Dog Tales, Part Two
People love stories—telling them and listening to them. Perhaps that’s why we start telling our children stories when they are just days old. Then, by the time they’re talking, they’re telling them, too.
In 2010, a group of first, second, and third graders at a Georgia elementary school told Dr. Michael Good, a veterinarian and animal rescuer, so many stories about the dogs and cats they live with, their grandparents live with, their friends live with, that he had an inspiration: What if we got millions of kids all over this country to tell stories about dogs who don’t have homes and we make shelters promise not to kill any dog whose story is being told? Then these animals are going to get great homes.
Fast forward to today, and Good can lay claim to more than 150 Homeless Pet Clubs in schools in eleven states. The pet club model is brilliant for two reasons. First, the passion that kids have for animals ensures participation. Second, because the clubs exist outside a school’s curriculum, all that’s needed to institute one is a teacher willing to host it.
Even better, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops have caught the club spirit, so they, too, are sponsoring shelter dogs and cats, telling their stories through social media, and saving lives. Youth clubs in churches and synagogues are springing up. And at least one high school graduate started a club in her college sorority.
If empowering young people to save the lives of America’s homeless pets was all that the Pet Clubs accomplished, that would be impressive enough. But the Clubs seem to be doing far more. Good says they teach empathy, reduce bullying, and instill values like respect for all beings—lessons he hopes last a lifetime. One Georgia elementary school principal told me he’s seeing his students reap the rewards of participation. “The kids become more compassionate … they also tend to be more empathetic, in tune with their classmates, and they become more helpful.”
And since today’s children are tomorrow’s pet owners, club members learn what it means to properly care for a pet, including the importance of spay/neuter. A second grade teacher whose club I visited told me she is very honest with her students, explaining that the consequences of failing to spay or neuter a pet can lead to unintended litters, overcrowded shelters, and euthanization.
If we are going to end shelter killing, we need to rescue the dogs and cats in our shelters today and stop the unintended litters that will overcrowd our shelters tomorrow. The Homeless Pet Clubs may be one step toward achieving both these goals.
And to think, all this started with children telling stories to an adult who listened.
I recently came across several quotes about the power of storytelling. Here are a few of my favorites:
We cannot think without language, we cannot process experience without story.—Christina Baldwin, author
People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another.—Studs Terkel, author and historian
It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.—Native American saying
I story, therefore I am.— Michael Margolis, founder and CEO of Get Storied
Jacki Skole is an award-winning journalist, author and adjunct professor of communication. A graduate of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, she spent a decade as a writer and producer at CNN before turning to teaching. Jacki launched WRITE Now to assist students in writing the college application essays that will chart their future. Read More...