Fostering a strong understanding of animal care among young people is exactly what Ontario SPCA and Humane Society’s (Ontario SPCA) Virtual Future Vet program is all about. “We aimed to make it educational and engaging by using games, pictures and videos and opportunities to meet and greet animals, virtually,” Jennifer Pandelidis, acting community development coordinator at Ontario SPCA, said. ”They get an opportunity to meet animals and the staff within the shelter, which they all enjoy doing as well.”
Pre-pandemic, the Future Vet program was an in-person gathering at two of Ontario SPCA’s 12 locations. But, when quarantine began last year, they had to pivot to a new alternative. For four Saturdays, between September 25 to October 23, 2021, kids (from anywhere) between the ages of 8 to 11 can participate in hour-long virtual educational classes.
The courses — which are all taught from an animal’s perspective — cover different areas of pet care, from cats and dogs to small animals and shelter operations. “Giving kids that perspective and empathy will hopefully allow them to be like gentle caregivers and positive animal companions in the future,” Jennifer said.
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An average day at Virtual Future Vet is packed with educational and creative opportunities. Take dog day, for example. Twelve students sign on at 10:00 AM and start the course by reviewing last week’s take-home assignment. This could look like presenting photographs from their own nature scavenger hunt or showing the posters they made for adoptable rescue cats. Next, Jen educates the students by showing photos of different dog breeds, and students can call out unique characteristics of each. If grooming is a part of the day’s lesson plan, Jen will explain why it’s important and show techniques they can use at home. Pre-recorded videos of the staff discussing grooming approaches help engage the students, too.
The class ends with an opportunity for kids to put their knowledge to the test. When a new pup comes into Ontario SPCA's centers, get have a full health check. Students, with the help of an Ontario SPCA staff member, get to virtually meet a new dog and use the skills they learned in that day’s lesson to assess their overall well-being. "The students really engage," Jennifer said. "They're very eager to answer questions." At the end of the 4-week session, students are awarded a certificate of completion.
But the biggest reward is the lessons they will have learned during Virtual Future Vet. “It gives kids a toolkit to understand animal behavior and what life is like for shelter animals,” Jennifer said.
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Photo by Ontario SPCA and Humane Society