Merced County effort aims to teach kids humane animal treatment

10/15/2013 7:22 PM

10/15/2013 7:31 PM

Teaching kids how to be kind to animals and humanely care for pets could prevent violence and animal abuse later in life, according to Merced County animal control officials.

That’s the idea behind the county’s effort to put together an animal education program for youth, said county management analyst Mike North. The program will be presented Thursday at the second annual Farm 2 U Day, sponsored by the Merced County Farm Bureau.

During the event from 9a.m. to 1p.m. at the Merced County Fairgrounds, an animal control officer will read a book promoting humane treatment of animals to third-graders, North said. The students will be given a coloring activity book with the same message.

The book, called “Buddy Unchained,” tells the story of a dog who is mistreated in his first home, then given a happy life by a new family.

“It helps the kids to see the pet as part of the family, as opposed to something you leave outside where it’s going to be hit by a car or left to starve,” North said.

About 3,200 third-grade students are scheduled to attend the event. Roughly 700 kids will see the animal presentation, according to Amanda Carvajal, Merced County Farm Bureau executive director.

Dave Robinson, Merced County animal control director, said the county had a similar program four years ago, but the curriculum planned for Thursday is the first step toward a larger education effort.

“This is a new project that we have been working on,” Robinson said. “We want to raise the awareness of humane treatment of the domestic pet population. An event like this was one of our best opportunities to get the message out.”

Robinson said the goal is to transition into a long-term education program for kids, possibly bringing the message to Merced County schools.

“Ultimately, we want to transition into spay-and-neuter education, but this seemed like a really doable first step,” he said.

Since the county can’t afford to give up its animal control officers regularly to make the presentations, Robinson said officials are looking into having youth present the program. The education program is a joint effort between animal control, the county chief executive’s office and the county’s human services agency.

Ana Pagan, Human Services Agency director, said research shows that children who mistreat animals often become abusive people and that her agency wants to prevent the cycle of violence.

“There’s a definite connection between animal abuse and child abuse,” Pagan said. “Children will repeat what has been done to them, and they start with small animals then graduate to human beings.”

Nine animal abuse cases were filed with the district attorney’s office since September of this year, according to the latest statistics. There were 13 cases filed in 2012.

The majority of the cases came from law enforcement agencies in the county where animal cruelty was discovered while investigating other crimes, such as domestic violence or drug cases.

To break the cycle of violence, Pagan said it’s important to teach children empathy for animals starting at a young age.

“As with any good habit, you want to expose children to it early on so they will develop empathy and an awareness,” she said.

The Human Services Agency paid for the educational materials, Pagan said, which cost less than $1,000. Animal control donated the staff time of its officer.

Bringing the educational program to schools could be difficult because of a strict student curriculum, Pagan said, but staff will find other places to present the message, such as libraries.

“We’ve been trying to put together a presentation that could be taken out on the road,” Pagan said. “It’s not where we want it to be yet, but we have a commitment to continue working on it. It’s the first time we’re doing it, and it will get better.”

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