Changing the World Through Humane Education

How do you improve the world for people, animals, and the environment? If you’re Jesse Miller, you start a non-profit that focuses on Humane Education. EPIC Outreach is an organization in Florida with a mission to create a kinder world by educating, networking, providing resources, and doing community outreach.

ALLISON: When and how did you become a humane educator?

JESSE: I have been involved in animal welfare most of my life. Since I’ve been 16 years old, I volunteered at my local animal shelter. I’ve also educated through various job roles including that of an animal control officer and in Sea Turtle Outreach and Protection. In my 40’s, I achieved my Certified Humane Education Specialist from the Humane Society of United States (now run by the Academy of Prosocial Learning). Three years ago, I started a nonprofit in 2015 that focuses on education outreach.

ALLISON: Why do you consider humane education important?

JESSE: Humane Education is a way to have a lasting impact and effect positive change for people, pets, and the planet. As an animal control officer I saw first hand the change that would occur when I took the time to share information with people rather than reprimand them, write a citation, or confiscate a pet because they lacked the knowledge on the right thing to do. Sharing information and providing people with tools to be better has a ripple effect. Until we know better we can’t do better–education provides the opportunity to do better. I think to myself how many times I have learned about something I knew nothing about and then did that thing better because I was now more educated on it. Humane Education takes time and has to be done continuously, but the effort is worth it. Humane Education can have a lasting impact.

ALLISON: Share a memorable story from working with volunteers

JESSE: EPIC Outreach is an all-volunteer organization. In 2017, we ran a week-long summer camp with 1/2 day camps everyday for a week. It was a huge undertaking and we pulled it off with an all-volunteer “staff” that included my sister, niece, a few young adults, and another dedicated humane educator. While it was a lot of work, the rewards were endless. The kids didn’t want the camp to end, and by the end of the week everyone was asking if they could come back the following year. I owe that success to the volunteers who helped to make it a seamless event.

ALLISON: Share a memorable story from working with pet owners.

JESSE: Major is a dog that EPIC Outreach encountered while delivering pet food to under-served communities. Major is a success story of time and patience and working with people in our community who love their pets but sometimes need a little help. Major was living outside on a chain with a dog house and during my visits I was able to plant seeds of kindness and better pet care. Over time his living space moved from way in the back of the yard where he was forgotten to the side yard right in front of the driveway where he was more visible. Then one day we showed up with dog food and broke down in tears when Major greeted us inside the house. That is true victory! This didn’t happen overnight but took time and patience, compassion, kindness, and non-judgement. We met people where they were and working with them.

ALLISON: How do you juggle your offerings–presentations, pet food bank, and blog?

JESSE: Ha, that is the million dollar question. I can’t change everything and solve all the concerns of the world, but if I get up everyday and try to have some kind of impact then I am making a difference.  Doing something is effecting change and makes the people of our world a little more compassionate each and every day.

This is what matters. If everyone did a little bit to be kinder, more loving this world would be a more compassionate place. And it really doesn’t have to be big. It could be writing an inspirational quote on social media, smiling at someone, buying a bag of pet food for a struggling neighbor who loves their dog, or fostering a kitten.

ALLISON: What inspired you to write a book?

JESSE: I have always had ideas to write children’s books. I believe that reading and learning is that thing that gives us something no one can take away. Sharing the messages of the animals I write about in the books I have created (there are 2 now) helps spread a message of kindness because the stories are real and the messages are powerful. I love creating and I believe kids learn through illustrating stories.

ALLISON: How has doing humane education changed you?

JESSE: I believe Humane Education is my calling and passion. I love it, I learn from it, and I hope to be doing it when I am 100 years young. I learn about myself when I am creating curriculum and also when I am engaging with kids or parents. I love the most seeing the kids or parents really get what they are learning and hearing the stories of how they are going to use what they learned and help their pet or a neighbors pet. The kids and the families inspire me to keep doing more.

ALLISON: What are the challenges with this field?

JESSE: The biggest challenges is that Humane Education isn’t tangible in the way pet adoptions are. It can be hard to show the importance of Humane Education to others. We live in an information overload world where parents and teachers are just trying to get through the basics in life, and so Humane Education isn’t viewed as a need but as a luxury done only if there is time.

ALLISON: What advice would you give to aspiring humane educators?

JESSE: Get involved and have fun. Stay committed even when it feels like you aren’t making a difference. Our work might not be directly visible, but the work we do has lasting impacts. We never know how what we share will impact a persona, an animal, or our planet for days, weeks, years to come. What we share in an after school program or a camp could get passed on to another person who shares it with someone else. It all helps change the world.

ALLISON: Anything else you’d like to add?

JESSE: We need more Humane Educators. Kids are sponges; they want to grow and learn. When Humane Education is available, we can nurture the compassion and kindness already within them and provide them with the knowledge and skill to be compassionate adults. When we can provide Humane Education to adults we can shift their perspective so that they make better more compassionate decisions. Positive change is possible through Humane Education.

I hope to one day soon have a HE Resource Center where summer camps, after school programs, and continuing education can exist year round teaching and inspiring kindness for all.

Should Animal Welfare Remain A Woman’s World?

Look through the list of people who form the backbone of animal welfare groups, especially that of rescue, and you’ll likely discover the majority are women. Is there anything wrong with this imbalance? And if so, what’s the solution?

Are Women Really the Majority?

This past year I noticed that most my articles on animal welfare were about women. I wondered about why this was Seeking answers, I asked local animal welfare group volunteers whether they thought men or women formed the majority in the field. Everyone said women. I broadened my coverage to national groups and asked members of Best Friends Animal Society Network Partners and members of Blog Paws the same question. Those who responded also unequivocally said women.

That’s when I began to dig into statistics. According to the Data USA, in 2016, 74% of non-farm animal caretakers (or those who “feed, water, groom, bathe, exercise or otherwise care for non-farm animals in an animal welfare setting such as kennel, shelter, zoo) were women. In addition, a paper written by Emily Gaarder and published by the John Hopkins University states, “A striking characteristic of the animal rights movement is that women constitute the majority of its activists.” There’s also a case study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health that reveals, “Across countries female students had greater concern for animal welfare and rights than males, but especially so in more gender empowered countries.”

Why are Women the Majority?

During my interviews, a few opinions cropped up repeatedly for why women form the majority in the animal welfare world. Most boiled down to a belief traditional gender roles.

  • Women are more strongly drawn to the field because it fulfills their need to be caretakers and nurturers; whereas men, as hunters and gatherers, are not as strongly drawn to the field
  • Women more often stay at home and so have more time to volunteer; men more often are the bread-winners and so have less time to volunteer.
  • Women view pets as living creatures; men view pets as objects to be used.
  • Girls are taught to be kind and compassionate; boys are pressured to succeed whether at school or on the job
  • Girls are shown the merits of making a difference and being volunteers; boys are encouraged to seek accolades
  • Girls learn to care about health and behavior; boys learn to be manly

Professional literature echoes these opinions. In her paper published by John Hopkins University, Emily Gaarder discussed predominant theories behind women forming the majority in the animal welfare world. She began with the theory of “gendered economic structures,” which proposes that women have more free time to devote to social causes and volunteering. Gaarder did note criticisms of the theory, number one being that women actually have less free time than men because they bear dual burdens as both family providers and caregivers. She also suggested that “the socialization aspects of gendered economic structures are the more enduring parts of this theory. Women are still more likely to be the primary caretakers of animals within households, which might increase their bond with animals; they are also the likely candidates to bring their animals to veterinary clinics, where donation cans or literature about animal welfare groups may be displayed.”

Gaarder also referred to a social learning explanation “which suggests that gender-role socialization influences emotional response.” For example, women’s high level of involvement in animal issues “reflects the persistence of traditional gender expectations: women are supposed to be sensitive to the feelings of others; and they are asked to be gentle rather than aggressive.” In contrast, “men may be less willing to pursue animal activism for fear of being associated with a movement stereotyped as being overly emotional. Masculinity is associated with strength and emotional distance, and showing compassion for animals can be viewed as a sign of weakness.”

Statistics also show the grip that traditional roles have on society. Consider a 2018 study by Pew Social Trends on the topic of how Americans describe what they value (and don’t) in each gender. Men were valued for being powerful, strong, ambitious, and protective. They were held in esteem for being leaders and providers. In contrast, women were valued for being responsible, kind, compassionate, caring, and beautiful. Conversely, describing women and men using any term associated with the other gender was viewed as negative.

In an article published by the ASPCA, Claire Sterling offers a different perspective. She raised the question of whether the dominance of women in animal welfare could point to a continuing disparity in economic opportunities between genders. According to Sterling, “animal welfare as a whole is woefully underfunded relative to other programmatic areas such as education, health, human services and the arts.” To support her case, Sterling shares a statistic from Giving USA, which reveals that 2014 charitable contributions to nonprofits working in animal welfare received the smallest share of total giving across all program areas—only 3%. “It stands to reason,” said Sterling, “that the people working in this under-resourced field are likely to receive relatively lower pay on average than their counterparts in more generously funded fields. Given that women’s income across professions still lags behind men’s, could animal welfare be an area in which this issue is especially pronounced?

Some of my interviewees offered a couple final reasons for why women form the majority in the animal welfare world. One local male volunteer noted, “There is a decent percentage of men who volunteer with their wives, but I see a very small percentage of people like me who are just single guys volunteering for the dogs.” Another reason is that men prefer to solve problems, but animal rescue puts them in a no-win situation. Billy Penick explained, “there is always going to be one more animal to save, one more abuse case, one more rescuer who became a hoarder, one more irresponsible breeder, one more feral that can only be adopted after years of work. Men want to fix it and move on.”

Does the Majority Matter?

If women form the majority, should there be more men in animal welfare? Among those I interviewed, some voiced the opinion that our society has evolved to the point that there should no longer be any such thing as women’s work or men’s work. Others pointed out that a more equal mix of genders could bring a greater variety of skills and mindsets to any organization. If nothing else, some felt that involving more men would mean there were more people available to support the cause. Finally, Matt Yank brought up a point that I found described in professional literature: men in animal welfare would serve as good role models for boys who would benefit from seeing that it’s acceptable for boys to embrace humility, respect, compassion, and empathy.

In Harold Herzog’s paper on the gender differences in human-animal interactions, Herzog concluded that while there were some areas where the genders were fairly equal such as the proportions that live with companion animals, grieve at the loss of a pet, and visit zoos, there were other areas where men did not fare well. For example, far more men than women support animal research, hunt animals for recreation, and engage in animal cruelty. Therefore, society would benefit from men viewing animals less as objects, and more as living creatures deserving of humane treatment.

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun refers to Herzog’s research and to several other examples where men vastly outnumber women across most types of abuse including that of animals. Consider the examination of 268 prosecutions for physical animal cruelty by the Massachusetts SPCA between 1975 and 1996. Two hundred and fifty-nine of those cases involved men; only nine involved women. Then there is a 2000 survey of women’s shelters conducted by the Ontario SPCA. Sixty-one percent of women who responded reported that their pets were harmed and/or killed by an abusive partner, and 48% confirmed that they had delayed leaving an abusive situation for fear of leaving pets behind. Finally, a 2004 analysis of press reports that men outnumber women as perpetrators of animal abuse somewhere between eight to one and twenty to one, with only cases of animal hoarding and neglect/abandonment being more characteristic of women. The Vancouver Sun article concludes, “While there is no clear evidence for a link between men’s casual disinterest in animal welfare issues and cases of male violence toward animals or people the consistent gender difference in attitudes toward animals is an unpleasant fact that needs to be considered.”

How Do We Change the Dynamics?

How can the animal welfare world attract more men? The most ideal way would be a shift in societal attitude. Parents, teachers, and any adult in a mentorship role should teach boys that being kind and compassionate shouldn’t be restricted to women; they’re part of what makes everyone a better human. Animal welfare groups also play a role by not neglecting the role of humane educators. Of course, changing societal attitudes can take years and even decades. An immediate way to attract more men to animal welfare would be for animal welfare groups to look closer at what men’s interests are. Billy Penick suggested appealing to men by offering opportunities to “fix things”. For example, seeking volunteers to help with photography, web design, data management, and anything technical. This said, he stressed that, “If you have a positive atmosphere and make sure people know what they are supposed to do and enforce it on everyone then the team runs well no matter who is in charge.”

Other Issues

My research into the gender demographics of animal welfare educated me but also raised more questions. For example, I’d like to hear from more men about what would attract them to animal welfare. In addition, interviewees wanted to know how many minorities (Data USA says only 15% of minorities are non-farm caretakers) and/or people with special needs are involved, and how do we increase those numbers? If you’d like to sound off on these issues, please post your comment below.

Therapy Cat Series: Hugs and Christmas Cards

Rainy and I are having fun this December making personalized Christmas cards. Throughout the fall, I’ve also learned how to use a Clik Stik and worked on training Rainy to be more of a lap cat.

Rainy and I were certified through Love on a Leash, but we’ve been also trying to pass the test items from other pet therapy organizations. Prior to taking Rainy to retirement living centers, Andy helped me test her on the items that are part of the Canine Good Citizenship test such as being comfortable with distractions. This fall, some of my friends helped me test Rainy on items that are part of the Pet Partners pet therapy test, most notably those which involve restraint. Friends held her in their lap, groomed her, hugged her, and clumsily petted her, with the goal of teaching Rainy to handle any situation she might encounter as a therapy cat. As a result of her training, Rainy sits more often on my lap (instead of beside me) at home and sits longer on the laps of people she visits.

Back in October, I wrote about Rainy and her siblings taking a free online course from Clicking with Your Cat, taught by Julie the Cat Teacher. After I posted my article, the instructor sent me the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Terry Ryan Clik Stik for Pet Training—which she includes in her paid training classes. It’s certainly a step up from the tools I was using, a wristband clicker and a homemade target stick. I still like my wristband clicker, as I can conveniently wear it like a piece of jewelry, but I’ve gotten used to the Clik Stik, which is just as easy to click and can be attached to one’s clothes when not in use. The Clik Stik also has the advantage of being two tools in one: a clicker and a retractable target stick. It’s far more sophisticated than my handmade target stick made of a dowel rod with a plastic spoon taped to the end. My cats were instantly eager to follow the Click Stik with their eyes when I moved it. I’m also slowly learning to use the Clik Stik control their actions by gently guiding them with the Clik Stik.

Instagram is to blame for my decision to make personalized Christmas cards. While scrolling through photos of Rainy’s followers, I noticed how many of their adventure cats were wearing sweaters. Then I started thinking about how much I bundle up just to drive Rainy to a therapy visit in December, and how unprotected she is by comparison. Yes, she’s covered in fur, but as a indoor cat she’s not used to frigid winter weather. Of course, before I fork out money on a sweater, I wanted to know that she’d wear it, and so I tried one of Barnaby’s sweaters on her. She reacted to it with as much interest as her harness, or in other words she barely gave it notice. I snapped a photo and then proceeded to try Barnaby’s other outfits on her, including a Santa suit. I thought nothing more about our fashion show until I noticed that a few Instagram followers were exchanging Christmas cards. Suddenly I had the perfect use for all those photos I’d taken of Rainy in Barnaby’s outfits!

Scrapbook Factory has long been my favorite software for creating designs. The front of the card was easy enough. I simply imported my photo of Rainy posing in a Santa suit. To add extra elegance, I added a complementary dark purple border and wrote “Have a Meowy Christmas!” in holly green text.

Surprisingly, given that I’m a writer, the inside proved to be a struggle. I felt insecure designing a card for people who had been exchanging cards for years. In addition, I felt awkward about writing to people whom I didn’t really know except through photos of their cats. Then Andy showed me a card his friend had made, and seeing her example boosted my confidence. I realized that I just needed to pick one thing we had in common and write about it.

For my first card, I wrote about snow, because I know that the recipient already has plenty of it in Canada. Once I had the inside designed, I decided to play around with the back. I pasted a cute graphic of a cat in a Christmas hat and wrote Rainy’s Pawsome Card. I also finally made use of the pet-safe ink that I had bought earlier this fall to create some paw signatures. I discovered that as long as a cat is used to have its nails clipped, inking its paws isn’t difficult.

I started with the victim – er, cat – that I thought would be the most cooperative, Rainy, and learned from her the best steps to take.

  • Wear old clothes. Even the most tolerate cat is likely to squirm and imprint your clothes with her inky paws. The ink come out in the wash, but I’d still avoid wearing your best clothes.
  • Spread newspaper on the floor. If your cat is curious like mine, she’ll walk through the ink as soon as you open it and track prints over your floor.
  • Place a plain sheet of paper on the floor for the pawprints.
  • Open ink pad.
  • Pick up and hold cat gently, as you would to clip nails.
  • Lift paw and place firmly on ink pad.
  • Lift paw and place firmly on paper.
  • Wash cat’s paw in a small bowl of water.
  • Dry cat’s paw with a paper towel.
  • Scan paw print.
  • Import scan into Scrapbook Factory.

My first Christmas card done, I then got to have fun customizing the inside message for family members, friends, and patients. Some of the cards I’ve mailed, while others Rainy and I will deliver on Christmas Day.

Have a Meowy Christmas everyone!

Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog Ministry

Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog Ministry is a national ministry that uses purebred Golden Retrievers to bring comfort. Currently, there are over 130 L.C.C. Comfort Dogs serving in more than 20 states. L.C.C. operates two training facilities in Illinois and Nebraska.

According to Don Moeller, the idea for the L.C.C. Comfort Dogs ministry began in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. L.C.C. emergency response teams noticed that while many agencies helped the people devastated by such natural disasters family pets were often neglected. At that time, Lutheran Church Charities acquired several pure bred Golden Retrievers.

Three years later, when a shooting happened at Northern Illinois University where a number of students were killed, those Golden Retrievers were invited to the university to help comfort the students. And so began the use by L.C.C. of Golden Retrievers for comfort.

Moeller personally got involved in 2013. He accompanied several handlers of a L.C.C. comfort dog named Moses on various deployments including that of a suicide of a young man who had been bullied. These deployments led him to inquire about getting a L.C.C. Comfort Dog for his own church and on June 15, 2014, his church became the owner of a L.C.C. Comfort Dog.

ALLISON: What is involved with training dogs as a comfort dog?

DON: The demand for an L.C.C. Comfort Dog is great and a church may have a several year wait to acquire one for their congregation. There are two locations that train the dogs. One in Northbrook, Illinois and the other is in Grand Island, Nebraska. The dogs are all purebred Golden Retrievers and training starts when they are around eight weeks old. It is estimated that each dog has over 2,000 hours of training before they become a L.C.C. Comfort Dog. The dogs themselves have to pass tough American Kennel Club tests before they can wear the vest of a L.C.C. Comfort Dog.

ALLISON: Five dogs are being trained so that they can work out of 5 different churches from across the nation. How are dogs prepared for this enormous responsibility?

DON: Presently there are just over 100 dogs in about 25 states that are L.C.C. Comfort Dogs. A L.C.C. Comfort Dog responds to 34 commands. During training they are exposed to all kinds of environments, surfaces and conditions. They are also introduced to all kinds of sounds from gunshots to heavy equipment, other animals and people of all ages and personalities. They are also familiarized to different types of transportation such as airplanes, buses, cars, trucks and the like.

ALLISON: Five dogs are being trained so that they can work out of 5 different churches from across the nation. How are dogs prepared for this enormous responsibility?

DON: Presently there are just over 100 dogs in about 25 states that are L.C.C. Comfort Dogs. A L.C.C. Comfort Dog responds to 34 commands. During training they are exposed to all kinds of environments, surfaces and conditions. They are also introduced to all kinds of sounds from gunshots to heavy equipment, other animals and people of all ages and personalities. They are also familiarized to different types of transportation such as airplanes, buses, cars, trucks, and the like.

ALLISON: What are the main differences between a comfort dog and a therapy dog?

DON: L.C.C. Comfort Dogs are different from therapy dogs in that they have much more training. L.C.C. Comfort dogs training takes anywhere from 14 to 16 months and have to pass multiple tests. They are a working dog. A therapy dog is a great dog but it may have a much shorter training period (as short as a week) and a therapy dog usually just has to pass a test called a Canine Good Citizen test.

ALLISON: Where do you find dogs for your program?

DON: The dogs for this program come from specific purebred Golden Retriever breeders from across the United States. The pups meet certain pedigree and breeding requirements before they are considered and implemented into the training program.

ALLISON: What’s it like to be a caregiver for a comfort dog?

DON: A caregiver for a L.C.C. Comfort Dog must be willing to dedicate themselves to the program and should always be training the dog on a daily basis. In addition, the caregiver must keep the dog in top physical condition. Continual dog grooming and hygiene is also an important aspect of being a caregiver.

ALLISON: What are the most typical places comfort dogs are taken? The most unusual places?

DON: A L.C.C. Comfort Dog has a weekly calendar and most of the dogs are busy almost every day of the week. On a local basis dogs will visit schools, retirement homes, hospitals, first responders, local tragedies like suicides, deaths, and other types of local tragedies. The dogs also get deployed to national tragedies. Some of which have included most of the school shootings from Sandy Hook to parkland in Florida. Other shootings such as the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida and the concert at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Hurricanes and floods like those in Baton Rouge and Houston are also places the dogs have been to. There are more types of tragedies they have gone to, but the major thing to know is that a L.C.C. Comfort Dog does not go anywhere unless they are “invited by the community” to come.

ALLISON: What are some of your memorable moments?

DON: There have been so many memorable moments with this program. Just seeing people responding to a dog and the comfort a dog gives is always inspirational. It is a proven fact that people will many times respond to an animal before they will to another human. A person petting a dog will have his or her system relax. In fact their blood pressure will go down an average of 10 points.

ALLISON: Can one get their own comfort dog?

DON: The dogs do not become the property of an individual as they are owned by a church. If a church is accepted after applying for a L.C.C. Comfort Dog, the church develops a human team to be handlers for the dog. Then that team will go to Northbrook, Illinois to be trained to handle a L.C.C. comfort Dog.

ALLISON: Why should someone become an apprentice trainer?

DON: We are always looking for good apprentice trainers to help train a pup to become a L.C.C. Comfort Dog. We will teach an interested person how to train a dog to such a level. The benefits of an apprentice trainer is knowing the dog you are training will become an important part of multiple lives many places in the United States.

Saunders County Lost Pets Rescue Offers Pet Therapy

Saunders County Lost Pets is an all-volunteer non-profit that offers a unique opportunity for volunteers to help both animals and the community through pet therapy.

SCLP grew from Wilcox’s personal loss. The family had removed part of their fence to lay down some sod in their yard. Two of their Labrador retrievers were in the yard with them and took off. Wilcox looked for them for years, even driving around to other agencies for months and months, but she never found her dogs.

“Before that day, I had never given any thought to homeless pets or strays,” Wilcox said. “I hated what had happened in my life and I desperately wanted to change my circumstances. I couldn’t do that, but I could help the dogs that needed help, and so I started finding homes for them.

Since Deb Wilcox started Saunders County Lost Pets in 2005, her non-profit has placed about 110 dogs on an average in adoptive homes. SCLP offers abundant opportunities to volunteers such as kennel cleaning, kennel sitting, walking dogs, feeding dogs and cats, fostering pets, and pet therapy.

ALLISON: When did start SCLP start doing pet therapy?

DEBORAH: SCLP is an all-volunteer organization. We offer pet therapy when we have volunteers available and when requested by a facility or school.  We have done pet therapy off and on over the last several years.

ALLISON: What are the most typical places SCLP has done pet therapy?

DEBORAH: Schools and senior living centers are the most common.

ALLISON: How often do therapy visits happen? How long is each visit? What do visits consist of?

DEBORAH: We don’t have a regular schedule right now.  A pet therapy team goes whenever a facility contacts SCLP or if we see a need in the community. We generally stay for half an hour to an hour.

ALLISON: How many volunteers on average participate in pet therapy?

DEBORAH: Two on average. Although once when our local elementary school suffered the tragic loss of a student there were eight puppies and eight volunteers from SCLP that took the puppies to the school. Watching the puppies bring smiles to the kids that were hurting was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

ALLISON: What kind of training do you provide to potential therapy handlers and pets?

DEBORAH: I generally pick the pets that I think to be well adjusted and can handle the level of activity involved. I send them with an experienced volunteer team.

ALLISON: What kind of SCLP animals have been good candidates?

DEBORAH: Puppies and kitties are generally good candidates.  With older dogs and cats, it depends mostly upon their disposition and acceptance of new things and people.

ALLISON: If another rescue/shelter were interested in starting a pet therapy program, what recommendations would you give?

DEBORAH: An organization needs to understand basic knowledge of pets and a good understanding of pet dispositions and body language.

ALLISON: What are the benefits of such a program to a rescue and to the community?

DEBORAH: The benefits are great to the people doing the therapy and to the recipients.  Watching people open up to the unconditional love that a pet offers is such a beautiful and emotional experience.

 

Review: The Beginner’s Guide to Traveling & Adventuring with Your Cat

Emily Hall’s love of her cats and enthusiasm for taking them on outdoor adventures radiates on every page of The Beginner’s Guide to Traveling & Adventuring with Your Cat. This seven-chapter e-book is a colorful, well-designed, and easy-to-read guide about how to turn your cat into an adventure cat. Hall wrote her book “to help educate and encourage people to try adventuring with their cats” and picked content based on what she viewed as important info and on common questions she’s been asked. The Beginner’s Guide to Traveling & Adventuring with Your Cat available for free simply by subscribing to her blog Kitty Cat Chronicles.

In chapter one, Hall gives three reasons for people to have adventures with their cats. For starters, it’s fun! Hall inspired me to take my youngest cat to pet-friendly stores, restaurants, and parks this past year. Second, it’s a great way to bond! I learned that Rainy prefers to start out in her stroller when visiting new places, but that she also appreciates the opportunity to sit or walk next to me when she becomes comfortable. Third, it’s healthy! Rainy doesn’t like being outside by herself nor would she be safe. At the same time, an active cat like Rainy goes stir-crazy being indoors all day. Taking her on adventures is the solution.

Chapter two overviews the personality traits of an adventure cat. Those traits are: calm, confident, inquisitive, and easily-handled. My experience is that these traits are trickier to access than you might expect. Case in point is our oldest cat. In our house she displays all the traits of an adventure cat, but outside of her comfort zone those traits tend to diminish. When my husband and I used to take her to visit his parents, in contrast to Rainy who explores their house, Cinder curled up on a resting place and waited for us to go home. A year ago when I brought her outside, she plainly showed that she preferred the comforts of home by making a beeline for our house.

The next two chapters cover gear and training needed. Personally, I would recommend that one buy some gear, do some training, buy some more gear, and continue to alternate. If your cat absolutely hates the harness and/or the leash, the rest of the gear will be of no value. Even if your cat learns to accept them, there still may be limits to the adventures you’ll have with your cat and thus the type of gear you’ll have. Categorizing the gear as beginner, intermediate, and advanced would be helpful. Alternatively, given that Hall dedicates all of chapter six to road trips, perhaps chapter three and four could just cover the basic necessities.

Chapter five is dedicated to helping you brainstorm destinations for you and your cat. In this chapter, Hall lists backyard, pet stores, parks, and pet-friendly businesses. Elsewhere Hall also refers to the woods and on the water. A number of the photos show her cats in these more adventurous places. In her sequel, I’d like to see tips on how to acclimate cats to these vary different environments, each of which have their own dangers and perks.

In chapter six, Hall talks about road trips. She stresses that you call ahead to confirm that a hotel will allow you to bring a cat (or multiple cats) with you. This is sound advice anytime you take your cat to a public place. Some parks and businesses allow pets; others don’t.

What if you have a cat like our Bootsie who is nervous, shy, timid, and difficult to handle? Then chapter seven is for you! Even the least adventurous cat will tire of having nothing to do. Every cat needs enrichment: You can provide enrichment with scratchers, climbing trees, hiding places, and natural treats such as cat grass.

With three adventure cats of her own (Sophie has been adventuring for about 5-6 years. Kylo Ren for almost 3, and Caster for almost 2), Hall drew on her personal expertise to write The Beginner’s Guide to Traveling & Adventuring with Your Cat. If her guide inspires you to take your own cats on adventures, I highly recommend joining the online Facebook group KCC Adventure Cats, where members are encouraged to share adventure spots and suggestions, training tips and tricks, and fun photos and stories of their adventure cats, and more! Hall took a year to write her guide, which has received favorable feedback, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Poupack and Shiboo

Poupack braced herself against the blowing snow as the made her way towards her apartment building. Her hands and feet had begun to tingle in the biting Nebraska weather. No creature should have been outside in the miserable winter, but shivering next to Poupack’s apartment building was a black cat.

Poupack ran upstairs to her apartment for food. She and her husband didn’t own any cats, which meant they didn’t have any cat food on hand. Poupack settled for a piece of sausage. “The cat ate the sausage very fast,” Poupack said, “and I could hear her saying what sounded like ‘yum, yum, yum’.”

After the hungry cat had gobbled down the sausage, Poupack gestured to the cat to come inside with her. The cat backed away in fear.

For the rest of the evening, Poupack worried about the stray cat. She fell asleep dreaming that she had a black cat of her own.

While attending her university classes the next day, Poupack continued to think of the stray cat. She watched the minutes tick by and could hardly wait to drive home to see if the cat reappeared. To her delight, it did. Poupack wasted no time heading to the store for cat food.

Shiboo in her adopted home, Photo from Poupack
Shiboo in her adopted home, Photo from Poupack

She treated the cat daily to milk and food. Within a few days, the cat braved the threshold of Poupack’s apartment and ventured inside. Poupack had no qualms about spoiling the cat and soon her new companion was returning to her apartment every evening, where she would sleep on blankets surrounded by cat toys. “She became a good friend of mine. She purred in her blanket, and I knew she was happy,” Poupack said.

Three weeks later, on Christmas Day, it seemed as if Poupack and her husband had received a most wonderful and unexpected gift. Poupack detailed the night in a notebook: “The snow made everything white. I was making a potato soup to get warm and singing a Christmas song. That night I waited by the window, and I prepared a gift we had brought for our cat.”

But her new friend didn’t show. Poupack didn’t know what to do. As she tucked herself into bed that night, she felt sad and anxious.

The next day there was still no sign of the black cat. Poupack’s thoughts were a whirl: Did the cat get sick? Did she have food? Did she have a place to stay? “After a few days I had to accept that she was gone,” Poupack said. “Probably she went to another neighborhood.”

But while Poupack might have given up hope, she had not been forgotten by her new friend. After a long day at school, Poupack came home to the sound of a cat’s meow. Poupack shouted with joy, “This is her!” Indeed, it was her new friend. Poupack said, “She came to me, and I took her home, and I named her Shiboo.”

Poupack, her husband, and Shiboo soon became a family. Shiboo never strayed far from her new home, and she’d always come running when called. When inside, she happily received attention, and her purrs could be heard throughout the house.

Their story could have ended here but in March another surprise awaited Poupack and her husband. For several weeks, Shiboo had been eating more than normal, and putting on weight. “I thought maybe she is growing up or maybe she is getting chubbier,” Poupack explained.

In her notebook, Poupack wrote: I was getting ready for spring. The weather was still cold, but the birds were chirping. I fed Shiboo as usual, but she wasn’t very energetic. She laid down and she fell asleep.

In the morning, Poupack woke to hear small mews. “I thought I was dreaming,” a teary-eyed Poupack wrote in her notebook, as she described her discovery that Shiboo was a mother. “The kittens were very small and cute. Two of them were gray, two were black, and one was gray and black. I touched them. They were tiny, and they were drinking their mom’s milk. I put Shiboo and all her babies in a box. I was happy, and I went back to sleep. That night I got a special gift.”

Stan in his adopted home, Photo provided
Stan in his adopted home, Photo provided

Fast forward to May. Raising five kittens is a lot of work for anyone, let alone for a couple who had little experience with cats. By this point, the kittens were several weeks old. Poupack and her husband contacted The Cat House for help. In her notebook, Poupack wrote: Shiboo’s babies are growing up and ready to be adopted and to have their homes with other families.

On May 6, The Cat House called Andy and me. We’d been eagerly awaiting our first opportunity to foster for The Cat House, and the moment had finally arrived. That Sunday afternoon, we brought Shiboo and her kittens to our home. In my journal, I declared: In one afternoon, our household increased from three cats to nine!

Their first afternoon with us began quietly with Shiboo hiding under the bed, two kittens exploring the room, and three kittens snoozing in their crate. The calm lasted for about five minutes.

Then chaos! One kitten struggled to climb into a litter box. Another kitten crawled onto a scratching ramp. Two kittens romped on blankets. The first kitten finally succeeded in using the litter box, which meant that all the other kittens suddenly had to use the bathroom too. The kittens’ exuberantly flung cat litter everywhere. Soon one kitten was poking at Andy’s camera while another kitten was trying to haul himself onto our guest room’s bed by clawing his way up the comforter. Eventually, the kittens grew hungry and tired. Peace reigned again while they ate and slept.

In the month that followed, our days continued to be filled with a mix of calm and chaos. Shiboo warmed up to us and occasionally came out from under the bed to seek attention. The kittens clambered over us begging for food, playtime, and love. Andy and I soaked up every experience with them, feeling that we too had been a special gift in having the opportunity to foster Shiboo and her kittens.

At Poupack’s request, The Cat House had put us in touch with each other. Although Poupack and her husband were headed out-of-state to visit relatives, Poupack offered to answer any questions we might have and expressed the hope that we’d stay in touch. The same day that we brought Shiboo and the kittens home, I emailed Poupack a quick update and several photos. Every few days after that we exchanged emails. I asked what foods and toys the kittens liked best. I also shared lots of stories about them as they settled into our home and their personalities began to emerge.

On May 20, Poupack emailed to let us know that she and her husband were back in Lincoln and to ask if they could visit. They dropped by late that afternoon, bringing a thank you gift of chocolates. As soon as they saw the kittens, Poupack exclaimed, “Oh, they’ve grown!” Shiboo was hiding under the bed, but came out for food, and there was an instant connection. Poupack chattered at her, and later Poupack’s husband sat next to Shiboo and brushed her. While the kittens amused themselves with a turbo track toy, we made plans for future visits. Every few days for the next two weeks, Poupack and her husband came to see Shiboo and the kittens.

On June 1, Andy and I took countless photos and cried when we delivered Shiboo and the kittens to The Cat House. The heartache of letting them go was eased somewhat due to Poupack and her husband deciding to adopt Shiboo. Poupack’s dream of owning a black cat came true after all.

After briefly mourning her separation from her babies, Shiboo settled back into a comfortable indoor life. She ate well, slept well, and resumed the playfulness that she had lost during her pregnancy. In her fall, Poupack told me she had become used to talking with Shiboo at the end of a stressful day and giving her hugs. She also shared that Shiboo loves the puzzle toy we gave her.

Katie in her adopted home, Photo provided
Katie in her adopted home, Photo provided

Despite knowing that Shiboo had found her forever home, we missed our fosters. At the end of our June vacation, we eagerly visited Shiboo’s kittens at The Cat House. These kittens had spent a month with us, and had become part of our hearts. Seeing them again brought tears to our eyes.

Over the next few weeks, we continued to visit the kittens and rejoiced each time their numbers decreased. Katie and Chloe were the first to be adopted, then Stan, and finally Leo and Georgie were adopted as a bonded pair.

Katie’s adopter shared that, “Katie (now Finley) is doing great. She loves to snuggle and follows us from room to room. She has come to an understanding with our two dogs. They’re not exactly friends but they can sleep at separate ends of the couch together. She LOVES to play with little toy mice and will do that for hours. She has even learned not to bat them under the range or refrigerator. We absolutely love her.”

Stan’s adopter shared that, “Stan is doing well. He is the best! He bonded quickly with our ‘middle’ child cat. She’s two years old. They snuggle and play all the time. He loves to sleep with us & always falls asleep on our chests, purring very loudly. We love him dearly!”

Poupack could have ignored the hungry and shivering black cat next to her apartment building. Instead she offered her food, shelter, friendship, a name–and, finally, a home. When Poupack and her husband needed help with their unexpected cat family, we stepped in to foster Shiboo and her kittens through The Cat House. For a month, we gave of our home and our love. When the kittens were ready to be adopted, The Cat House took them into their building where they cared for them while they were visited by prospective adopters. And then as the summer wore on, each of the kittens were adopted by loving owners. So many people came together to find homes for this family of strays. My husband and I are proud to have played a part.

The Debate Over Assistance Animals and Credentials

Service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy pets are three terms that have caused a lot of controversy in the news. One reason is the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, even though they have distinct functions. Another reason is the existence of fake credentials. Finally, there’s disagreement over what type of credentials there should be and what form they should take.

Definitions

Service Animals: According to the American Disabilities Act, service animals are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” The work or tasks that service animals perform must relate to the individual’s disability.

Currently, the ADA recognizes only dogs and miniature horses as service animals. Miniature horses can be turned away if they cannot be accommodated due to their type, size, or weight. The ADA does not recognize cats as service animals, but there are cats that do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. For example, the owner of Dezi and Lexi assists her in these ways: calm her during a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) attack, provide head massages to alleviate debilitating migraines, alert her before a syncopal episode, drive an electric wheelchair, and dial 911 for emergency assistance.

Emotional Support Animals: According to the ADA, emotional support animals “provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.” The type of animal is not restricted.

Therapy Pets: According to Pet Partners, therapy pets “provide affection and comfort to members of the public in facility settings such as hospitals, assisted living facilities, and schools. These pets have a special aptitude for interacting with members of the public and enjoy doing so.” Dogs, cats, small animals (rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs), and birds are the most popular types of therapy animals.

The Benefits of Owning an Assistance Animal

Besides the obvious benefit of owning an assistance animal–the particular ‘assistance’ it provides to its owner–there are additional benefits that can be a source of envy for people who don’t need the assistance of a real assistance animal. These benefits most often involve special access. Service animals may enter public facilities and private businesses unless the animal’s presence poses a safety risk and brought onto airlines for free. Emotional support animals may live in residences with a “no pets” rule and brought onto airlines for free as carry-on luggage. Therapy pets may enter the facilities they serve.

The Problem with Fake Credentials

People primarily purchase fake credentials to obtain special access for their pet. For example, by buying fake credentials for an emotional support animal or service animal, a person who moves into a ‘no pets apartment will be able to keep their pet, and can take their pet onto a plane for no additional cost. And in the case of therapy pets, a person might have a legitimate desire to provide comfort to people in need but not want to invest the time or money into obtaining real credentials, perhaps believing their pet doesn’t require any special training. Whatever the reason, because there are people willing to purchase fake credentials, there is money to be made providing those credentials, resulting in an increase in businesses that do so, which makes fake credentials easier to obtain.

Do “fake” assistance animals cause any harm? Yes. They harm residential property owners by unfairly depriving them of proceeds from pet fees or by angering or even driving away other residents who expected their “pet free” building to be pet-free. They harm service animal trainers by causing them to waste time responding to people who are eager to reap the benefits of having a family pet declared a service animal despite having no legitimate need for a service animal. They harm those in the food service industry by putting them at risk for health code violations for allowing entry to animals who are not credentialed. And they harm those who have a legitimate need for assistance animals by sowing distrust and thereby causing tightened restrictions on assistance animals.

Real Requirements, Real Credentials

What are the actual requirements of service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy pets, and how are the fulfillment of these requirements documented? Each type of assistance animal has unique requirements and certification.

Service Animals: According to the American Kennel Club, “Every service dog must be trained in tasking skills specific to the handler’s disability and in public access skills. ADA regulations state that service dogs also must be house-trained and under control at all times in public.”

Service dogs may receive training in various ways. Organizations may specifically breed them as service dogs and then train and place them with clients. People in need of service dogs might hire professional dog trainers to train their family pets. Such people might also personally train their dogs.

According to Service Dog Central, the US Department of Justice permits businesses to ask two questions of people with service dogs:

  1. Is this a service dog required because of a disability?
  2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?

Service Dog Central also notes that if service animals behave inappropriately by disrupting business, behaving aggressively, interfering with other patrons, or toileting inappropriately, a business can exclude service animals due to a “fundamental alteration” or “direct threat.”

Emotional Support Animals: Under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals are a “reasonable accommodation to a residence with a ‘no pets’ rule.” A property owner may ask for proof that the ESA alleviates an existing disability, which the Housing and Urban Development Act says may come from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional. Given such documentation, a property owner should waive a “no pets” rule or a pet deposit or pet-related rent increase. The Animal and Legal Historical Center states that because on-campus housing meets the definition of “dwelling” under the Fair Housing Act, campuses with “no pets” are required to make or allow reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities.

The Air Carrier Access Act does not restrict the type of animal it will accept as an Emotional Support Animal. It simply stipulates that the animal fit under the seat as “carry-on luggage” and that the owner has a signed letter from a licensed mental health professional. The letter must state the professional’s address and phone number, that the patient has a disorder listed in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, and that the patient is receiving active treatment for their disorder from this mental health professional.

Therapy Pets: According to the American Kennel Club, a therapy pet is “trained to provide comfort and affection to people in a facility setting”. Training can start with the owner, who socializes their pet to new people, places, and objects. Steps may vary after this, depending on the organization through which one certifies/registers their pet. The general recommended practice is for an owner to enroll their pet in a therapy pet class whereby the pet therapy team will gain exposure to equipment and situations unique to facilities they might serve, and then in a national therapy pet organization which will provide advice, support, and insurance. As part of an application to a national therapy pet organization, an owner usually needs to provide a temperament evaluation filled out by a veterinarian.

The Debate Over Credentials

While researching this article, I talked with people who own and/or train assistance animals. The more interviews I conducted, the clearer it became how little consensus exists over what type of credentials there should be and how proof of them should be provided. Again, I will cover each type of assistance animal separately.

Service Animals: There are no national organizations that have established standards for service animals. Therefore, if an owner receives a certificate from a trainer or an organization, this only means the animal has adhered to that trainer’s or that organization’s standards, and those standards can vary widely.

For this reason, opinions as to the value of certification varies. One service dog owner, Bunny Allen believes, “There is no value in certification. It has been proven in the courts of law over and over that certificates or credentials do not deem a dog trained. Even the ADA states that no credentials are needed.” Another service dog owner, Sierra Lynne believes instead that legislation is needed to establish national standards and licensing. Such standards would cut down on the sale of fake credentials and limit people’s ability to pass off their pets as service animals by merely dressing them up with a service animal vest, patch, or ID card.

Kristin Sandstede (service dog trainer) recommended a middle ground. She suggested that service dogs should be required to demonstrate a minimum of standard conduct that is upheld at all times. To do this, Sandstede said service animals should carry proof of current vaccinations and proof of passing both the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test and the Canine Good Citizenship test. The Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test is designed by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners and consists of a series of objectives designed to evaluate the dog’s behavior in distracting environments. The 10-step Canine Good Citizenship test is considered the gold standard in obedience. AKC recommends retesting the CGC every three years.

Emotional Support Animals: The type of credentials needed for Emotional Support Animals is straightforward. “The ONLY way to make your pet a LEGAL emotional support animal is through your doctor or psychiatrist who is treating you for a mental illness recognized by the DSM-IV,” writes Amanda on her blog Dog Mom Days. She emphasizes that “If you are not being treated for a mental illness, your pet can not legally be recognized as an emotional support animal.”

In addition, Amanda also points out that owners should not register a pet on an Emotional Support Animal registry. “They are not legitimate, and you will literally throw away $60. Not to mention the fact that you make it more difficult for those of us who truly need an ESA.” Amanda suffers from debilitating anxiety when traveling by airplane or when in other cramped social situations. She’s been treated for her mental disorder since age 17. When she began flying with her dog, she discovered she no longer needed anxiety medication during flights, and this is when she asked her doctor to designate Wynston as her Emotional Support Animal. She notes that airlines will not recognize anything except a letter from a doctor, and that airlines have recently been triple-checking her documentation.

A nurse practitioner, Denise Yoder-Gruzensky, shared with me that when she has a patient that she knows would benefit from an Emotional Support Animal, she writes a letter that is reviewed by a lawyer. The letter states only that the patient would benefit from an Emotional Support Animal, without endorsing the specific animal selected by her patient as she cannot vouch for its training. “Proper training is imperative to ensure the safety of the animal, handler, and everyone else in contact with them. I believe there should be regulations to ensure the fakes don’t make it impossible for others to continue have access.”

Even though the type of credentials needed for Emotional Support Animals is straightforward, concern over fake credentials does exist. Sierra Lynne believes that a doctor’s note is too easy to get, and for that reason owners should have governmental clearance and pay a fee. In addition, she believes their “ESA license” should be revoked if they are found in places such as restaurants and grocery stores where ESAs aren’t allowed.

Therapy Pets: Since I joined the therapy pet world a year ago, debate has revolved most around whether or not there is a need for credentials. Some owners believe that if their pet is friendly to strangers and comfortable in new settings, they should be allowed to bring their pet to visit facilities without any paperwork other than current vaccination records. Others recognize that most facilities will require certification, but will purchase fake credentials out of ignorance or unwillingness to invest time and/or money into obtaining valid credentials.

Those who bypass certification for their therapy pet miss out on one of its greatest benefits: insurance. Because therapy pets interact with the public, insurance is extremely important: if your pet were to cause damage or harm, you could be financially liable. Owners of service animals and emotional support animals do not have this option; there is no national organization that provides them with the option of insurance.

Certification is also a source of pride for many therapy pet handlers, as it represents their teams’ hard work. Certification prepares a team to handle the culture of the facility that they will visit, shows respect for the “job” they have undertaken, and often provides the opportunity for ongoing education and support from a qualified pet therapy organization.

A nurse practitioner shared with me that the hospital where she works requires certification from a nationally-recognized therapy pet program. In addition, she does a meet-and-greet with the pet therapy team, and the team must take a test from the hospital’s training partner. If the team lacks familiarity with HIPPA and infection control information, they will receive the necessary training. For her, “this helps eliminate fake certifications.”

As the public is better educated about assistance animal terminology, confusion should lessen over the difference between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy pets. The debate over what type of credentials there should be and what form they should take will no doubt continue for some time, for there are no easy answers.

CREDITS

Thanks to Terri Jennings of I-CAT who suggested this topic.

Thanks to my husband, Andy Frederick, who helped me wrap my head around the core issues surrounding assistance animals and credentials. He also helped me organize my research and proofread my article. Without his editing expertise, this article would still be a bad first draft. Finally, when my brain hurt from trying to get my thoughts out, he even wrote a couple of paragraphs for me.

Thanks to members of the following groups who amicably debated this topic: BlogPaws, I-CAT, LOAL Omaha, A special thanks to the following individuals who are allowed me to quote them: Denise Yoder-Gruzensky, Kristin Sandstede, (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge & Skills Assessed, AKC CGC & APDT C.L.A.S.S. Evaluator and owner of Big Moose Dog Training), Sierra Lynne, and Bunny Allen of Carma Poodale.

SOURCES

American Disabilities Act National Network

American Veterinarian Medical Foundation

Animal Law Resource Center

Deziz World

Service Dog Central

How do I make my dog an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional Support Animals Present Real Challenges to Businesses

Guest Post: Ernest the Therapy Dog goes to School

Ernest, a big shaggy golden retriever, had been kept in a cage all day most of his life. His previous owner didn’t even say goodbye to him when she surrendered him to the rescue group. Instead, she said, “I didn’t take good care of him, but who cares?”

Ernest was nine years old when we adopted him. He used to be called something different, but we always rename our rescue dogs—new life, new name. He was so happy to be free. But more than that, he couldn’t get enough of the human touch. He wanted us to pat him ALL the time. Whenever we took our hand off him, he barked. As you can imagine, I didn’t get much else done for a time. Eventually he felt more secure and comfortable that we weren’t going to leave him or lock him away, and he stopped barking. That’s when I knew he’d make a great therapy dog.

We worked with Ernest to get him certified with TDI (Therapy Dogs International). His trainer said he was born to be a therapy dog. He proudly wears his red therapy dog bandanna. He’s worked in nursing homes, libraries and colleges.

Perhaps his favorite place to visit is a first-grade classroom. The first day he went in, the kids were so excited they couldn’t stay in their seats. They all ran up and hugged him. Of course, Ernest thought this was great. The teacher, Ms. Dooley, had everything set up for him. He laid on a special mat while the kids came up, one by one, and read to him. Some of the kids went right up and put their arms around him while they read. Others were a bit anxious and kept a bit of distance. Ernest didn’t mind. He nearly fell asleep he was so relaxed. They all showed him the pictures in the books. When he was done, one little boy whispered in his ear, “Please come back.”

Of course, we did. The next time they read him stories that they’d written themselves about his visit. “Ernest is yellow. Ernest is big. Ernest is soft as cotton.” They wrote. “Ernest is my best friend, and I’m his,” a girl wrote. Sometimes they give him pictures or notes. Ernest gave them trading cards with his picture on the front.

Now Ernest visits them once a month. The dog who lived most of his life locked up in a cage is now free to give his love to a classroom full of kids who love him back.

And he gets patted just as much as he could ever want.

Written by Peggy Frezon for LAA Pet Talk. Peggy Frezon is contributing editor of All Creatures magazine, and author of books about the human-animal bond including Faithfully Yours, and the forthcoming book for kids, The Dog in the Dentist Chair (Paraclete Press, January 2019). Visit her at www.peggyfrezon.com.

If you’re a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you’re interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.