“Do animals talk?” Brooke Slater asked a crowd of about seventy attendees at HEART’s Caring Kids program on Friday, October 5th. They were all there to learn specifics about cat and dog body language and how to use that information to stay safe around dogs they didn’t know.
“Even though they don’t use words, they let you know with their bodies how they are feeling. Let’s try this. I want everyone to act scared.” The group struck a “scared” pose.
“Very good,” Brooke said. “Even though you didn’t talk, I knew you were scared because your eyes were open wide, your shoulders were up, and your mouths were open. Animals show us how they are feeling without words, too.”
The teaching team was multi-generational: Brooke, who runs Bruised Not Broken, a pit-bull rescue group, was aided by fifth-grader animal advocate and Caring Kids member Elliot Sadoff and his mother, Alyssa Sadoff, a school librarian.
With the help of Elliot and a stuffed dog, children practiced A.S.P.: Ask (ask permission to pet the dog), Sniff (allow the dog to sniff your closed fist), and Pet (pet the dog gently). Learning to read dog body language to determine if a dog wants to interact with you is a key element in dog-bite prevention and therefore humane education, since many dogs are put down because of their biting histories.
Alyssa Sadoff enriched the lesson by reading aloud Buddy Unchained, a picture book about a neglected dog who was rescued and then placed into his forever home. The detailed art in the book eloquently depicts Buddy’s different feelings.
“Even though Buddy didn’t speak one word, you could tell how he feels. And when we can tell how an animal feels, we can understand and respect [him or her],” Brooke explained.
The lesson was then brought to life by shelter dog Mushu, a buggy-eyed pug-shih-tzu mix, who is currently awaiting adoption at Animal Haven. Children formed a circle and eagerly awaited Mushu’s arrival. When he came into the room, he happily pranced around the circle, sniffing each child’s fist. On his second lap, he gladly accepted petting and even belly rubs.
“How can we tell he’s excited?” Brooke asked the group.
“His tail’s wagging,” a few children called out.
“How can we tell he likes his belly rubbed?” she continued.
“His leg’s moving!” one child said.
The lesson concluded with one long belly rub from Brooke and a shelter volunteer, and some informal conversation with the enthusiastic crowd.
Children left with handouts decoding cat and dog body language as well as a sheet on being safe around dogs.