'Kids for Animals' program aims to help kids learn safety around pets

PASADENA, Calif. (KABC) -- Dog bites and other pet-related injuries send thousands of kids to the emergency room every year, but a new program, just launched by the Pasadena Humane Society, aims to help kids learn to be safer around pets.

The kids just wanted to pick up happy puppy Ernie and play with him but first, they learned the three things you do before approaching a dog.

"You ask the owner first," said Yazmine Jenkins, a 6-year-old from Altadena.

Then, you let the dog sniff one hand. When he's ready, pet his head, but don't ever stick your fingers in his cage.

"Or they will bite you," said Dominick Ponce, a kindergartner at Benjamin Franklin Elementary.

It was all about reading the dog's language.

The Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA believes preventing bites starts with creating a culture of kindness. It launched a unique animal advocacy program called "Kids for Animals."

"It's our responsibility to learn how they speak, and they're speaking through their ears, through their smell, through their tail, and they're telling us exactly how they're feeling," said Julie Bank, CEO and president of the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA.

The California Department of Public Health reported an increase in dog bites over the past decade, accounting for nearly 200,000 ER visits since 2011.

"We really want to just kind of mobilize the community more, allow more kids to have the opportunity to get involved and to really try to see what kind of movement we can create," Bank said.

Kindergartners from Benjamin Franklin Elementary visited animals, put together chew toys for bunnies and read books to kittens.

The Pasadena Humane Society recommends finding books with pet-friendly themes for kids to read to their animals. It not only helps kids' literacy skills, it also helps the animals socialize.

Once students leave the shelter, they can create service projects and fundraisers to help pets get adopted.

"It all focuses on helping kids be with animals," said 16-year-old volunteer Jonathan Oyaga.

It's a new type of kindness club that benefits the kids and the community.
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