In Puerto Rico last year, two elementary school age children beat a puppy to death and severely injured a second helpless creature on the school playground. The incident is a particularly grim reminder that there are big gaps in humane work in Puerto Rico, and some truly awful consequences of our movement’s inattention to this major part of the United States. We at The HSUS are now fully committed to filling those gaps, and that’s why I am so proud to announce Phase II of our Humane Puerto Rico initiative: a sweeping animal welfare education program that will reach each and every public school student in this U.S. territory of nearly four million people.
Students from grades K-12 – 407,000 in all – will be the focus of a project we are conducting with Puerto Rico’s Department of Education. Our goal is to create a compassionate island for animals by educating children on the importance of treating animals well, and what that means in practical terms in their daily lives. Over time, we expect this program to add momentum to Phase I of Humane Puerto Rico – the effort to reduce the suffering and euthanasia of companion animals, help street dogs, and strengthen and enforce anti-cruelty laws. The government and the people of Puerto Rico have responded to this entire program with unrestrained enthusiasm, and that’s been so heartening to us.
The HSUS’s education arm, Humane Society Academy, sent staff members last week to train teachers and build humane lessons into their teaching activities. The training also provided teachers with a curriculum developed by HSA. Teachers will explain how humane issues influence not just the lives of animals, but also every member of the community. Students will incorporate these themes into their core school work – for example, by doing persuasive writing as part of their reading or language arts class to draft letters to government officials or pet stores asking them to support adoption and rescues, or in science and health class by getting informed about the health needs of dogs and sharing notices with the community about meeting the basic needs of pet animals.The attending teachers also received an animal-welfare-themed mini library for their classrooms and every educator in grades K-6 will receive a year-long subscription to The HSUS’s Kind News magazine.
“We found incredible enthusiasm and energy among the teachers we were training—they couldn’t wait to start talking to students about the importance of kindness and empathy to animals and how it connects to broader community issues,” said Stephanie Itle-Clark, director of learning at HSA, who conducted the training along with another HSA staffer, Erin Comaskey
Our hope is that the children will also take what they are learning back to their homes and their families, increasing awareness about animal welfare in the community.
Our work with the Department of Education will continue in the years to come as we train more humane education specialists. We have also set up a scholarship fund that will provide 500 credentialing program courses for the public school teachers of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Rafael Román summed up the goals of this partnership perfectly when he said this: “This is a step forward not only to protect our animals, who deserve to be cared and protected, but also our children to be far from violence. Through the teaching of compassion we will become better human beings.”
This is The HSUS’s biggest-ever humane education project in a large jurisdiction, and it’s one critical part of our bold effort to turn around the circumstances for animals and people in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. And it comes not a moment too soon.