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Kids With A Cause: Kristina Campbell

Young advocates channel their love of animals into making a difference

All Animals magazine, September/October 2010

  • Kristina Campbell started the Animal C.A.R.E. club at the high school where she teaches. Sandy Huffaker

by Arna Cohen

The Teacher:

Kristina Campbell

The Cause:

Animal C.A.R.E. (Compassion, Advocacy, Respect, Education) Club

Why We Love Her:

Five years ago, Campbell noticed something missing among her school’s student organizations: a group devoted to animal protection. She quickly rectified the omission—and today, the club is so popular that the auditorium is the only space large enough to accommodate its 100-plus members.

Kristina Campbell’s animal protection club has helped raise the status of animals among the student body at Sweetwater High School in National City, Calif.—a feat underscored one day in 2008 when a student presented the English teacher with a disturbing problem.

“A student came to school and told me about kittens thrown out in a black trash bag,” Campbell says. “He took me to the location ... and sure enough there were four newborn kittens.  Before the club, the student wouldn’t have had anyone to reach out to. I knew the club was effective because the student admitted to not really liking cats.” 

Spreading the message that animals need protection, students in the Animal C.A.R.E. Club have organized and hosted vet care and spay/neuter clinics, campaigned for Proposition 2 and the Casa Beach seals in La Jolla, protested at a circus, participated in a fur-free promotional event, and aired an HSUS dogfighting PSA for the entire school. They’ve also volunteered at the local animal shelter and raised money for a sanctuary in Rosarito, Mexico. And the club helped pave the way for a job training program that allowed students throughout the school to earn certificates qualifying them for work at a veterinary office, kennel, or dog day care center.

Remarkable by any standard, the group stands out in a community like National City, one of California’s poorest municipalities. “When people are worried that the lights are going to be turned off, animal care cannot be a priority,” says Campbell. The club “tries to give pet owners options. If a student comes to me with a litter of puppies, I use my contacts to spay and neuter, vaccinate, and find responsible homes. I also use that opportunity to provide spay/neuter resources for the breeding parents.”

The club functions at times as a stand-in for the city’s only animal shelter, which is overwhelmed, underfunded, and often misunderstood. “In a community like ours, Animal Services are the people who ‘take away animals,’ “ says Campbell. “ ... Approaching the club is far less threatening.”

Of the stray pets students bring to her, Campbell noticed that few wore identification tags. “I thought, ‘These animals are ending up at the shelter ... but this community can’t afford $100 to get the dog out.’ ” She arranged for a donation of a tag-making machine, with the goal of distributing free tags to the owners of every pet in National City.

Operating 15 minutes north of the U.S.-Mexican border, Campbell and her students strive to overcome cultural obstacles as well as financial ones. “One student sneaked her dog onto the spay/neuter mobile clinic when it was here because her family wouldn’t approve of it being neutered,” she says, noting that such incidents are not unique.

While the club has become a great asset to the community, it’s the students who’ve benefited the most. “When we volunteered at our local shelter, the students got it,” Campbell says. “Walking by the enormous fridge where euthanized and deceased animals go is powerful. Therefore, they cannot ignore it. The students become walking advertisements, advocates for homeless animals and pet owners who spay and neuter.”

A sense of empowerment has been the greatest benefit for students like Christina Dickey, last year’s club president and senior class salutatorian. This fall, she begins studies at the University of California, Davis, the first step on a career path of helping animals. “I’m so proud,” says Campbell. “Without Animal C.A.R.E., I don’t think she would … become a veterinarian.”

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