An Open Letter from GTHS Community Outreach Manager

First hearing about the global pandemic and school shutdowns, the hearts of the Humane Education Team sank.  In times of crisis, programs like ours are the first to go.  Social and emotional learning tends to be embraced during times of prosperity and abandoned when times get tough.  This practice is very disturbing because it has been the experience of the HE Team that children are desperately seeking any opportunity to talk about animals and how they relate to the complex social relationships in their lives.  Fostering the human-animal bond shows consistent evidence that children can remain engaged and motivated to learn during times of crisis. Engaging with animals helps spur the development of critical thinking skills, foster empathy and help motivate young people to better  navigate their complicated lives.  Yes, children often have chaotic lives filled with ups and downs, emotional challenges and social barriers that sometimes feel insurmountable to overcome.  Humane Education programs inspire young people to  navigate their worlds more successfully, make complex moral decisions and learn better how to treat people, animals and the environment.

We’re thrilled to report that the GTHS Humane Education Program stayed on the radar of teachers, parents and youth in our community.  We successfully transitioned to online learning in November 2020 and to date we have had more than 1000 users complete our virtual courses.  Many of these users are independent learners completing the courses for personal interest and/or community involvement hours at the secondary school level.  Others are learning alongside their classmates in virtual classrooms, led by their teachers.  And still others are finding us through their personal support workers or their social service agencies.  Our feedback indicates a clear message: “kindness towards animals translates to kindness towards people” …is there anything more important?

We don’t know what the remainder of 2021 will look like for our schools.  We do know that there has never been a more important time to support youth as they claw their way back from the negative effects of isolation and distance learning.  Research from The Hospital for Sick Children has shown us that a  majority of young people have  experienced  a deterioration of their mental and physical health during the first wave, and the second and third waves compounded the damage.  The cancellation of important events, sports and the loss of in-person social interactions will be felt for a long time.  The Humane Education Program has been able to alleviate some of those negative effects, providing users with an opportunity to interact online with animals.  And we’re not stopping.  The HE Team is currently working on our next online course, Vets of Tomorrow, Levels I & II.  This two-tiered course is designed  for youth who love animals and who want to explore careers in animal care.  Participants will learn what it takes to become a veterinarian through a variety of fun and interactive activities which have been specially tailored by medical and animal care  professionals. This course is sure to ignite a new fire of compassion and empathy for companion animals.

Upon return to in-person learning and afterschool/ summer programs, we will be back at the Animal Centre, providing useful and exciting programming to our community youth.  In the meantime we are ecstatic to report that our virtual offerings are still strengthening the most important human-animal bond.

Karen Marsh, Community Outreach Manager
Mama to Bear, Scout and Boo Kitty