Last year, our network of trained education volunteers spoke to more than 68,000 children and young people about responsible ownership and pet safety. Education Volunteer Chris Yates tells us more…
Years ago, Chris Yates volunteered with the Scouts. When, over a decade on, he still had former troop members telling him they’d remembered things he’d shown them how to do, he realised just how much of an influence education can have on a young person’s life.
Now, he’s having a huge impact not only on the lives of the children and young people he speaks to through Blue Cross workshops, but on animal welfare too.
“Animals deserve the best treatment and educating people is the best way forward,” says Chris, an Education Volunteer for Blue Cross.
“You can’t blame someone for not doing something if you haven’t taken the time to show them how.”
Although he works full time, for the past eight years Chris has been making time to visit schools and youth groups such as Cubs and Brownies to speak to children and young people about animal welfare and how to stay safe around dogs.
“School tends to be either at an assembly or in individual classes,” Chris explains. “It’s completely up to the school or club to choose what subject they would like us to talk about, whether it’s animal welfare or staying safe around dogs.
“I try to keep sessions as interactive as possible and ask the children lots of questions about their own experiences with their own pets or other animals. If we’re talking about making sure pets get the right things to eat, for example, I might hold up a bar of chocolate and ask if the children think dogs and cats should eat it. It’s surprising how many think it’s ok at the beginning of the session!”
Our fun and interactive sessions can be tailored to the size of the group, and we’ll bring along our Education Dogs too, if teachers, leaders and parents are happy for us to do so.
Chris’s pet Greyhounds and lurchers accompany him on school visits, and all of our canine classroom assistants have passed a rigorous behaviour assessment so we’re sure they are happy and safe around large groups of children.
As well as visiting primary schools and youth groups, Chris has had extra training to hold workshops at a mental health hospital near his home in Northampton, where some patients live under the prison system.
Our RespectaBULL workshops are aimed at those aged 11 to 25 – particularly owners of bull breeds such as Staffordshire bull terriers - and they tackle some of the grittier topics around dog ownership, including ‘status’ dogs, dogs used for protection and the law.
‘Status’ dogs and their owners get a bad rap, but both Chris and Blue Cross believe that so much can be solved through listening to people and trying to answer their questions.
While some people do take on dogs simply to promote a particular impression of themselves, most young people care about their dogs very much and their pets are their companions.
Chris says: “Actually, people aren’t bad, and even those who you might think aren’t caring for their dogs in the best way are doing so because of a lack of knowledge.
“When I do workshops with this age group I’m often told to expect to be ignored, but those in charge are often surprised when an hour later I’m still there and I’m still having a discussion with the group. It can be a tough audience, but when they realise that you’re not there to preach at them, you can have a good chat.
“Young people really want to know what’s best for their dogs, it’s just that no one’s ever been on hand to help them learn before and there’s been no one there for them to ask. I’m not there to judge anyone.”
Though he’s now been promoting animal welfare for Blue Cross for getting on for a decade, Chris is still really enjoying his role, and no two workshops are the same.
He says: “There’s no such thing as a typical session! That’s what I enjoy about it. Every single session is different.
“If you are thinking about becoming a Blue Cross Education Volunteer, just do it. Its good fun and you have a real laugh with the kids, and you are helping then become responsible pet owners in the future. The Education Team is a great group of people to work with too and I feel very much part of the team.”
Tracy Genever, Head of Education at Blue Cross, says: “Chris and our other wonderful volunteers make a huge difference and encourage respect for all animals by helping young people to understand the importance of responsible pet ownership.
“We need people from all around the UK to get involved and spread the word. We’re looking for people who are clearly spoken, are confident, and able to show empathy when talking to a variety of groups across a range of ages about the needs of pets and staying safe around them.”