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September 13, 2010

Kids With A Cause

Young advocates channel their love of animals into making a difference

All Animals magazine, September/October 2010

All Animals Sept Oct 2010

The HSUS

by Arna Cohen

Ah, the carefree days of youth: leisurely afternoons with friends, endless summers with few responsibilities, and a world of possibilities not yet discovered.

Kids have it so easy, right?

It’s tempting to think so—until you meet the likes of Ayna Agarwal, who’s spent the free time of her formative years traveling overseas to establish spay/neuter programs in developing countries. Or Martin Welych-Flanagan, who decided at age 6 to educate his peers about the plight of animals killed in Canada’s annual seal hunt. Or Ben Byrom, whose keen interest in politics and farm animal welfare led him to get out the vote in California.

For these exceptional kids and thousands of others, age is just a number. Ignoring the old dictum that children should be seen and not heard, today’s youth are finding their voices and speaking out to effect change for animals.

Kids want to help, says Heidi O’Brien, HSUS student outreach director, adding that her department receives e-mails every day from children responding to an HSUS commercial or something they’ve read in KIND News, the organization’s classroom publication for primary school students. “A lot of them think they can do nothing because they’re only kids. They see solicitations for donations, and they don’t have money to give. They don’t understand what they can do.”

O’Brien’s mission is to show kids that, regardless of age or economic status, they aren’t helpless but actually wield a special power: a way of boiling things down to the essentials. Among the correspondence a legislator receives, for example, a letter from a child stands out. “I had one TV news anchor tell me that he can’t hang up the phone if he hears a young voice on the line calling about an issue,” says O’Brien.

As an outlet for children’s enthusiasm and empathy for animals, HSUS outreach programs are designed to engage kids directly in the society’s major campaigns, giving them the skills and confidence to become the next generation of advocates. Whether she’s a kindergartener collecting pennies for homeless pets or a high schooler campaigning against puppy mills, every child can make a difference.

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