|August 16, 2001
By Jennifer Martin
|Seventy children erupt in happy squeals as Randy Warner leads five
dogs into the classroom. All jerking tails and wiggling bodies, these furry educational
aids or aides, if you will are just as thrilled to see the students, as the
students are to see them.
Amid the excited chatter, Warner holds up his hand for silence.
If youll give me 15 minutes to talk, he tells the rapt audience,
Ill give you five minutes to pet the dogs.
The children quickly grow still. Warner launches into his
favorite subject homeless pets and how to help them. However, as the minutes tick
by, these first-graders begin to squirm. Finally, sensing they cant stand another
minute away from his furry troupe, Warner invites the children forward. In a second, they
besiege the dogs in a flutter of petting, scratching hands. The canines thump their legs
It always ends up going in reverse I talk for five minutes, and the kids get
15 minutes with the dogs, Warner says with a laugh. But its worth
Warner, 48, knows he has made his point there are countless friendly dogs like this
who will never have guardians to love them. From his home in Dolan Springs, Arizona,
Warner travels the Southwest United States, bringing his free presentation on animal
welfare to students of all ages.
|I dont plan to return to any semblance of a normal life
until we see a reduction in the number of euthanasias we have each year, says
Warner, who estimates 8 million dogs and cats were put to sleep in U.S. shelters in 2001
alone. Before he launched his tour last year, Warner had already gained fame in the
animal-rescue world. His high-octane campaign to save Dalmatians his favorite breed
resulted in his personally fostering 2,700 of the spotted dogs over 15 years. All
went to good homes, and Warner was featured on Late Show with David Letterman,
CNN, the Leeza Gibbons show and Hard Copy for his efforts, as well as in the
pages of People, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
||But as time went on, Warner felt overwhelmed by the heavy influx of
animals he was facing (by his count, he once had 38 Dalmatians in his living room).
I felt like I wasnt really doing enough about overpopulation, says the
former computer programmer, who now subsists on about $2,000 a year and lives on a desert
ranch. Euthanasia goes on all day long in this country. That angers
me. Believing children are more teachable than adults, Warner booked appearances at
more than 30 schools in California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.
In my opinion, the
failure of society to fully value and protect our companion
animals is its most extreme example of utter and abject
failure. Kids today literally jump at the chance to try and
solve a problem such as this - a problem that their parents and
others just couldn't seem to 'deal with'! Humane Education clubs
are already forming at schools nationwide. The 8 western states
that we have visited with this program are already experiencing
a profound impact on the lives of the animals. These students
involve and immerse themselves in finding new creative ways to
become the new frontier of the animal welfare movement.
Studies show that by offering humane education to our youth,
they develop a more sophisticated and solid moral structure and
they will come to enjoy education more, resulting in higher
attendance, more participation in the field of science, lower
drop-out rates, improved achievement scores and the adoption
of a less violent conflict resolution technique.
With older kids, he emphasizes the importance of spaying and
neutering; with younger ones, he simplifies the idea. I tell them, If you have
too much of something, you dont want to make more, he says.
So if you have a dog, tell your mom and dad that you dont want it to
Children and teachers alike seem to welcome the message. A fifth-grade class in Santa Ana,
California, voluntarily had a bake sale and raised $56 to help pay for Warners
expenses (he never charges fees for his presentation). At a private school in Albuquerque,
the staff voluntarily collected $80 for him. And at Santa Fe High School in New Mexico,
175 teen-agers voluntarily came to an after-school program at which Warner was speaking.
So far, Warner estimates hes reached 3,500 children and counting.
|What accounts for his popularity? Part of it undoubtedly lies in
his high-density message. Warner doesnt just discuss overpopulation; he also tells
children how properly to approach, train and care for a dog. And he emphasizes how large a
commitment a companion animal can be. When I began rescuing Dalmatians, I realized
that people werent taking care of their dogs properly, he says. People
would go out and get these adorable polka-dotted puppies and not realize that they have an
entirely different regimen than your average Golden Retriever.
The problem reached a crisis level with the release of the Walt
Disney movie 101 Dalmatians, he notes.
Warner also doesnt shy away from explaining the tragedy of euthanasia, even to
younger grade-schoolers. I ask permission from the teacher first, and every teacher
has given me permission to talk about it, he says. I dont dwell on it
with younger kids. I just say, Its not a happy thought, but were killing
8 million animals every year because we dont have anyplace to put them. The
kids just gasp when they hear that. Theyre appalled. With older kids, I go into it
in more detail.
At any age, I think it wont make sense why Im there if the kids
dont know that were killing so many adoptable animals each year. Warner
acknowledges that some humane educators criticize his message as too blunt. But he thinks
children need to understand the gravity of the overpopulation problem. Were
not killing so many animals in this country because we have a comprehensive humane
education program in place; were doing it because we have a lack of one, he
says. I think you have to tell it to kids straight.
||Warner believes so deeply in the power of educating children that
he lives a life of sacrifice to reserve funding for his tours.
From the generosity of supporters, Warner owns a plot of
land in Northern Arizona with a new home, a new well and plenty of
securely fenced land for all who awaits a home to run and play. He
does have a cooling system but must drive 47 miles to the nearest
grocery and claims he's getting used to it. "It does have it's
benefits'' he says.
At the end of the 45
minutes, everyone can see the eyes lighting up with questions, ideas,
thoughts of 'why'. They really 'get it'. I have but one goal for the
rest of my life. That is to change the status quo by helping to raise
a kinder, gentler next generation. I plan to continue my travels through
40 states - over 12,000 miles - with my five dogs as navigators in
the next two years, charging NO fees to groups I address. I let it all
out. I don't cover up the truth with sweet words or phrases that make a
horrific situation sound more gentle and less important. It’s not a
shelter, but a dog pound. We don’t ‘euithanise’ and ‘put to sleep’ we
kill these animals - needlessly.
The six of is will appear
before more than 1 million youth in schools across the United States,
urging students everywhere to form Humane Education Clubs in their
schools. It's important that we share the valid and proven ways to
solve these problems with those who will govern our nation in the
future. We are responsible for their learning and have an obligation to
show them it's our problem - its' up to all of us to make the correct
Americans have the
sophisticated technology and successful marketing prowess to make
miraculous changes. Put a man on the moon, cure a new disease and even
win wars in 100 days or less.. But yet, we can’t seem to successfully
convey the reality of our selfish and irresponsible behavior ‘because it
upsets too many people to hear this’. I understand that this subject is
hard to handle, but, I must remind all who turn away when these facts
and figures surface, that all those doggies and kitties that go to that
little room to be killed each day become pretty upset too. Maybe,
just maybe if everyone were to listen at least once, to the problems,
their causes as well as proven solutions, these animals could be led
outside to a new home instead..
To add to his stress, Warner found one of his dogs shot to death
in March. Her name was Punkin, and she was hanging from a tree (on the ranch) with a
pit bull jumping at her, he says. He suspects she was snatched by some drunken
people who live nearby. Warner still grieves for Punkin, but he focuses on caring for his
remaining dogs and on raising money for his educational tours.
|And Warner is not without his supporters. While traveling, he and
his dogs stay in Motel 6 hotels thanks to the permission of managers in the chain. The
National Anti-Vivisection Society donated the van he travels in, Hartz-Mountain
Corporation pays utilities and provides doggy treats and Animal Protectors of New
Mexico, Animal Defense League of Arizona and In Defense of Animals have funded some of his
tour. Assorted private parties have also donated money toward his living expenses.
Warner believes his message is powerful because children instinctively care about animals.
A school in Florida, for example, recently raised enough funds to
buy bullet-proof vests for six K-9 police dogs after a seventh was shot to death while on
duty. And in Phoenix, children in one school have come together to form their own humane
education club. The program is quickly spreading to other schools, Warner says.
Warner encourages children to form such clubs as he speaks to schools around the
Southwest. He hopes to bring his presentation to schools nationwide someday. If I
can give kids an hour of information, he says. I think it may change the way
they look at things tomorrow.
For more information about arranging a visit by Randy Warner to your local
school, contact 21st Century Cares at 702-359-0448 or email
Or go to his website for scheduling information.