Teaching Humane Values
In my career as a humane educator, I’ve come to appreciate the teachers who take advantage of the resources that their local animal shelters provide. Nowhere were these resources better tapped than at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma, Washington. It was here that social studies teacher Diana Landahl set a precedent for schools across the nation.
Mount Tahoma High School, where Landahl taught until her retirement in 2000, is a sprawling, 78-acre campus surrounded by homes, businesses and woods. From these environs came the lost, stolen, injured and orphaned animals – both wild and domestic – whose plights inspired Landahl to take action. There was the Oregon junco bird who had lost a leg, the cocker spaniel puppy brought in by a teary-eyed student whose family couldn’t keep him and the Neapolitan mastiff puppy she’d found in the hall who turned out to be stolen. And then there was the gull that came to her in 1993.
While most of the students were friendly to animals, Landahl had occasionally witnessed abusive behavior. One day, some students brought to her a sea gull who had been attacked and in-jured by a group of boys. She took the bird, and after school let out, drove her to a nearby veterinary hospital. The gull was suffering from a compound fracture and couldn’t be saved, but the incident drove Landahl to take an action that would change the social climate at the school – at least as far as animals were concerned.
Planting the Seed
“The next day, I placed an announcement in the school bulletin stating that a new club was being formed – a humane society,” says Landahl. At the first club meeting, she was pleased to find 20 interested students waiting in her classroom. “More girls than boys,” she recalls, “but they were all very interested and enthusiastic.” The new club was organized just like any other: officers were elected, by-laws were written and club representatives were sent to student council. “Our next job was to decide how we were going to operate our Humane Society Club,” she says.
It was at that point that Landahl called the education department of the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County, describing the club and asking us to become part of it – every humane educator’s dream come true! I invited Landahl and her students to come for a tour of the shelter, where we discussed the situation of the animals. I explained to the students how in cities just like ours across America, lives were threatened by overpopulation. Together, Diana Landahl and I reinforced the message that our treatment of animals reflects our treatment of one another.
“We knew that our job would be education,” Landahl says. “Over the next five years, we worked diligently to educate the student body.” The club hosted guest lectures for the school’s science classes, with speakers from the Audubon Society, the zoo and the humane society. We also arranged for the club to visit a fifth-grade class at nearby Arlington Elementary. I brought a kitten, and the club members helped explain to the young students why he and other animals deserved their kindness and respect.
Though the first year was a great success, Landahl knew she needed to keep the students involved so as not to lose any members. She started a “My Favorite Pet” poster contest, with entries judged by the club members, a prize for the winner and an exhibit of the best posters. And each year during national “Be Kind To Animals Week,” the club set up a table in the cafeteria during lunch periods to celebrate the event, promote their philosophy and hand out candy. I accompanied them with a well-socialized cat, a variety of animal-related literature and photos of available shelter animals.
In 2000, the club took on its most ambitious project yet: the production of a five-minute video on the importance of spaying and neutering. The students wrote the script, came to the shelter for numerous taping sessions, edited the video and added background music. Today, we still use the hard-hitting video in our humane education programs.
The club is now operated under the supervision of another teacher, Anastasia Church. But we at the humane society won’t forget Diana Landahl’s contribution to humane education. Her story proves that the success of our efforts to instill an appreciation for animals in our young depends greatly on the desire and persistence of our teachers.
Bob Walter is the director of humane education for the Humane Society in Tacoma, Washington.
© 2002 ASPCA
ASPCA Animal Watch – Winter 2002
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