Homework That Saves Animals

Mar 16, 2011 4:20pm

ABC News on Campus reporter Suyun Hong blogs: When Jessica Nittolo first visited Venus at the Austin Pets Alive animal shelter, she was not welcome at all.   Photo courtesy of Jessica Nittolo. “She [Venus] was so mean and defensive and very scared,” said Nittolo, a freshman at the University of Texas.  Nittolo says that didn't stop her from visiting again. She eventually befriended Venus, one of the two cats she helped to save by writing an adoption biography. It was all part of her freshman English course called Leadership, Ethics, and Animals. In the class, new to UT last fall, students write biographies for homeless pets waiting to be adopted at the Austin Pets Alive animal shelter. “It was a really unique class. Every day we would meditate before we started and my professor was really into this animal spirit thing, so we all adopted our own animal name and it was quirky and interesting,” Nittolo said. Professor Jerome Bump, who has been teaching English for nearly 40 years, said he asked his students to adopt animal names for themselves so that they can truly sympathize with the animals in need of adoption. Nittolo's animal name is ‘Cat.’ "It's called the sympathetic imagination — the ability to put yourself in the position of another being. If you have this, you can be a moral ethical person, if you don’t, you can’t be a moral or ethical person," Bump said.  Perhaps that so-called sympathetic imagination may have helped Nittolo become one of the first students to see both her animals get adopted. “I was really excited. I felt like I had actually done something to help Venus get adopted and it was a really great feeling to know that because of my class animal lives were being saved,” Nittolo said. Bump estimates that two-thirds of the animals his students profiled last semester were adopted, and he has high hopes for this semester. When the university created new curriculum requirements mandating freshmen take one course with leadership and ethics, Bump decided to create a course that combined writing with leadership and ethics. “I thought the perfect thing was to have them write a plea about a dog or a cat whose life depends on it,” Bump said. Bump is not new to saving animals. He is the proud owner of two longhorns, one donkey, two mustangs, two pigs, three dogs, and three cats. So the partnership he created with Austin Pets Alive, a non-profit animal shelter that saves animals on the euthanasia list at Town Lake Animal Center in Austin, comes as no surprise. Students in Bump’s class submitted biographies imagined from the animal’s point of view and they were published on the Austin Pets Alive homepage, something that Nittolo believes can help Austin attain a record a no-kill month for the first time. Austin's no-kill status is determined by the percentage of animals that are saved from Town Lake's euthanasia list every month. Last February, Town Lake Animal Center hit the 92 percent barrier — surpassing the percentage saved rate required to become a no kill city. “That is the record high for Austin,” said Sarah Weinstein, public relations manager at Austin Pets Alive.  “In addition to it being the highest ever for Austin’s Town Lake Animal Center, it's also the first month it has been no-kill."  The success comes after nearly three years of work by Austin Pets Alive, but Gretchen Meyer, public relations director at the shelter, is quick to add that it’s too early to make it official. “Because there is such a fluctuation in intake and prospective adopters throughout the year, I think that a full year is probably needed above 90 percent to be an official no-kill city, said Gretchen Meyer, public relations director. “But if we can stay above 90 percent throughout the summer months, when intake is higher, I think we'll be safe in calling ourselves no-kill.” And Bump already has his sights set on the future. He hopes to expand his class into a study abroad course in Africa, where students would write biographies to save wildlife there. “Study abroad is the most powerful educational experience so if I can combine it with this exercise, then I think it can be really powerful,” Bump said.

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus