Compassion studies for Concord Academy students
This spring, a group of students from Concord Academy — a private Massachusetts boarding and day school for grades nine through 12 — traveled to the Sanctuary to spend their spring break studying the fine art of compassion.
Compassion is exactly what motivated faculty leader Kem Morehead and co-leader Kim Crawford Harvie to organize the trip. Kem is a math teacher who loves math, but she also has a dream to ignite a passion for animals in her high school students. She wants to help this up-and-coming generation to understand animals, to care for them and to be motivated to help them. With this in mind, she began planning a trip for her students to visit and volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
Concord Academy students prep for Sanctuary visit
Kem and Kim weren’t looking for just any students willing to go on a spring break trip. This trip was geared toward young people who truly love animals and were enthusiastic about the chance to get some hands-on experience helping them. There was prep work to be done, to make sure the students fully understood the purpose of the trip and some of the challenges facing homeless pets.
Interested students attended a two-day class on animal welfare, taught by Kem and Kim. They also wrote an essay explaining why they wanted to come work with the animals at Best Friends, and what it would mean to them to do so. Winning essays were chosen, based on how thoughtful the student was about animal welfare issues and the possibility of spending time at the Sanctuary.
A personal desire to help pets
Sixteen students (freshmen through seniors), were selected for the trip. Sophomore Laird Donohue says that he’s always loved animals and that before applying for the trip he watched a couple of documentaries on animal cruelty.
“Then I looked into Best Friends and read about some of the animals there,” says Laird. “I don’t think animals should be hurt. They didn't do anything (harmful) toward humans or the earth.” After learning about some of the Sanctuary animals who’ve had difficult pasts, Laird says, “I wanted to help them.”
For some of the students, that desire is personal. Anmol, a junior, became interested in animal welfare after her family rescued a puppy from an abusive household. “Her story broke my heart,” Anmol says. “I couldn’t understand why someone would do that to an animal, and (my dog’s) story inspired me to help animals.”
Laird, Anmol and the other students were game to help in any way they could. They cleaned rabbit rooms, washed dishes, folded laundry and pulled weeds in dog yards. Kem and three of the students gathered in a room at Cat World to receive cleaning instructions from a caregiver. Then they set to work brushing off cat bedding, wiping down shelves, cleaning litter boxes, sweeping and mopping.
After days filled with hard work, students enjoyed some downtime taking a few very happy dogs (including Mufasa, a handsome red Akita mix who likes to cuddle) on outings and sleepovers.
Building a compassionate community
Helping animals not only made the students feel good, but it also gave them a much-needed break from the outside world.
“These students are under a lot of pressure at school, and social media provides even more pressure,” says Kim. “But I haven’t seen their phones come out here except to take pictures. It’s more important to them to cuddle with the dog they brought home for a sleepover. They are deeply engaged with the animals and with each other, and they are building a community of people who can tell what's really important.”
Jessica Kuh, a faculty advisor who eagerly volunteered for the trip, points to the therapeutic nature of spending time with animals and doing some physical labor. “I think (this trip) is great for the students. It’s great for them to spend time outdoors with animals doing physical labor. It’s outside of their normal experience.”
“I had heard a little about what Best Friends is doing and wanted to help out,” says a sophomore named Elizabeth. “It’s been amazing. Even before (we started) working with the animals, we could tell it's a really good place and that the animals are in good hands. It’s been incredible to be here.”
And finally, from Anmol: The Sanctuary is a relaxing, beautiful, magical place and I’m grateful for the experience.”
Photos by Molly Wald, Kurt Budde and courtesy of Kem Morehead