The Gift of Learning

Blog post written by ARLP volunteer Laura M.

When I was in second grade, my parents decided I could get a pet of my very own. I don't know who chose a parakeet, but once we settled on a species, there was still a lot of work to be done. We bought books, researched on the internet, and spoke to breeders and owners. We carefully picked out an enormous cage, proper food and perches and a well-recommended vet, all before picking up my new buddy. Of course, once Fred came home with us, there was still more work to be done. I spent hours taming and training him with my parents' encouragement. His meager vet bills came out of my meager allowance. As a result, there were few surprises for us as new parakeet owners, and Fred turned into a lovely, sweet companion. Unfortunately, not every child has parents who go to such depths to ensure responsible pet ownership in their children. These children eventually grow up, sometimes they become pet owners, sometimes they become law makers, and always they are at least exposed to other people's pets. How they react to the animals around them depends largely on the experiences they've had. To put it in cliché terms, people fear what they do not understand. It's a mantra responsible pit bull and rottweiler owners have a personal stake in.

A large part of what A Rotta Love Plus does is education. Knowing first hand the value of such an education – and what happens when it isn't there – I became a volunteer for ARLP's education program. “What is this?” you ask (right after gosh, woman, don't you ever sleep?). The majority of ARLP's educational programs revolve around dog bite awareness and prevention. The CDC estimates that there are about 4.7 million dog bites per year. About half of the victims of dog bites are children, usually between the ages of five to nine years old. ARLP believes that the best way to prevent dog bites is through education, and in the spirit of learning, we have developed a program to teach children the “dos and don'ts of dog safety.” Included in the program is what to do if approached by a stray dog, how to greet a dog, and a little on proper dog care. As a bonus, the kids get to try out their new skills and knowledge on real live dogs! ARLP volunteers bring along their Canine Good Citizen certified dogs so that children can see these “dangerous breeds” up close and personal – and hopefully, they can come to love them as we do.

ARLP brings the dogs to a variety of locations for the dog bite prevention program. Usually we go into schools, but we'll go anywhere we're welcome. One of my most memorable events was at the Cottage Grove Safety Camp last year. Aimee, Jerry, and I (and Piper Ann and Missy) spent all morning teaching eight to eleven year old's the basics of dog safety. The camp location about two miles from my house and on the route I normally take for our daily walks. While walked the dogs the day after we presented, I was ambushed by a pack of about forty school-aged children! I'll tell you what, though – every single one of the kids remembered to ask if they could pet the dogs, where to pet them, and what Piper Ann's name was. It was incredible to have first-hand evidence of the impact we were making on the future.

One of the aspects I love about the program is it's versatility. When a group requests certain information, we try our hardest to deliver. This spring, ARLP will be finishing up a year-long program with Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary School, where we've cover topics from bite prevention to training to dog fighting to empathy and compassion. Over the winter, Lara, Rachel, and I (and Jana and Maus) spoke to the leadership at Chuck and Don's, a local pet supply store chain, on dog behavior and body language. And lets not forget the informational booth that ARLP sets up at events like the Pet Expo, Minnesota Renaissance Festival, and Gay Pride Festival.

Now, I love showing off my dogs, and I'm convinced of the importance of ARLP's education program, but I'm not a big fan of teaching. I just don't like being in front of all those people. But a few months ago, I was asked to teach the program to a group of developmentally disabled adults, and since I have a special place in my heart for people with these issues, I agreed. It was my single, most memorable, and favorite program to date. The group's buoyant enthusiasm and cheer was delightful, and we – teachers, handlers, students and dogs alike – were having a grand ol' time. I was wrapping things up, asking the group questions about what they had learned that night.

“What should you do if a strange dog comes up to you?” I asked.

A young woman in the front row raised her hand and waved violently. “I know, I know!”

I called on her.

“You scream and run away -” She stopped and her eyes got big as she thought about what she was saying. The room fell silent.

“You stand still like a TREEEE!!!!!!” She screamed in triumph, and the whole group, all thirty of us, broking into cheers, clapping wildly. Her grin was so bright it could have blinded jet pilots.

There's a saying that you never really learn something until you've taught it, and I'm afraid I've learned more in the ARLP education program than I have taught. Some of my new knowledge is practical. For example, I now know to always bring a drool rag and carpet cleaner when I take Piper Ann to events. I also know to watch pit bulls very carefully at the Science Museum because fossilized dinosaur bones look an awfully lot like the Best Dog Treat Ever, and they're really hard to sneak out the door with. I know that people can't be blamed for ignorance if there is no one willing to teach them. And I know that the moment of understanding, when the light of understanding comes into a person's eyes and their eyes have been opened to a new idea  - there is nothing quite as wonderful as that. It is the moment when all things are changed, and the future is made better for dogs and the people who love them.


One thought on “The Gift of Learning

  1. megan

    Beautiful post…well said and well done. Keep up the amazing work–you are changing lives and opening eyes one at a time. You said it all perfectly when you talked about how we react to those around us depends on the experiences we’ve had–and it can be dogs and people that shape our perceptions.

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