Companion animals are diverse groups of animals that include dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, companion birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and many more! There are currently more than 1.1 billion companion animals worldwide. In fact, there are more companion animals than people in the United States. The 4-H Companion Animal program offers resources and educational programs to youth interested in learning more about caring for companion animals.–Nebraska 4-H Companion Animal Programs
ALLISON: Why does University of Nebraska-Lincoln offer a 4-H Companion Animal program?
DR. KARR: Companion animals are an important part of people’s lives and it’s important that people are educated about them. For youth, companion animals serve as a great tool to teach kids about responsibility and care as well as biology and other science concepts. Most youth have a companion animal in their home so it is a project area that is easily relatable to and an important topic for outreach.
ALLISON: How did you get involved with the 4-H Companion Animal program? What is your role?
DR. KARR: I serve as the Nebraska Extension Companion Animal Specialist. My job is to provide state-wide programming and educational events for youth related to companion animals – dogs, cats, small pets, etc. I have served in this role in Nebraska since 2006. As a kid, I showed my dog in 4-H and was passionate about animals.
ALLISON: The Companion Animal Challenge offers a variety of 4-H companion animal contests: Demonstration Contest, Dog Quiz Bowl, Skillathon Contest, Art Contest, and Photography Contest. How do leaders prepare for their roles? How are students prepared?
DR. KARR: This event was added to have something to test youth’s knowledge without them having to bring their animals into Lincoln. Some animals get stressed with travel and we wanted to provide it to a wider variety of youth. Some groups have a leader who will work with the kids ahead of time and do regular practices for the quiz bowl while others just read the information on their own and come and have fun. Youth can prepare by studying 4-H manuals and reading more about their animal. We have provided a workshop on preparing a demonstration in the past.
ALLISON: The Canine Companions for Life-Nebraska 4-H Dog Expo is designed to provide youth from to meet other youth, exchange ideas in a fun environment, learn more about their dog, as well as provide an opportunity to work with their canine companion. Tell me about its offerings.
DR. KARR: In terms of the summer agility and obedience training, each county organizes their own activities for kids. I have worked with Seward County on their obedience and agility training in the past. These lead up to youth competing at their county fair in obedience, showmanship or agility. Youth over age 10 can also compete in these events with their dog at the state fair.
ALLISON: The Cat Club is a monthly webinar series. Who presents this series and how did series get developed? Is this series ever offered in-person? Why or why not?
DR. KARR: Each month 4-H members who attend the cat club learn about a different topic. These include health care, history of the cat, cat genetics, cat coat colors, nutrition, behavior, training, problem behaviors, and other topics. I host these meetings and we teach for 10 minutes or so and then kids do a worksheet or activity to review their knowledge and we repeat this style of teaching during the hour. It is offered in person to youth here in Lincoln who can come and be with me as I am hosting. I started these because we found that many counties didn’t have someone who felt comfortable teaching about cats, but lots of kids wanted to learn more about their cat. It’s fun to interact with kids from across the state and even a couple from out of the state during the meetings and hear more about their cats. I had one summer several years ago traveled to different counties to teach kids workshops on cats and have done it when requested, but I think this is a good way to reach kids across the state and provide them with longer term educational opportunities.
ALLISON: The Nebraska 4-H Video Cat Showmanship Contest provides youth an opportunity to showcase their knowledge and skills they have developed in their 4-H cat project. Who arranges this contest and how did it get started? Can the public view the above events? What value are they to students and the public?
DR. KARR: This was started this past summer. The 4-H Cat Show at the Nebraska State Fair had a limited number of exhibitors due to factors like the stress on the cats during travel or having a hard time making arrangements for your cat when it wasn’t being shown. We wanted to offer a state-wide event that would decrease the stress on the cats. We will make some of the top presentations available to the public as we prepare for next year. Youth gave a presentation on their cat–about it’s overall health, care, and well-being and discussed things they learned about their cat. They were then asked questions about their knowledge of cats in general as a follow-up to their presentation. If this event continues to grow in the future, it may be expanded to include showmanship presentations of other household companion animals (besides dogs) that might be difficult to travel with to the state fair.
ALLISON: What is the most common animal students enter into the Companion Animal Challenge? What is the most unusual animal?
DR. KARR: Many of the events (Skillathon and Quiz Bowl) are just about dogs. But, for art, photography, and demonstration the subject can be any companion animal. We have had demonstrations on allergies in dogs, positive and negative reinforcement in dog training, cat diseases, and rabbit handling among others. Photographs and art have included dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs.
ALLISON: What is one of your most unforgettable moments?
DR. KARR: I really just love hearing about the kids animals and their interactions with them. I have had several youth I worked with through 4-H end up as my students at UNL so it’s nice to see that bond between them and animal develop into a lifelong passion. It’s fun to ask those students to work with incoming youth and help to teach them at workshops or other events too.