Kids and Animals: Kids Lending a Helping Paw

Story by Bella Wexler     Photo from Humane Society of Southern Arizona

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona has long been devoted to engaging the local community in animal welfare advocacy. One of their most beneficial programs to promote the continuity of this tradition is the Hand in Paw Kids Club; a chance for children to make treasured memories with
four legged friends while developing skills as future leaders for pets and people alike.

The Kids Club has been growing and evolving for nearly twenty years and is currently run by Amy Faulk, the Children’s Programs Coordinator at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. Faulk is also helped by Inge Koopman-Leyva, the Director of Education and Community Outreach, as well as occasional volunteers for special events. Together, they ensure the program’s purpose of educating children ages six through eleven about caring for animals properly with fun, engaging activities. For example, at the Kids Club Vet Talk, participants learned how to be responsible pet owners, understand the basic anatomy of their pets, and make sense of standard veterinary procedures from a local vet. Another popular Kids Club event is the frequent Movie and a Cuddle which gives parents time to relax while their kids watch movies, do crafts, have a nutritious dinner, and snuggle up with therapy dogs. Promoting socialization skills in both kids and animals is an integral theme of the Hand in Paw Kids Club. When children aren’t spending time with therapy dogs, the club provides opportunities to read to Humane Society animals in the sick wards. This improves the kids’ reading confidence while giving those pets some much deserved attention which they might not otherwise get. “I want to make sure that all the animals get read to,” one young boy said to Amy when he elected to read to the cats as well. Undoubtedly, the expansive nature of the Hand in Paw Kids Club gives all children the opportunity to engage in activities which interest them personally while strengthening the human-animal community.

The Humane Society also provides opportunities for youths who have aged out of the Kids Club to have an outlet for involvement with the animal rights community. The next step for passionate kids is to take on the Humane Society Hand in Paw Youth Internship in which participants ages twelve through seventeen continue to make a difference in the animal rescue community. This program effectively fulfills the need for productive teen involvement, especially for those who are too old for the Kids Club and too young to become official volunteers for the Humane Society. Adolescents learn important skills for handling people as well as animals because they also act as mentors for the younger Kids Club participants. Through the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s many programs tailored to each age level, it is evident that compassion is something which can’t be outgrown.

The tireless efforts of Amy Faulk and Inge Koopman-Leyva to maintain these programs most definitely pays off. After participating, kids are found to have developed a deeper empathy for animals which transfers to their treatment of human peers too. Members are given an environment to discover and explore their passions for animals which lead into future career paths. I, myself was a participant in the SA Humane Society summer camp and can definitely affirm that the experiences are memorable and the lessons are lifelong. The Humane Society is all about combating animal cruelty and building a more considerate world for people and pets. “We want to put ourselves out of business,” Koopman-Leyva says. Through their remarkable Hand in Paw Kids Club and Internship, they are effectively raising a new generation of changemakers to do just that.

That being said, it is also never too late to teach an old dog new tricks! The Kids Club also inspires parents of participants to get involved and become educated on the ways in which they can be responsible pet owners. The Humane Society hosts a plethora of special events geared towards teaching adults necessary skills and giving them the opportunity to contribute by volunteering or donating.

In the future, Faulk and Koopman-Leyva hope that the Hand in Paw Kids Club will continue to evolve. One of their many goals is to structure the program to form series of educational events that pivot around central themes which are broken down over the course of several weeks. This way, members can go further in depth with their learning in a bite-sized yet retainable way. The Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s Hand in Paw Kids Club has been a staple in building the human and animal connection in the Tucson community for close to twenty years already. Now, coordinators like Amy Faulk and Inge Koopman-Leyva have proven that this adaptive initiative is more than just an extracurricular activity; it is a family that learns and grows along with its participants to create a more accepting world for all walks of life.

To find out more information or get involved with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s Kids Club, contact Amy Faulk at afaulk@hssaz.org or 520-327-6088, ext. 171

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