This year, kids and teens from Hawaii to Maine were nominated for their kindness and compassion. Some were volunteers at animal shelters, some raised money or gathered supplies to donate to shelters, and some spoke out on issues affecting companion animals. American Humane applauds all the nominees for all they do to help animals in their communities.
The grand-prize winner in each category receives $1,000.
Grand Prize Winner
Kids Category (Ages 6 to 12)
When Hannah noticed the conditions at her city’s animal shelter, she was dismayed. The shelter was located in a small room in the city service garage. Conditions were cramped, particularly for the cats: Up to 17 cats and kittens were housed in a stack of steel cages, “smushed together,” according to Hannah. There were no windows and the cats were subjected to the barking of the dogs, who were right next to them. “I felt so bad,” said Hannah. “I would not want to be stuck in there.” Further, nobody in the city even knew therewas a shelter.
Hannah knew that something had to be done for the animals, and urgently. “They can’t really speak out for themselves,” she said, “they needed someone to help.” She wanted to attend the city council meeting, but no one was able to go with her. So she went by herself. She got up before the crowd and spoke on behalf of the animals in the shelter facility. She told of the conditions and made suggestions for change, like providing an area for the dogs to run in and moving the cats to a nicer location. She even offered to help out.
In attendance at the meeting were the mayor, city council members, city service directors and members of the press. After listening to Hannah, all agreed something needed to happen. The mayor vowed to personally look into it.
Soon after, new fencing was installed at the shelter to create a nice dog run. Later, the cats were moved into a different building. The new cat shelter is housed in a previously unused building, which Hannah helped clean up and prepare for the purpose. This new cat shelter has plenty of windows, allows the cats to roam freely and has drawn more notice by the community. Consequently, most of the cats have been adopted.
Hannah is proof that one person can make a difference and even a young person can tackle a big problem. “I have big hopes and dreams,” she said.
Grand Prize Winner
Teens Category (Ages 13-17)
It all started when Justin and his family adopted Sweet Pea, a mixed breed, from dog rescue organization Dogs Deserve Better (DDB). Most of the dogs at DDB come from households where they have been confined and neglected on the ends of chains.
When Justin got Sweet Pea home, he gave her a toy. She did not know what to do with it and just looked at him. It broke his heart to think that this poor creature may never have known how to play. “Once that happened,” said Justin, “I just had to give everything.” He decided to do whatever he could for the dogs remaining at the rescue.
Justin and his family read about DDB’s “Sponsor a Dog for the Holidays” program, which asks donors to give dogs what they need for Christmas, such as food, treats, toys or help with veterinary bills. Justin’s mother told him to read each dog’s story and choose one to buy for. He picked them all. “Their stories melt your heart,” he explained.
He gathered his spare change, birthday money and savings and bought items off the lists, including treats, dog beds, toys and food. It amounted to more than $600. And Justin does not plan to stop his annual giving or limit his generosity to one shelter. “I won’t stop giving dogs what they need to have,” he said.
Justin has also fervently taken up DDB’s cause: educating the public about the inhumane treatment of chaining or penning dogs for prolonged periods. He spreads the word about chaining by telling his friends and teachers about it and he has his own website (www.donatetoysfordogs.com). “They are not just animals,” he explains, “they are just like us.”
The runner-up in each category receives $500.
Kids Category (Ages 6 to 12)
Janis spends the equivalent of almost two full working days per week volunteering at the Asheville Humane Society, after school and on weekends. She is willing to do just about everything -- she cleans cages, walks dogs, helps give medications, cleans and folds laundry, sorts newspapers for cages, helps groom and bathe animals, prepares and distributes food, restocks supplies, greets and guides visitors, helps at adoption events, and even assists with groundskeeping activities, like shoveling snow or raking leaves. In short, she helps wherever she is needed. Said her father, “She’s very active. She does much more than we could write about.”
Janis also socializes cats, kittens and puppies at the shelter by playing with them or petting them. She has learned positive reinforcement techniques and teaches dogs and puppies good manners, especially around children. These activities are more than just fun; they help the animals become used to human interaction and make them more adoptable. They also make it easier for the animals to transition from a shelter into a home. Janis enjoys interacting with the animals because “they can be more active and it helps them get used to a new home.”
Recently, Janis became the junior spokesperson for the Asheville Humane Society by taking photos and videos of animals for adoption and by doing video interviews with staff, volunteers and others about the shelter to post on the Internet. She has been a guest spokesperson for the shelter on the Asheville area’s T-Bone’s Radio Active Kids internet radio show to promote volunteering and supporting local animal shelters.
Santa Maria, Calif.
Teen Category (Ages 13 to 17)
Christina has been an assistant instructor in a Red Cross animal first aid course since age 12. She helps demonstrate first aid techniques on mannequins and monitors students’ practice sessions, answering questions. The class covers basic first aid, emergency preparedness and handling crises, for cats and dogs of all sizes. Christina has learned the material well. “I feel comfortable that I can give good advice,” she said. “It is a good feeling to know I can help people.”
Besides, said Christina, “It is good to have the information for myself.” She has four dogs and has had to use her first aid skills at home. Two or three times, she has found one of her Chihuahuas “looking into space and shaking.” Recognizing the signs of a seizure and having covered seizures in class, she put the dog on her lap and used pressure point massage to relax and help calm the dog. She has even helped frightened friends with dogs who had seizures.
Christina also volunteers as a camp counselor for the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter’s summer camp for kids. At camp, she shows the kids that the shelter is there for animals that were found as strays or need help, and that dog catchers (animal control officers) are not bad people, but good people who save animals. She also teaches that dogs have certain ways of communicating, so that the kids are aware of dog behavior and can avoid being bitten. As a group, they adopt a shelter dog for the week and care for it, which teaches them the responsibility of owning a pet.
Christina recognizes the bond that an animal and person can have. “I have a really strong connection to my pets,” she said. “An animal looks to you for love and care and I can give them that. It’s a good feeling.”