Hinsdale Humane Society recently announced the launch of an “Animal Advocate Academy” program designed to promote greater youth involvement in their work as a pet rescue center.
The three different classes — Books Barks Meow, Compassionate Kids Corps and Animal Advocates Club — aren’t brand new, but the expanded lineup is part of a new membership program that will offer classes for kids and adolescents four days a week beginning in early September.
For Kelsie Weisenberger, human education program manager at the Hinsdale Humane Society, one of the goals when working with children ages 4-14 is early intervention.
“If we teach children about animal welfare from an early age, we will see better pet owners,” Weisenberger said. “If we teach them how to properly care for animals and talk about controversial issues like declawing or bands on pit bull breeds, the generations will change as they get older and hopefully as a result. [we’ll see] fewer animals end up in shelters.”
The animal protection organization has seen an increase in the number of returned pets in recent months, something they had expected but hoped would not materialize.
“A lot of people were adopting during the pandemic when they had all this time for their animals and they had puppies and kittens — and when people went back to work and back into their normal routines, they didn’t have time for those animals anymore,” Weisenberger said, adding that the shelter at 21 Salt Creek Lane in Hinsdale is “very busy.”
Aside from their rescue and rehabilitation capabilities, due to a lack of adopter education, there are animal shelters that are not equipped enough to handle the rigors of caring for a pet.
The overall lack of education that Weisenberger has seen is a driving force behind the after-school programs offered at the center.
“Books Barks Meow” is aimed at young readers to sit and read to dogs or cats to improve reading skills and enrich the animals. Compassionate Kids Corps focuses on animal welfare, rescue procedures and the responsibility to provide adequate care. Kids attending the class will also help keep the facility clean for the adoptable animals. The third program, Animal Advocates Club, tailored for 11-14 year olds, explores animal handling and discusses careers available to animal lovers.
Weisenberger said she tries to include what she calls “animal time” in each of the courses so that children can have hands-on experience, “whether it’s a cat or dog, hamster, guinea pig or rabbit — sometimes it will be an animal.” for adoption or a certified therapy dog.”
The annual membership to the Animal Advocate Academy is $50 per child and $10 for each additional child from the same household. Classes are usually held between 4 and 7pm and children have the option of attending all four classes each week, or dropping in on one or two.
It’s a long game, but Weisenberger said she’s hopeful that kids will share what they’ve learned with those around them, especially those with pets, and help keep animals out of shelters.
“Even though they won’t be pet owners for another 10 years or so, the hope is that maybe they will learn something that applies to their pet at home and that they can share what they’ve learned with the adults in their lives. The goal is for these little children to become ambassadors and animal advocates,” she said. “And maybe we’ll see less returns? That’s my hope.”
For more information, visit hinsdalehumanesociety.org/animal-advocate-academy.