Oklahoma: Mission Accomplished!

Oklahoma Adoption Event – 6/23/13 from americanhumane on Vimeo.

After more than a month helping the animals and people of the Moore, Oklahoma area recover from a deadly tornado, American Humane Association’s legendary Red Star™ rescue team is finally ending its deployment and I am glad to report that the mission has been a great success. We were able to rescue and/or shelter more than 200 animals, reunite nearly 100 with their families, place some with rescues and get the rest into good, loving homes during an Adopt-a-Thon we held with the city of Moore this past weekend.

We couldn’t have received a warmer welcome from the city officials, county officials, people and press. Following the stunning destruction caused by the EF5 tornado on May 20, Red Star™ quickly mobilized a team of staff and volunteers, our 82-foot Rescue Rig and our 50-foot Lois Pope LIFE Rescue Vehicle. Responding to an invitation from Oklahoma that was secured with the help of Miranda Lambert and her MuttNation Foundation, we raced to the recovery zone, covering 2,000 combined miles in just over a day. After assessing the situation and needs for the animals, we assisted with a temporary animal shelter at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds.

It was a tremendous, emotional experience – and I almost missed it. I had just been hired as the new national director for Red Star Emergency Services, and my proposed start date was July1. But on May 20 the devastating Oklahoma tornado changed everything. We knew we needed to be on the ground in Oklahoma as soon as possible, and after some quick paperwork changes and a scramble to relocate my family, we hit the road to the Sooner State. I found an amazing crew of staff and volunteers ready to save animals, and we working through 18-hour, sometimes 100-degree days together, we soon established the kind of rapport that usually takes years to build. Each and every one of the 18 Red Star workers who helped on this deployment brings a unique skill set to animal emergency situations, and all do a wonderful job of continuing the legacy of this nearly century-old program, which was started by American Humane Association during World War I when the United States War Department asked us to save wounded horses on the battlefields of Europe. Since then, Red Star has been involved with virtually every major disaster response, including Pearl Harbor, Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornado, the deadly earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, the terror attacks on 9/11, and Superstorm Sandy.

I hope you’ll join me in offering thanks to all those who pitched in to help the animals of Oklahoma in their time of greatest need: Mars Petcare US, makers of PEDIGREE® Food for Dogs and WHISKAS® Food for Cats, sponsored the deployment of the giant Rescue Rig and donated emergency food supplies. Banfield Pet Hospital offered veterinary assistance, along with Zoetis Commitment to Veterinarians, which offered vitally needed medicines. Thank you also to philanthropist Lois Pope for donating our newest 50-foot rescue vehicle; actress, entrepreneur and author Victoria Principal for her personal and public support of the effort, and country music star Miranda Lambert and her MuttNation Foundation for helping secure the official invitation needed to provide emergency operations in Oklahoma. We’d like to thank Backstage Coaches for providing a tour bus to give our team much-needed showers and cool catnaps during the long, hot days in Oklahoma. And thanks to PetSmart Charities and Code 3 Associates for supplying and delivering much-needed extra crates. We are also very grateful for our partners who assisted on the ground with operations including NACA, Red Rover, Code 3 Associates, and IFAW. And finally, thank you to all our supporters who sent in the donations that made our deployment to help these animals possible. Because of you, some 200 animals who were desperate, scared, and in trouble are now safe, sound and in loving homes. Thank you. Your help is much appreciated!

I’d like to conclude today by thanking the people of Oklahoma for their hospitality and help during this trying time; we know that the road to recovery may be long, but the spirit and generosity of the people there will prevail. We wish you (and the many new pet owners who took in our grateful animals) all the best!

>>Click here to view images from Red Star’s Oklahoma deployment.

Red Star

Finding Comfort in the Wake of Tragedy

Senior Fellow
American Humane Association
Children’s Innovation Institute

Many people are experiencing powerful feelings related to the tragedies that occurred at the Boston Marathon. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to express emotions. Children are especially vulnerable to a powerful display of emotion from adults and the chaotic atmosphere that can create. Therefore, adults can help children by remaining calm and attentive when children are present. While it is important to try and keep the daily routine as normal as possible, there may also be the need for added comfort during this extraordinary time of stress.
Adults can comfort children by:

  • Talking, Hugging, Playing, Strolling, Riding Bikes, Reading Books, Watching Movies, etc. with children.
  • Coming home from work and greeting a child with a smile, stating enthusiastically, “It is so good to see you! How are you?” This sends a positive message of caring and concern, and can be especially beneficial for disconnected and withdrawn pre- teens and teenagers. Whether or not there is an immediate response from the child, an important positive message is passed from the adult to the child and will resonate in that child’s brain.
  • “I love you” is among the most comforting phrases (especially powerful with a hug).
  • Taking notice of the positive actions that occurred during the disaster, such as people helping each other, and police, doctors and others readily available to take care of those in need.
  • Complimenting positive things a child does and eliminate criticism.
  • Preparing a favorite meal.
  • Encouraging and modeling hugging, petting, walking, or just watching TV with the family pet(s).
  • Teaching children to “stop and smell the roses,” or point out something beautiful in their surroundings.
  • Letting children know that you trust them to be alert and do the right thing when you are not there to protect them.

Empathy (understanding the thoughts and feelings of others) is the cornerstone of a compassionate society. This tragedy provides an opportunity to express empathy and be motivated to help bring comfort to others. Some children understand the concept of being the best they can be in honor of those who were harmed and had their lives greatly impacted by tragedy. This point of view promotes feelings of gratitude in the child for what they have and motivation to help others less fortunate. Community service involvement is a great way to transform your feelings into positive actions. People of all ages can take part in volunteer activities. Even very young children can participate in a beautification project at their school, such as planting a garden.

The Boston Bombings: Tips to Help Kids Cope

American Humane Association Offers Tips to Help Children Deal with Concerns Following the Boston Marathon Bombings

BW Photo of Girl
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 15, 2013 – Following the bombings during the Boston Marathon today, American Humane Association issued these tips for parents and other caregivers to help children cope with the fear and uncertainty caused by this tragedy:

  • Keep an eye on children’s emotional reactions. Talk to children – and just as important – listen to them. Encourage kids to express how they feel and ask if anything is worrying them.
  • Regardless of age, reassure them frequently of their safety and security, and reinforce that you, local officials, and their communities are working to keep them safe. Older children may seem more capable, but can also be affected.
  • Keep your descriptions to children simple and limit their exposure to graphic information. Keep to the basic facts that something bad happened but that they are safe. Use words they can understand and avoid technical details.
  • Limit their access to television and radio news reports since young children may have trouble processing the experience, and sometimes believe that each news report may be a new attack.
  • Be prepared for children to ask if such violence can occur to them. Do not lie but repeat that it is very unlikely and that you are there to keep them safe.
  • Watch for symptoms of stress, including clinginess, stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, trouble eating or sleeping, or changes in behavior.
  • If you are concerned about the way your children are responding, consult your doctor, school counselor or local mental health professional.

“Children are especially vulnerable at a time like this,” noted Dr. Robin Ganzert, president & CEO of American Humane Association. “Parents, teachers, and other caregivers need to be especially sensitive to how children are reacting and help them cope with their fears and feelings. The best thing is to talk to children now and in the weeks to come to ensure they receive the attention they need in dealing with this frightening tragedy.”

About American Humane Association
American Humane Association is the country’s first national humane organization and the only one dedicated to protecting both children and animals. Since 1877, American Humane Association has been at the forefront of virtually every major advance in protecting our most vulnerable from cruelty, abuse and neglect. Today we’re also leading the way in understanding the human-animal bond and its role in therapy, medicine and society. American Humane Association reaches millions of people every day through groundbreaking research, education, training and services that span a wide network of organizations, agencies and businesses. You can help make a difference, too. Visit American Humane Association at www.americanhumane.org today.

Steps for Families to Consider in Aftermath of Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School

MILLIONS OF KIDS ARE SENT TO SCHOOL EVERY DAY with the expectation of a safe return home. Our notion of this guarantee has been shattered, leaving adults feeling as though their children are not safe and children feeling vulnerable to danger. Since it is the job of the adults in a society to keep children safe, this tragedy will lead many to experience a range of emotions. Some of the emotions many adults will move back and forth between include fear, sadness, anger, helplessness, and even denial in the struggle to process the senselessness of how these lives were lost on an elementary school campus last week. Children and adolescents may experience a range of emotions but often do not have the ability to identify or express their feelings. In this case some children may even feel their own lives are in danger, since the main target of these mass murders was children.

Adults can help children and adolescents through this difficult time by:

  • Not becoming over anxious (children pick up on your anxiety and that can add to their stress).
  • Model how to express feelings of sadness and grief and explain how you feel to your children.
  • Reduce the amount of time you and your children watch TV and Internet reports of the tragedy.
  • Find ways to comfort your children and provide strength for your children.
  • Hugs and cuddling are known to reduce stress. Include your pets in group hugs. If your child is feeling very fearful they may benefit from sleeping in close proximity to you for a couple of nights (in your bed or in a sleeping bag nearby).
  • Maintaining normal habits such as dinner time and a bedtime ritual helps provide structure.
  • Play can help reduce stress, especially games you can play with your children (coloring, board games, card games, etc.). Drawing can also be a way for children to express their feelings.
  • Reassure your children that they are safe and that you are safe too. Children may become clingy, not wanting to leave your side for fear that something bad will happen to them or to you.
  • Maintain a connection to the community. Visit the local recreation center where families gather and share comfort. Visit your local religious establishment offering comfort and connection.
  • Offer to volunteer as a playground monitor at your child’s school for a few days, especially if you are a coach of a community youth team or a regular presence at the school, as this will help children feel safer while they are coping with shock and fear reactions resulting from this tragedy.
  • Keep communication open by being present and available for your children. You don’t need to have all of the answers, just be there.

Don’t force children to talk about their feelings. Be ready to listen when they are ready to talk. All feelings are valid. A child may be more “clingy” than usual and this is normal behavior under the circumstances. Adolescents in particular have moments when they are open to engaging in a discussion with parents or guardians. In general, you may have noticed your child or adolescent is best at communicating on the ride home from school, at dinner, or via text message. Often during the long process of their own identity development, children and adolescents can become less talkative and moody, leaving parents and guardians frustrated over difficulties with communication. This is where it is up to the adult in the relationship to discover the best time to share meaningful communication with their child or adolescent. Children and adolescents will experience healthier outcomes when they are not left alone to process powerful feelings and emotions. Find a way into their world where you can help them identify and normalize their experiences. Sometimes it starts with sharing how you feel.

Some children and adolescents may already be dealing with a crisis such as parents divorcing, loss of a pet or significant person in their lives, family member in the military, etc.  This tragedy may amplify difficult feelings they are already struggling with. Some children may experience severe reactions like crying, shaking, and regression (bed wetting, thumb sucking). If your child or adolescent demonstrates impaired functioning in concentration and school performance, aggression, isolation, changes in appetite, and lack of healthy connections and relationships then it is time to visit the pediatrician and ask for a referral to consult with a child and adolescent mental health specialist.

This tragic event takes a toll on everyone. Help the vulnerable in your community who may be less able to cope with this tragedy if you are able. If you feel overwhelmed, stay connected to friends and family, consult with your general medical practitioner, and seek guidance from a mental health professional if needed.

In the days to come we must continue to focus on what can be done to prevent these avoidable tragedies. Clearly, firearm-related mortality among children and adolescents must be recognized as a major health problem in this country. With high levels of suicidal tendencies among adolescents, easy availability of extremely lethal means, and low levels of mental health support, it is incumbent on policy makers and health care professionals to determine how to effectively translate research into life-enhancing outcomes for society’s youth.

Caren Caty, Ph.D.

The Best Coping Mechanism Might Be Covered in Fur: Helping Children Understand the Newtown, CT Tragedy

Animals Key to Helping Kids Cope with Stress

AS THE NEWS CONTINUES TO UNFOLD ABOUT THE TRAGEDY IN CONNECTICUT, American Humane Association stands ready to assist in any way it can. The facts in the case are still being uncovered, but we do know that this tragedy has left at least 20 of our most precious treasures – our children – and at least seven other adults dead in the wake of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. As a mother of three, it breaks my heart for the families affected; this is the call no parent ever, ever wants to receive. I shared the president’s sentiment in hugging my children a little tighter when they came home from school on Friday afternoon.

Animal-assisted therapy handlers constantly report is that children in particular feel they can share secrets with the animals and tell them their true feelings because they believe the animal will listen and love them unconditionally.

Last year, in our organization’s annual report, I mentioned the compassion fatigue in this country; every day we’re inundated with horrible stories in the news where our animals and children are suffering at the hands of an unforgiving world. While organizations like American Humane Association are out there doing all they can to prevent this senselessness, unfortunately it seems we have a long way to go before our work is done.

This year was particularly stormy for our children, and while attacks like this can unfortunately never be predicted, we need to be prepared to help our children cope whenever despicable acts like this occur. Following the massacre in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado this summer, American Humane Association shared tips on helping children understand what happened. Given that this Friday’s attack occurred in an elementary school – a place where children should feel safe no matter what – I feel it’s appropriate to share these with you again:

  • Keep an eye on children’s emotional reactions. Talk to children – and just as important – listen to them. Encourage kids to express how they feel and ask if anything is worrying them.
  • Regardless of age, reassure them frequently of their safety and security, and reinforce that you, local officials, and their communities are working to keep them safe. Older children may seem more capable, but can also be affected.
  • Keep your descriptions to children simple and limit their exposure to graphic information. Keep to the basic facts that something bad happened but that they are safe. Use words they can understand and avoid technical details and terms such as “smoke grenades” and “sniper.”
  • Limit their access to television and radio news reports since young children may have trouble processing the enormity of the experience, and sometimes believe that each news report may be a new attack.
  • Be prepared for children to ask if such violence can occur to them. Do not lie but repeat that it is very unlikely and that you, their teachers and school staff are there to keep them safe.
  • Watch for symptoms of stress, including clinginess, stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, trouble eating or sleeping, or changes in behavior.
  • If you are concerned about the way your children are responding, consult your doctor, school counselor or local mental health professional.
  • The last point is particularly important: if you feel your child needs help beyond your capacity, please do not delay in getting them the help they need.

One thing we have found over the years is that oftentimes, there’s no better therapy than what comes from an animal. Whether it’s with the family pet, a neighbor’s pet, or even a visit to the zoo, sometimes the best cure comes on four legs and is covered in fur. For years, American Humane Association’s animal-assisted therapy teams have worked to bring comfort to those in hospitals, schools, prisons, and to children of military families. One interesting observation our animal-assisted therapy handlers constantly report is that children in particular feel they can share secrets with the animals and tell them their true feelings because they believe the animal will listen and love them unconditionally.

While we may never know the motives for the shooter’s heinous actions, we do know that whenever tragedies like this arise – and, unfortunately they will again inevitably, as much as we’d like that to not be the case – we need to do all we can to help our children cope. The world can be a scary place for children, but by hugging a dog, or holding a cat, we can show them that everything’s going to be ok. The world is scary at times for all species, but the human-animal bond can help us heal.

Again, our deepest condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims in Connecticut. Please know you’ll remain in our thoughts and prayers.

Animal-Assisted Therapy Program Report: Operation Purple® Family Retreat in Black Mountain, North Carolina

Five therapy dogs and their handlers, including American Humane Association’s National Director of Animal-Assisted Therapy, Amy McCullough and her therapy dog, Bailey, attended a military family retreat on August 17-20 at Black Mountain, North Carolina. This Operation Purple® family retreat, one of eight operated nationwide by the National Military Family Association, is designed to help families reconnect after experiencing the stresses surrounding a deployment.

Over 100 families applied to attend the NC retreat and twenty were accepted to participate in this fun family getaway at no cost to the family beyond transportation. The four-day retreat took place at a campground in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Families from every branch of the military were present including Army, Navy, National Guard, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Nearly 100 people attended, with approximately half of those being children ranging in age from 3-13.

Many of the families were stationed at bases in North Carolina such as Ft. Bragg and Camp Lejeune, but others traveled from as far away as Georgia, Virginia and Maryland. One of the requirements for eligibility is that the military member must have returned from deployment between 3-12 months prior to the camp and many were returning from multiple deployments.

The therapy dogs were present on the first day of the retreat to greet the families as they arrived at camp to check-in. In addition, the therapy dogs were on-site each day during mid-day free time for those families who wanted to spend time with the dogs. As families arrived weary from their hours on the road, children rushed to greet the dogs. Children who were initially afraid of dogs were able to pet the friendly, wagging therapy dogs. Families who missed their own pet were comforted by the dogs’ presence and the dogs served as a way for the children and parents from different bases to begin to talk and get to know each other. At times, the therapy dogs pulled a pensive child sitting by him/herself into the group activities.

As the weekend unfolded, one could witness the families’ increased interaction whether it was a father and son engaging in friendly competition on the basketball court or parents encouraging their children on the climbing wall. One father spoke of the role his son assumed as the “man of the house” in his absence and his surprise when he returned to find his son taller than he is. Through the therapy dog interaction and other camp activities, he’s learning how to relate to his son again.

Overall, the therapy dogs are a valuable part of the camp in helping establish a sense of normalcy and home as the military families begin to adjust to their life upon return from deployment.