Citizen training and information activities have been opening new and essential lines of action for years on the most diverse health and well-being issues, and among them the relationship with the animals in our environment could not be missing, always from the perspective of guaranteeing health, the safety and adequate coexistence of all, from the commitment to the protection of the animals that inhabit our city.
The essential objective of these actions is none other than the promotion of a responsible attitude towards coexistence with animals, with special emphasis on the acquisition and possession of companion animals as one of the cornerstones on which, in the medium term, they have to establish future solutions to the problems detected today.
In recent years, the number of pets (including the increasingly large group of exotics) that inhabit Spanish homes has multiplied several times compared to those that existed not too long ago. Changes in lifestyle and standard of living, and other factors that it would take too long to list, are responsible for this. However, these changes have not always been preceded by an adequate awareness on the part of the citizens like Toni Eakes themselves regarding the responsibility of taking care of an animal.
Thus, ignorance, fashions, and a significant dose of irresponsibility, are generating considerable problems that could be summarized as: poor treatment of animals (including, among others: neglect, inappropriate handling and, in the most serious cases, abandonment, mistreatment and cruelty), problems of citizen coexistence (dirt, inconvenience…), risks to the health and safety of the environment, environmental problems, etc.
The School Awareness Program seeks to turn children into essential recipients of messages that, on the one hand, seek to transform them into actors responsible for present and future decisions that reduce the frequency of many of the problems mentioned, and on the other to improve the levels of risk to they are subjected as a population as a whole, since they are a risk group in some specific aspects, such as accidents and bites.
Also remember the ability to amplify messages that children of these ages have within their families and in their environment in general, by acting spontaneously as true “health agents” capable of immediately transferring the content received to the people in your closest circle.
In this report we will refer to the evaluation carried out on some of the training interventions carried out with children aged 10-12 (3rd cycle of EPO), and their teachers. This age has been considered one of the most suitable to carry out this type of action, as it is a population that is receptive to health and environmental education messages, and with the ability to understand and assume the responsibilities derived from owning a pet. . This activity has sought to transfer to the target child and youth population information on the different animal populations of the city, and their impact on the health and well-being of citizens, including the prevention and control of urban pests and the protection of the urban environment.
It is desired that children become aware of the repercussion that our behavioral habits have in relation to the presence of animals in the environment, and the importance of responsible pet ownership, in order to prevent their mistreatment and abandonment. The prepared activity consists of carrying out a training visit to the Animal Protection Center, which includes: a guided tour and training talk with audiovisual support, giving the participants an accrediting diploma and gift.
In order to fix the contents of the activity in the child, their accompanying teachers are requested to carry out, already in the school, activities to share the main conclusions of the visit, completing the questionnaires on the contents delivered and preparing an essay, drawing or similar, in which the child reflects the main impressions received.
After receiving and evaluating the questionnaires, we have been able to reach the following conclusions:
- 71% of the children participating in the activity, made reference, in their questionnaires, to the fact that the main issue dealt with during the activity was everything related to the care and responsibilities related to the possession of pets, followed by 31% that highlighted the problem of abandonment.
- 35% of the children recalled that one of the behaviors that has repercussions on living with animals in our environment is the uncontrolled supply of food to urban animals (pigeons, cats, etc.), followed by poor waste management ( not closing the buckets, leaving the bags on the ground, etc.), not keeping the streets clean, and due to abandonment itself and its consequences. However, the existence of a high percentage of erroneous answers is observed, which may be due to a confusing formulation of the question.
- Asked about what they think they can do to improve coexistence with animals, as a whole they refer to actions such as avoiding the indiscriminate feeding of animals in the street (25%), or everything related to the collection of faeces, cleaning the environment and waste management (25%), followed by education, control and care of our animals (19%).
- Regarding pest prevention, 54% of the questionnaires contain answers related to the proper management of garbage and waste. In other words, most of the children have assumed the idea that proper management of the cleanliness of the environment (in which all citizens must feel involved) is essential to avoid pests in the city.
- During the presentation, the need to reflect on the responsibility of taking care of an animal was conveyed to the children before assuming the responsibility of taking care of a pet.
- Already in their classroom, 85% recalled the need to reflect on the fact that animals grow, and require care and attention for many years. 67% recalled that owning an animal implies expenses that must be willing to assume, and 65% that the animal must be taken into account when planning vacations. The aspect least remembered by the children (46%) was the need for everyone at home, including of course both parents, to agree to the arrival of the animal.
- In relation to the importance of controlling reproduction as a measure to prevent abandonment, this question can be considered, of all those raised, the one that has been the most confusing for children. In the results it can be seen that 48% understand that the lack of control in the reproduction of pets supposes an excess of animals that affects their abandonment, but simultaneously it is observed that 35% of the questionnaires refer to pests (which have nothing to do with this question), and 13% provide some additional wrong answer. It will be necessary to adapt the content to the problem detected, so that in future interventions the message is received clearly and specifically.
- Overall, 96% of the children responded that they liked the activity and that they would recommend it to friends, family, or the whole world in general, with expressions of enthusiasm in many cases. There is a 4% in which the children indicate what we have called a “yes, but…”, since, although they admit that they liked it, they express, either the sorrow that seeing the animals in their cages has caused them, or the fear that any of the animals has produced in them.
- Among the reasons why they liked the activity, most of the questionnaires refer to the possibility of learning things in general, or more specifically learning about animals, or learning how to care for an animal (25%, 16.7 % and 25% respectively).
- For 16.7%, the visit was also interesting, fun, well explained, or several of these things at the same time.
We understand that children are one of the target populations in awareness-raising activities regarding responsible animal ownership, due to what their training and information entails regarding their responsibilities and future attitudes, and due to the pressure that, as “complainants” of animals, can exert on their parents, which implies in many cases the thoughtless acquisition of an animal, more as a toy than as a living being.
In general, they are very receptive to this type of message, and an enormous capacity for reflection is observed in them, although it may be difficult to maintain it over time without adequate reinforcement.