Innovative program focuses on educating
inner-city children about animal welfare
By Brendan Quealy
In 2006, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) launched the “End Dog Fighting” campaign in Chicago. The program uses a multi-pronged approach, including community outreach and law enforcement partnerships, to help divert at-risk youth from getting involved in dogfighting. After achieving success and making a positive impact, it expanded to Atlanta in 2008 and Philadelphia in 2010. Currently, the program is growing and evolving to address even more animal welfare issues.
Laurie Maxwell, manager of the newly renamed “Pets for Life” program in Chicago, says that the expansion of this campaign is “not only to tackle dog fighting, but also prevent abuse and neglect of all animals in under-served communities.”
“Pets for Life” is now able to provide resources to caretakers of all breeds of dogs as well as cats, and has expanded to New York City. Maxwell says that both the welfare of Pit Bulls and dog fighting continue to be a big part of the HSUS’s efforts, and she is happy to see the program moving forward.
“It’s my goal to bring the issues of poverty, human suffering, and animal suffering together,” explains Maxwell, who is also a full-time graduate student at the University of Chicago. “I firmly believe that both sides of the equation—human and animal—need to take the other one into account. I’m really excited for the opportunities this will bring the program.”
Maxwell started to get involved with animal welfare when she was attending college in Pittsburgh. After volunteering at the Animal Rescue League, she realized that nearly three-quarters of the dogs coming in were Pit Bulls, and many of them were euthanized. After that, Maxwell was intent on making a difference.
“I began to teach myself,” Maxwell says. “I wanted to be more informed about what was being done, what wasn’t being done, and what I could do. I interned at the Humane Society and then had the chance to help develop the ‘End Dog Fighting in Chicago’ campaign.”
Much of Maxwell’s work was dedicated to the “Canines and Communities” program, which focuses on the Austin, East Garfield, and Humboldt Park communities of Chicago by engaging the neighborhood youth in an eight-week curriculum teaching humane education.
According to Maxwell, “The program is definitely attractive to teachers and we are working with the Chicago Public School system to implement this into the overall education process within three years.”
“Canines and Communities” has seen thousands of kids go through the curriculum, and the subject matter is pushed through with field trips, game shows, and interaction with animals as well as speeches from reformed dog fighters.
“Many of these kids don’t realize that you can go to jail for dog fighting,” Maxwell explains. “So we have to teach them that there are consequences to this behavior.”
The goal of the program is to get children involved in the conversation and make sure that they are not getting the wrong information about how to treat animals from the wrong people. Maxwell believes that “getting out in front of the problem” is key to the success of the program.
“We try to take a holistic approach and become part of the community, offer a counterculture, and make people realize why animal welfare is relevant and that abuse of animals leads to abuse of humans,” Maxwell says.
Maxwell hopes “Pets for Life” will continue to expand to more cities throughout the United States, because she has seen the benefits firsthand.
“Yeah, the volunteers are teaching the kids, but these kids teach the volunteers,” Maxwell observes. “I see people getting excited about the progress we’re making.”
To learn more, please visit HumaneSociety.org.