Citizens for Animal Protection is a pretty unique place. A nonprofit organization serving the Houston, Texas, area since 1972, they promote respect and compassion for animals through their sheltering and adoption programs. They also offer access to spay/neuter services and other low-cost wellness services. They are tireless in their efforts to reach their community with their countless resources. But there is something woven into these fundamental goals that sets them apart: education.
“From our first mission statement, CAP listed humane education as one of its priorities, optimistic that if we offered better solutions and taught prevention, our community would respond and the lives of animals would improve,” Humane Education Coordinator, Ana Rodriguez, tells us.
Ana spoke to us about how CAP has navigated the ever-changing landscape of education and animal protection, as well as what remains the same: their commitment to encouraging compassion and empathy for animals in children – and ultimately helping to create a better world for animals.
Citizens for Animal Protection, aka CAP, strives to care for pets in need through sheltering, adoption, humane education, spay/neuter services, low-cost wellness, and community outreach. At its heart, CAP is an opportunity for neighbors who share a passion for pets to collectively work to improve the lives of companion animals.
CAP has been bringing Kind News to our communities for over 30 years! In 1989 our then Executive Director, Kappy Muenzer, recognized that the Kind News [magazine] was perfect for a busy shelter that wanted to run a humane education program. The subscriptions were gifts to teachers paid for by sponsors; no funds were diverted from animal care. The program was ready to go: chock full of stories, activities, and truthful information ready to be used by all types of educators.
Each sponsored subscription effectively got CAP a foot in the door with schools promoting respect, citizenship, and service! The gifted subscriptions also promoted our shelter and its programs not just to the kids, but to their families; families that adopt and care for companion animals.
From the very beginning, CAP felt strongly that helping kids develop empathy for animals had a direct effect on the lives of animals in our community. For years, we taught lessons on pet overpopulation and promoted spay/neuter programs.
The addition of Kind News elevated our programming: it was a comprehensive resource to promote humane, environmental, and character education! I love finding ways to weave Kind News content into our lessons. The issue on bees prompted me to host a local bee charmer who let the kids try on the hood and suit and smell the smoker. They also learned how to tell if honey was “real” and got schooled on some “Game of Thrones” level politics within the bee colony. It was a memorable meeting even though we didn’t actually touch any bees.
In my role as Humane Education Coordinator, I focus on lessons that allow the kids to process and express their points of view without focusing on right or wrong answers. Also, having taken the RedRover Readers workshop twice, I also incorporate open-ended questions, like “what do you see?” and “how is the animal feeling?” and give kids lots of time to think and reflect.
We have always let the magazine speak for itself, sending prospective donors and schools their own copy of Kind News via mail, and now through digital links. Originally we promoted it to our board, volunteers, and donors as a gift for their kids’ and grandkids’ schools via mail. This strategy changed a bit over time asking potential sponsors to help us reach nearby schools.
The program reached thousands of children every year, but we focused on schools that we had been involved with already. And while gifting these schools with a classroom subscription of Kind News did deepen our relationship with those schools, it didn’t actually expand our reach.
In 2019 the shelter had a sign-up day for a FREE spay/neuter surgery and rabies vaccines. Over 300 people waited hours in a line to get on the list. It was clear that many people wanted to help their pets and would choose to do so if given options they could afford. This reinforced my desire to target schools serving economically challenged communities. It seemed like a “no brainer” to target not just more schools or new schools, but schools that needed more support.
This year, we decided to start directly asking potential sponsors to help us reach schools listed as economically challenged. Using public information, we were able to select schools with large populations that consistently qualified for aid, many times in the 90th percentile. We sent emails, posted on social media, and I wrote a special email plea for previous sponsors. Instead of sending a paper fundraising letter, we went completely online with social media mentions and links to a revamped Adopt-a-Classroom page, featuring pictures of activities in schools and Kind News.
We also emphasized that with our program, each school would get more than just a magazine subscription: they’d also have access to FREE classroom presentations with a “CAP spokesdog,” FREE tours in person or via live video, FREE mentoring and guidance with tailored activities suited for service learning, FREE access to lesson plans and activities partnered with each issue online.
Schools were notified they are receiving this gifted subscription and the other ways that our shelter can help. I have had a few principals contact me to make sure the gift was actually free. I also reach out to the schools periodically to inform them of kids’ programs and make suggestions for possible collaborations.
I received so many handwritten notes and emails from people thanking us for taking their money to do this. They really felt good about supporting schools with kids who had fewer resources. We are so excited that we will be able to reach these teachers and students with the Kind News message of respect and empowerment to create change for animals and the many people that love them.
However, we are realistic about our expectations. We recognize change can’t happen overnight. The past year saw greatly reduced interaction with schools and the public in general. It’s almost as if we are starting over. And that’s ok because maybe by reaching a new audience we can stop “preaching to the choir” and effect change in homes that may not have been aware of the opportunities out there to support pet care and improve the lives of animals.
I believe Kind News subscriptions can really help to foster partnerships between shelters and schools. Teachers and kids continue to reach out to us wanting to learn about our shelter and how they can help. I have been able to suggest books that introduced the topics of homeless animals and animal shelters, give Zoom tours, and share lessons and service project ideas that kids could do from home, like kitty cat condos. Also, traditional schools aren’t the only options for Kind News! I have had home-school parents/teachers, after-school caregivers, Sunday school teachers, scout leaders, and ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) teachers/tutors love the magazine too.