About 50 educators gathered in Ojai on Friday to swap teaching strategies for their favorite subject: the importance of animals and of treating them well.
Eco-Ed, a Ventura County organization, offers lectures on the connection between people and animals to schools and adult groups. Directors Jerry Thompson and Jane Gordon compare the importance of such programs to the anti-drug and pro-recycling courses offered in many schools today.
While a picture might be worth a thousand words, the pair sought to demonstrate that a live animal was worth a thousand pictures. Gordon passed live snakes around a willing audience. Thompson displayed birds of prey from his 3-year-old raptor rehabilitation program; all had chronic injuries or were unsuitable for release into the wild because of time spent in captivity before entering Thompson's program. Thompson drew an audible response from the audience with an adult eagle that had lost a wing due to a gunshot wound. "This is what a 3-cent, .22 bullet can do," Thompson said.
During breaks, participants scanned displays of lesson plans, books and pamphlets. A few were Ventura County classroom teachers, but most represented humane societies and other organizations dedicated to protecting domestic animals and wildlife.
Marge Wright, director of the Arizona Humane Society, said her organization concentrates on responsible pet ownership. "Of the 46,000 animals we see at our shelters each year, 70% are turned in by owners who don't want them anymore," Wright said.
Patty Finch, vice president for youth education of the Humane Society of the United States, saw a direct connection between the way people treat animals and their interaction with other people. "Often, animal abuse is a red flag signaling child abuse," Finch said. She encourages instructors to make use of the human-animal connection. "Talking about animals can help teachers find a family that's in trouble."
The conference, sponsored by the Western Humane and Environmental Educators Assn., continues at 9 a.m. today at the Ojai Valley Women's Club, 441 E. Ojai Ave. The event is hosted by the Humane Society of Ventura County and concludes with a tour of the society's Ojai animal shelter.