When Pioneer High School students Alysia and Taylor told their teacher they wanted to help abused and neglected animals for their community service-learning project, she suggested they enroll in the Compassion in Action program at Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV).
Compassion in Action (CIA) is an eight-week program for high school students who are passionate about animals. During their CIA experience, teens learn about various animal-welfare topics, meet special animal guests, and work on relevant community service projects.
Alysia and Taylor chose to do research on animal abuse and to photograph animals at the shelter. They read articles on the Internet and interviewed HSSV employees about why people surrender animals to shelters. They learned a lot, and it wasn’t at all what they expected.
“We went to the shelter thinking we would see a lot of abused and sad animals, but what we found were a lot of happy animals getting a lot of love from the staff and volunteers,” Taylor says. “Even the animals in the hospital didn’t seem depressed.”
“I thought an animal shelter would be a scary, sad place, but now that I’ve volunteered at one my whole perception has changed,” Alysia adds. “We did see a few cases of neglect, but that was not the norm.”
Both students were surprised to learn that most animals end up at shelters not because they’ve been abused, but because their owners don’t make a lifelong commitment to them.
Alysia and Taylor cleaned kennels, assembled kitty litter boxes, and wrote a paper on their experience for school. Their photographs depicting a “Day in the Life at a Shelter” were featured in a story on NBC-11 called “Moving Pictures.” Every photo depicted a staff member or volunteer helping an animal.
Forty-two students have completed the CIA program since it began last August, and it appears that it has had a big impact. A survey of all participants showed that 82% of the students felt more compassion and respect for animals after finishing the program; 83% percent felt they had met a real community need; 82% felt that their voices were heard; and 87% felt a greater sense of responsibility to their communities.
One CIA student said her experience inspired her to “adopt instead of buy an animal from a breeder” and “give more to my community.” Another student said he loved the feeling that what you do at a shelter can “help save innocent lives.” A third student was so inspired by the CIA experience that she has decided to become a veterinary technician.
National studies suggest that participating in effective service-learning programs can improve a student’s academic grades, increase school attendance, and develop personal and social responsibility.
Jaime Allen, director of education programs at HSSV, explains, “Our community service-learning program extends the educational experience, develops civic responsibility, and helps strengthen communities. When teens get excited about this kind of project, they can accomplish so much for themselves and their communities.”
To learn more about HSSV’s CIA program, visit www.hssv.org and click on Education.
Laura Fulda is vice president of marketing and communications at Humane Society Silicon Valley, an independent, non-profit organization offering quality adoptions, medical care and education programs to enhance the human-animal bond. During its 78 years in operation, HSSV has placed more than half a million animals in loving homes. For more information, visit www.hssv.org.