AUSTIN, Texas - There are a lot of pets out there with a lot of potential interactions with children. Lesson plans, created by the Texas Humane Network, were drafted in an effort to teach children how to handle those encounters.
"There are 14 states in the United States that actually require some sort of humane curriculum. And Texas is one of the states that do not. And so right now that teaching of empathy and kindness and public safety falls on either nonprofits or humane societies or parents themselves," said Executive Director Shelby Bobosky.
Bobosky pointed out that Texas has one of the largest stray dog populations in the country, and last year in Texas, there were more than a thousand dog bites.
Dog owners, like Rodney Inciong, were asked by FOX 7 what they would like children to know before approaching their pets.
"I think you should respect their space and take your time when approaching them. Don't rush up on an animal until you're absolutely sure from the owner or that the dog does give you good signs," said Inciong.
Knowing the warning signs is also important, according to Steve Leo.
"I think they should know that some can be dangerous and that they should stay away unless they have a clear signal that this dog wants to be petted or interacted with," said Leo.
"Can you speak dog," the title of Lesson 2, deals with what pets are telling you. Easy to understand pictures are included to help translate body language.
"Teaching these kids how animals communicate with humans is huge," said Bobosky.
The Lessons are not mandatory and are free to download from the organization's website.
They're also designed to help teachers prepare students for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills tests, state standards known as TEKS. For example, Lesson 6, "It’s raining cats and cats," is about how strays quickly multiply. It’s tied into math standards. But these lessons, according to Bobosky, can go beyond test prep.
"You know, one of the lessons that is taught is, if you see something, say something. And that is so important in this day and age. You know, Rudy, as we look at what happened in Uvalde and, you know, try to dissect what went wrong there, at the end of the day, that individual had committed felony animal cruelty on social media and had over 300 views. And in some of the interviews, the students knew that he was torturing kittens and nobody reported it. So if we can get to these kids at an early age and explain to them the importance of animal cruelty, and if they see something to say something to their teacher, their adult, their coach, I think that we could be stopping and preventing future cruelty from happening not only to animals, but within our communities," said Bobosky.
The goal is to make all third-grade teachers in Texas aware of the lessons by the end of next year. These lessons don’t have to be taught just in a school setting. They can even be used by parents.