It was hazy, hot & humid and the air conditioner was broken. To make matters worse, Mittens, the star of the show — who was the ASPCA Cat of the Year in 2011 — could not appear, as she had previously suffered medical complications from the heat. The show must go on, however, and that’s when Heidi Moore Trasatti, a school psychologist and co-founder of Project Mickey, a premier humane education program in Baltimore, turned to Plan B. Instead of Mittens, kittens.
Mittens’ mom, Cindy Wright, has worked with Heidi and Project Mickey to share Mittens’ story of abuse and redemption. Cindy is also a Board member at AARF and when Mittens was not medically cleared for the visit, Cindy recruited AARF kittens Alistair and Charlotte to make their debut with a classroom of first graders at Rosemont Elementary/Middle School, a charter school in Sandtown/Windchester. Many of the students were scared of cats, but their fear turned to joy and gratitude within an hour.
It was a Friday afternoon, but the students listened with rapt attention as Heidi reviewed what animals need. With little prompting, small hands raised to announce “food!” ”toys!” “water!” “shelter!” “play!” and “love.” Love!! Heidi shared Soft Side images of the 49ers Torrey Smith, and Ravens Lawrence Guy with their dogs and Officer Jon Boyer with his cat to show that tough guys love their animals. It’s difficult and potentially precarious to talk to 6-year olds about animal abuse, but students learned that it’s called “neglect” or “abuse” if someone does not meet a pet’s needs. Heidi read a sweet picture book called Buddy Unchained to reinforce the point.
Each child became a Junior Softie and was photographed with a stuffed dog or cat. They selected a pre-made tagline or wrote their own. Many could not choose and struggled to hold both the stuffed dog and cat and message board announcing they were equal opportunity Softies (the best kind). Each got a Soft Side bracelet that matched their uniform.
Then came the main attraction. Cindy let each student touch and play with the kittens. She showed them the heavy trophy that Mittens received from the ASPCA and told an edited version of how 2 boys hurt her, but that she went on to save her kittens and comfort children who are either hurt or sick. It was a lesson in good choices and bad choices. It was a lesson that kittens are not scary at all.
Humane education is not part of the curriculum of the Baltimore City Public Schools. It is labor intensive and not always effective. It requires training, experience, and skill, which are often lacking. We’re grateful to partner with someone as experienced and knowledgeable as Heidi Moore Trasatti, as compassionate as Cindy Wright, and as influential as Ravens Lawrence Guy, who has visited schools with Bubbles, his beloved pibble.
We’re the first to admit that we have no credentials for humane education. But we are deeply grateful that we’ve been invited to partner with those that do. After all, we created Soft Side after 3 sets of boys either burned or killed animals and our ultimate goal is to stop animal cruelty before it starts. Our capital is our Softies, who are the most influential messengers. We hope we’re on to something.