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October 23, 2009

Kids' Frequently Asked Questions

Questions kids ask of humane educators—and how to answer them

Anyone who's been around children knows—they're experts at asking questions! But don't let a tough question throw you. If you're prepared, you can answer even the most sensitive or difficult questions with ease.

We asked animal care and control professionals and humane educators what questions come up most often in the classroom presentations. Based on their information, we've compiled a list of FAQs and provided suggestions for answering them. Your own answers may vary, of course, depending on your organization's procedures and practices. For more help with classroom presentations, see our Tips for Presenting to Children.

1. When you catch dogs and cats with that pole, does it hurt the animal?

No. The restraint pole is nothing more than a stiff leash. It protects the dog as well as the officer. When you see a dog twisting or fighting on the pole, that dog is not friendly, may be scared, or isn't leash trained.

2. What happens if you can't catch an animal with the pole?

We use a humane trap, which doesn't hurt the animal. It's just a wire box that animals walk into, usually to get a yummy treat we've left inside. Once they're inside the box, the door shuts behind them and they can't get back out again.

3. What happens to dogs and cats when they are picked up by animal control officers?

This, obviously, has to be answered according to the practices and policies of your organization or shelter. What's important is to assure children that every effort is made to determine where the animals live and to return the pets home. For example:

We bring the animals to the shelter, where we look them over for injuries or other health concerns. If they're not wearing ID tags, we check to see if they have any other forms of identification, such as microchips or tattoos. If we find some identification, we call the pet's caregivers and tell them where to come to pick up their pet.

This is a good opportunity to emphasize the importance of not letting pets roam, as well as making sure pets wear license and ID tags at all times. For more on license tags, see question 16.

Animals with no identification are held at the shelter for _______ days. If they're not claimed within that period of time—and if they are healthy and don't show any serious behavior problems—we make them available for adoption into a new home.

4. Can anyone adopt an animal?

What's most important is that animals are adopted into loving, permanent homes. So, when people visit the shelter looking for a new pet, a member of our staff interviews them and asks them to fill out an application form. We want to be sure that people have the time, money, space, and commitment to care for a pet properly. We also try to determine what kind of pet (large dog, small kitty, older dog) would best fit their home and lifestyle. For example, we wouldn't want to adopt a young, large, very active dog into the home of an elderly person living in a tiny apartment.

Once we feel someone would be a responsible caregiver, we try to match him or her with the right pet. Sometimes the right pet may not be available for adoption on the first visit. It may take an adopter a few visits to the shelter to find just the right match.

5. If there are so many homeless animals, why not give them away to anyone who will give them a home?

Because the right match of pet and caregiver is very important. We want pets to be safe, happy, and well cared for in their new homes. We also want adopters to be happy with their new pets. If they aren't, they may end up bringing the animals back to us. And that's not fair to the animals. We do everything we can to avoid that.

6. What happens to animals that no one adopts? Are they killed?

Be truthful when answering this question. Do not refer to euthanizing animals as "putting them to sleep." That suggests that the animals will eventually wake up. You might say:Yes, we do euthanize animals. Euthanizing means that we painlessly put them to death. It's necessary to do that because we have a limited amount of space in our shelter and a limited amount of money for the animals' care. If they're not adopted into a new home in ___ days, we have to make room for more.7. How do you euthanize an animal?

If you use lethal injection, you can reply:

We give the animal a shot of a drug called sodium pentobarbital. Within ten seconds, the drug causes the animal to become unconscious. The animal's heart stops a short time later. It is quick and painless.

If you use other methods, be straightforward in your answers, but try not to shock or upset the children. Emphasize that care is taken to ensure that the animal doesn't suffer.

At this point, you'll inevitably hear, "But, why?" or "That's not fair!" You can answer:

That's true, it isn't fair. But there are many more animals than there are good homes for them to go to. Not only do we care for lost animals at the shelter, but we also take in every unwanted, sick, injured, or abused animal who needs our care, including many litters of puppies and kittens. All of them need to be fed and cared for. Think of it this way:

Picture your home. Now, imagine me driving up this afternoon and dropping off ___ (insert the number of animals your shelter receives in a day) animals. It's your job to find out where they live and return them home. If you can't, you have to find new homes for all of them.Then, tomorrow, I'll drop off another ___, the next day another ___, and so on, every day of the year. How long will it be before your home is too full to care for the animals properly? How long will your allowance be able to pay for their food and health care?

That's what happens at the shelter. If we kept all the animals we received, the health and well-being of all the animals would suffer.

8. Why don't you just spay and neuter homeless animals and let them live free? It may not be the best life, but it's better than killing them.

Homeless animals would still suffer. They might not be able to find enough food or water and would face many dangers, as well as being a potential danger to people and other animals. We believe that a humane death, by euthanasia, is better than allowing animals to starve or die from a painful sickness or injury.

For more on this subject, see question 15.

9. How come some shelters euthanize animals and some don't?

No animal shelter likes to euthanize animals. But every day, people drop off more dogs, cats, kittens, and puppies. There is never enough room or money to provide for them all.

Some shelters do not euthanize animals who are healthy and adoptable. They are called limited-admission shelters, because they limit the number of animals they take in. They do not have room for animals who are too old, sick, or poorly socialized to be adopted. They can accept only animals that they think can be adopted. Unfortunately, there are many more homeless animals than there are good homes for them. So, many animals—even those who are healthy and well-behaved—have to be turned away from limited-admission shelters because space is limited.

Most other shelters are known as open-door shelters. They accept all homeless animals who are in need of care. They shelter the animals for a certain amount of time to see if they're claimed by their caregivers. Those animals whom no one claims—and who are adoptable—are offered to good homes. If they're not adopted within a specified period of time, they are euthanized to make room for more animals.

10. Why are there so many animals without homes?

One reason there are so many homeless pets is because people allow their pets to have babies. There are too many pets and too few good homes for them all. Pets should be spayed or neutered. Those are operations that keep them from having babies.

People often decide to get a pet without thinking it through. Having a furry friend to greet them at the door seemed like a good idea at the time. But once a pet is part of the family, some people discover that they're unable or unwilling to give the animal the care and attention the pet needs. If behavior problems arise, they blame the pet. Behavior problems are usually preventable or can be corrected with training. But a recent study found that almost all dogs (about 96%) who are given up by their caregivers never had obedience training. Instead of investing the time, effort, and money it takes to gently and properly train a dog, people often give up on the pet, and the pet ends up at our shelter. Pets also end up homeless when they become lost or injured and aren't wearing ID tags or other form of identification.

11. How do they spay and neuter dogs and cats?

First of all, let me clarify that spaying and neutering are two different operations. Females are spayed. Males are neutered. Both operations are performed by veterinarians. The animals are given medicine so that they don't feel any pain. During the operation, the veterinarian removes the male or female parts of the body that are necessary for producing babies. If children want to know more specifics, you can simply state:

They remove the uterus and ovaries of females and the testicles of males.

12. Are spaying and neutering operations dangerous for my pet?

No, the operations are not dangerous for healthy pets. Usually pets come home the day after the operation and feel fine in just a few days. And there's an added bonus: In addition to keeping your pets from having babies, the operations can also keep them from getting certain kinds of cancer later in life.

13. If all people had their pets spayed or neutered, wouldn't cats and dogs become extinct?

We are in no danger of that. Every year, 3-5 million unwanted animals are put to death in this country. By having pets spayed or neutered, you're helping to lower the numbers of pets without homes.

14. What should I do if I find a stray dog or cat?

Never approach a stray dog or cat, even if the animal looks friendly. Notice what the animal looks like and where the animal is (a small black and white dog in the backyard of 14 Willow Street). Then tell an adult and ask him or her to call animal control and give us that information.

Even if the animal has an ID tag with a telephone number on it, we would rather you called us. Why? Because we want to be able to check out the pet's situation to be sure the animal is being well cared for. We also want to discuss the responsibilities involved in caring for a pet with the pet's caregivers. We'll remind them that pets should not be allowed to roam.

15. Why can't I let my dog or cat run loose?

Animals allowed to roam face many dangers. They may be hit by cars or trucks or attacked by other animals. They may catch diseases from other animals or be poisoned by something they eat. Let's face it, every day we throw out things we'd never put in our mouths. But cats and dogs don't know any better. If it smells good, maybe it tastes good, so they try it. Car antifreeze is a good example. This chemical tastes sweet to animals, but it can be deadly if they swallow it.

Animals allowed to roam may also be a danger to other animals—and even to people. How? Animals may get into fights with other animals, attack birds and other wildlife, or bite or scratch someone. When roaming pets run into the road, they may cause traffic accidents. It's best for everyone if pets are kept safe at home and walked on a leash.

If it applies to your community, you can point out:

It's also the law in our town! People who allow their pets to roam may be fined $_____ every time the animal is picked up by animal control.

16. Why do I need a license/rabies tag on my pet? (If applicable in your situation.)

First of all, it’s the law in our community. People found with unlicensed pets may be fined $_____. We don’t do this to be mean. Like most laws, licensing laws are designed to keep people and animals safe.Before pets can be licensed, their caregivers must show proof that the animal has received a rabies vaccination. Requiring rabies shots helps us keep the disease from spreading to people, other pets, and wild animals. Once the caregiver shows proof of vaccination and pays the licensing fee (which is lower for pets who have been spayed or neutered), the pet is given a special tag to wear. The tag has a number on it. Our town keeps a record of the tag numbers, the name of the animal’s caregiver, and where the animal lives.

The tag becomes a lost pet’s ticket home. Pets can’t tell us where they live. But their license and rabies tags can. Even the best cared-for pets can become lost when they sneak out a door, window, or gate that was accidentally left open. If we find your pet wandering around and she is wearing a tag, we can look up the number on the tag, find out where she belongs, and return her to your home. If the animal isn’t wearing any identification, we have no way of knowing where she lives.

The information in this article is reproduced from An Animal Care and Control Professional's Guide to Classroom Presentations.

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