Last night, at their invitation, I drove to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to speak to their new Behavior Group.
I wondered, on the long drive through New England roads, what I would find. UMass doesn't have a veterinary school but undergrads could certainly go on to that if they could get in. Getting into Medical School is easier these days than getting into Veterinary School. Did they want to be Applied Animal Behaviorists? Animal Behavior Consultants? What did they know and what did they want to know?
After getting lost on the campus despite a tiny map that is barely legible to anyone over the age of 25, and with help from the kindness of strangers, I found my way to the correct building.
The students, mainly women which is not unusual, were wonderful. Warm and welcoming and certainly curious about the field of Animal Behavior and the related dog training field. They want to do the right thing. They've been trying to encourage their friends and parents to make proper choices and are so determined to help animals that they want to know more. They are hungry for knowledge with the open minds and bright enthusiasm embodied by the young and young-at-heart.
One young woman had volunteered at a zoo and would do so again this year. Her immediate goal is to bring environmental enrichment to the facility to provide a better quality of life for the animals. Another had been a shelter volunteer and expressed a strong desire to help animals, to make life better for those in shelters and help them live better lives in their homes. That was a common theme: making life better for animals and their owners, help people choose the right pets and train them properly so that they wouldn't end up in shelters, or to rehabilitate those who could be rehabilitated.
I gave them the obligatory explanation of why some can't be saved even when it breaks our hearts to have to admit it. I told them that they would be training owners, not just dogs, that learning what is normal for animals, both physically and mentally, is important. You don't walk in assuming that it's truly a behavior problem without a full work-up being done by a veterinarian.
And on and on it went.
I walked out, tired but uplifted, knowing that the next generation is producing people who care about those who cannot speak for themselves and they want to help in a kinder, gentler way. They know that choke and prong collars get the exact opposite result that they seek, they know that animals are intelligent and can learn more easily when properly trained, or retrained. Among the self-centered, rude, they've-been-handed-everything generation of kids there are some who have learned to care about others.
The world may not be so bleak after all.