conference they set to work creating Pawsitive People's structured program in which children play with and care for cats.

During the 05/06 school year a number of children participated in their five session program and graduated with a certificate of achievement at the end. Designed for ages 9 to 11 and linked directly to the Ontario grade 5 curriculum, they actively learned the meaning of empathy. "With animals, this abstract concept becomes real", explains Melissa. After participating in the program one student was overheard addressing a perceived injustice with new understanding and language; "That's not very humane of you," he said.

Wanting to continue their work in the summer, Pawsitive People partnered with Circle R Ranch, an overnight and day camp that is known for horseback riding. But before receiving cats and kids at Furville, their Humane Education Center, it had to be built. Circle R Ranch provided the space and volunteers built the 20'x20' wooden cabin to blend with the Ranch theme. This met the requirements of many animal rescue organizations which have an indoor cat policy. Yet, outdoor time for cats is very important. It helps with nurturing and socializing. "We wanted to be on the cutting edge of animal welfare", explains Melissa.

Grappling with this issue drove Pawsitive People to the Internet which is where they discovered The Cat's Den. A call explaining their objectives to Cat's Den owner Kris Kischer was all it took for Kris to enthusiastically donate a 20'x24' outdoor cat enclosure for Furville. Kris and her team arrived and installed the structure in one morning. "They literally provided us with the framework we needed to run the program," says Karl Carew, Positive People's Board Director.

Every Cat's Den is customized to the space and needs of cats and their owners. Furville is 8' high so that the children enter through the structure. Shelves allow the rescued cats to be out of the action or enter into play with children when they are ready. With ample outdoor space the many co-habiting cats showed no behavioral problems. Thanks to the Cat's Den, cats and kids could play outdoors in a safe environment -even children with allergies could participate.

Over the summer, 679 children and their families participated in Furville. Campers arrived to care for the cats before breakfast and many chose to give up riding time to go to Furville. Remarkably, there was 100% participation. By the end of the summer, all of the cats were adopted.

Pawsitive People is a story of synergistic relationships. Bringing together the resources of animal rescue groups, Circle R Ranch, The Cat's Den, local schools and organizations, they have launched an exciting program that cares for animals and promotes caring in children. More school involvement and overnight experiences at Furville are in the future. And the Pawsitive People model for humane education and animal rescue is ready for other communities.

Copyright 2006. The Cat's Den. Reprints and re-publishing of this article will gladly be granted.
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