Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Seeking shelter from cynicism

Claire and Emily offer bedding and food treats to go with animals leaving their shelter.

I've always been more interested in rescuing animals than raising children. Until recently, I didn't even understand the appeal of child rearing.

At 40, I'm finally starting to get it.

Lately I've been talking to kids about saving animals, and it's a completely different experience than speaking to adults on the same subject. Kids stare in amazement and hang on to every word, thrilled at the prospect of what can be accomplished. They ask how they can make a difference and save lives themselves. And then they do something I'm always begging adults to do, and -- I admit it -- not always so successfully at that.

They take action. And they do it without being prodded, guilt-tripped, shamed, cajoled, sweet-talked, bribed or threatened.

Last night I witnessed the beauty of kid power in action again. I took a break and headed north to Vancouver to visit some old friends I haven't seen in ages. One of the couples has an adorable pair of little girls, and shortly after I arrived, the kids took an interest in my SUV. The grey Honda Element has an eye-catching red magnet stuck on the back that reads Animal Rescue Transport Vehicle.

Claire, who is almost four, and Emily, nearly 7, were excited and wanted to peek inside.

I gave the go-ahead and opened all the doors wide. The girls promptly scrambled in with their bare feet and started crawling around fascinated, checking out all the tools of the trade I keep stashed in there.

Here's what they found. A foldout cardboard carrier and a small box for housing stray or injured animals. Towels and blankets. Bottled water. Cans of cat food. Several leashes in a variety of styles. Long Kevlar gloves to protect hands and arms against bites. A protective mask with a carbon filter in case I happen upon an ammonia-laden hoarding house. First aid kit. A T-shirt identifying me as an animal rescuer. Yellow sticks of chalk to write license plate numbers on my dashboard when I spot dogs flying around loose in the back of pickup trucks.

As Claire and Emily gazed at the contents of the car with their big round curious eyes, I told them about some of the animals who have been transported in my renegade rescue vehicle. Dogs, cats, even a bird and a mouse in the last few days alone, I explained.

Unbeknownst to me, the girls hadn't just been listening idly. I later found out that they had been soaking up the information like little sea sponges.

The adults chatted after the meal, and the kids slipped away from the table to play. Soon they returned, pressing a round plastic disc into each of our hands. The tokens represented money, they informed us. Each one could be redeemed for an animal.

Then they led us to the project they had been working on while we relaxed.

To my sheer amazement, three-year-old Claire and six-year-old Emily had set up a mock animal shelter. Using some blankets, they positioned the living room furniture and tented a perfect mini-model for a temporary disaster facility. I crawled under the tent and found an array of plush and plastic toys laid out in a horseshoe arrangement. Each animal was nestled into a size-appropriate makeshift kennel, such as a mixing bowl or a Tupperware.

When I go to animal rescue disaster training, we stage exercises that resemble Claire and Emily's project. We set up mock animal shelters, just on a larger scale. These kids did it without being told. They saw the car, imagined the animals that would be arriving in it, and figured they would need a place to put them.

It was logistics genius in its purest form.

Emily and Claire were waiting for us under the tent with the animals they had up for adoption. They questioned each adult about what kind of pets we were looking for -- including our particular desires and habits -- and determined which animals were best suited to us.

And then the girls really impressed me.

"Before you go, pick up a blanket and some food for your animal," Emily said, pointing to an area beside the tent. The girls had raided their toy collection and lined up miniature mismatched supplies to go with the animals to their new homes. We were instructed to choose a tiny scrap of bedding and a plastic food item, which were obviously bits and pieces gathered from other toy sets.

I could have cried at the simple, shining beauty of it all.

The animals need the optimism, energy and hope that the next generation of kids like Emily and Claire bring to the mission.

And, for that matter, so do I.

This isn't the last you'll be hearing of Claire and Emily. I'll be back to play Animal Rescue with them again, and this time it might not be just fun and games. When we finished going over all the items in my car, Emily made it clear that the kids didn't want to stop at make-believe.

"Can we go out and start rescuing animals now?"

The girls set up a place to house rescued animals.

Emily and Claire supervise the animal adoption area of their makeshift shelter.

1 comment:

Roberta said...

Out of the mouths of babes, my dear.
With love and encouragement, these two little rascals will be on the rescue trail in no time!
Thank heavens, these delightful girls have been brought up in a loving and caring home. It shows.
All children need such love so they can share their love with those creatures who offer only love in return.
Keep doing what you're doing! You're the greatest!