Guest Blogger: Laura Carlson, Founder and Director of Tails to Teach, on Love Your Pet Day

Today is Love Your Pet Day, and we can’t think of anyone who better embodies the meaning of it than Laura Carlson, Founder and Director of Tails to Teach. This amazing organization uses animal-assisted experiences in classrooms to educate children on the benefits of positive behavior. It’s a fantastic learning experience on humane education and prepares them for future possible pet ownership.

Carlson shares her personal story below of how and why she founded Tails to Teach and how Grace, her spaniel, is helping to spread her message of responsible pet-ownership for future generations.

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It’s the season of LOVE. Here in New England, spring is on the way (we hope!), the sap is beginning to flow and hearts are everywhere you look. We celebrate our love for our favorite people and our sweethearts with chocolate and flowers on Valentine’s Day, and then six days later, on February 20th, we get to celebrate our love for our animal friends on Love Your Pet Day! (But hold the flowers and chocolate, please.) And get this; the whole month of February is Responsible Pet Owners Month.

Since you are reading this piece about Love Your Pet Day, chances are really good that, living with you, your pets have a pretty sweet deal! Fresh water, good food, warm beds – and you for a friend! What could be better? (Let’s be real. In their view, every day should be Love Your Pet Day, anyway.)

As if living with you isn’t awesome enough, the pet stores now have an almost endless amount of great stuff that you can buy for your pet’s enrichment, such as toys, organic treats, fancy coats, breath fresheners, leashes and collars with serious bling, cat condos, heated beds… the list goes on and on. For those lucky dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, fish, reptiles and pocket pets that have loving homes – life is GOOD.

As I struggle to re-claim my pillows from the three dogs that sprawl all over them every night, I think of all the pets that are strays on our streets or waiting in shelters for new homes, pets that would be so grateful for a home that provided only fresh water, good food and a warm bed – and for someone to be their friend. I think of all the pets that do have homes, yet live lives of quiet desperation, confined to cages full-time, tied out in yards or banished to garages and basements. I think of all the “breeding stock” in puppy mills, dogs that never know kindness and are simply used as puppy factories to meet the demand for purebred or designer puppies that are sold in pet stores.

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Three years ago, I founded Tails to Teach to bring Humane Education into Rhode Island schools. We use a hands-on approach to encourage children to focus on the benefits of positive behavior and responsible pet ownership. In our Tails to Teach classes, we bring a rescue dog named Grace to school. Before she was rescued, little Grace had been badly abused, starved and then cruelly abandoned on the street during winter in New England. And yet, she is the sweetest, most loving dog I’ve ever known. After meeting Grace, one fourth-grade boy defined the word grace perfectly: being kind even when you don’t have to be.

This small spaniel, who has every reason in the world to be distrusting of humans, has one mission in life: to seek out the sad, lonely or fearful and gently rest her head and paws on them until she makes a connection. She is determined and relentless. She will stay with someone who is hurt or suffering and sing her dog songs of love until they eventually succumb to her charms. Grace is kind to people, even when she doesn’t have to be.

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At the end of class, we ask kids to remember the story of Grace and, in her honor, go out and “multiply grace” by showing kindness, empathy, mercy and compassion to others – just like she does. We give them each a wristband with Multiply Grace written on it to remind them of their mission. By the time I see those same kids the following week, they are bursting with good news: they can’t wait to tell me all the ways they “multiplied grace.”

If I were queen of the world, I would change the name from Love Your Pet Day to Love ALL Pets Day. I’d say, yes, on February 20th, take a long walk with your dog, give your cat a warm perch in the sun, hide a strawberry in your bunny’s hay, or buy some cool new toys or treats. Then, in honor of your own beloved pet, and in thanks for the joy they bring to your life, go out and Multiply Grace. Do something that helps animals right now; bring a monetary donation or much-needed supplies to your local animal shelter, since both municipal and private shelters always need more resources to help the animals in their care. Then do something that will help kids and animals tomorrow and into the future; throw your support behind programs like Tails To Teach.

It’s the season of LOVE. Do something for others that’s good for your own heart, too. Do what the Tails To Teach kids do. Multiply Grace.

To learn more about Tails To Teach, please visit www.TailsToTeach.org. You can even check in on Grace and see what she’s been up to!