Monday, August 24, 2015

The trouble with being too young

P. loves animals. Not only does she love animals, they also love her. She has quite a knack with them. She's calm, respectful, and has absolutely no fear. (And that's even when faced with a horse who would rather take a bite out of her rather than be tacked-up every week.) Because she is not yet 16, and can't get an animal-related job, she thought she would look into volunteering at an animal shelter. I thought this was a great idea and that she would be a great addition to any volunteer team. I mean, who wouldn't want a calm, responsible, hard-working young woman who was willing to work for free?

Evidently everyone.

She has spent hours researching various animal shelters looking for someone who would be willing to take her on. With every single one of them, the requirements are essentially the same: must be at least 16 years old and have some parental accompaniment. So, I wrote some emails. I explained that I understood their policy, but then pointed out the reasons why she would make a good exception to them, offering to bring her (and me) in for an interview if they wanted to get to know her and see her in action. I also explained that having a parent come along wasn't really an option for us. Not only do I literally not have the time, but if they want me to come with her, then, they would also get six other children who are not quite as calm as P. Pretty much the response was the same. We would love for her to volunteer if her parent is willing to come along. Um, I guess they didn't really read my email.

So we are frustrated. P. is frustrated because it really does seem like a completely arbitrary age cut-off and can't understand the purpose behind it. (Frankly, I can't either.) I am frustrated because I know she would love this and I can't figure out how to make it work. There is very little this child asks for and unlike some of her more vocal brothers and sisters, she is not loud about her desires. When she does mention something, I listen, because it is the equivalent of another child following me around and badgering me for days on end.

If I felt as if there was some logic to the restrictions, I might be more understanding, but I fear there isn't a logic to it. Rather, I have a sneaking suspicion that once again, our society devalues what young adults in their teens can actually accomplish. That once again, there is the assumption that they are not capable of real work with real value and that all they are good for is doing school work. No wonder we have so many lost and aimless teens... we refuse to give them responsibility and work that actually matters. (And no, I don't believe that school and school work are all that important, but that's a post for another day, I think.)

So here's my plea, particularly if you are in the Chicago area. We are looking for an animal shelter or some sort of animal/wildlife rehabilitator who would be willing to give P. a chance as a volunteer. Yes, she is young, but I believe she would excel at this. Heck, she would be getting herself there on her own, via public transportation or bicycle. If she can navigate the city on her own, surely she can volunteer, right?


Anonymous said...

I'm not in your local area, so I can't give any specific recommendations. But I work at a science museum that had some animals as well. We do have some younger volunteers. That might be another place to look.

AHH said...

Many n
ature centers have under-16 volunteers as well, though the animals often aren't that interesting. And there's always pet-sitting.

My guess is that underage kids working at animal shelters would be prohibitively expensive to insure. I can also see the reason for requiring parents there: too big a risk that parents would just drop off kids who weren't really up to the job and who would require too much supervision. Soup kitchens have the same rule. These organizations are generally so under-funded and short-staffed that just getting through the day is hard enough without making exceptions for kids. Frustrating, yes, but P will be old enough soon enough...

thecurryseven said...

I figured it was for liability reasons, but it says a lot about our society. I know for a fact that not quite 20 years ago, our local animal shelter allowed 14 year olds to volunteer as I have a friend whose daughter did just that.


AHH said...

An individual wildlife rehabber might be a good choice, as you suggest--though possibly tough to find at this point now that that most of the baby birds are fledged and the mammals aren't having as many litters. I know that wildlife rehabilitators have to be licensed by the state, but at least in my state I don't think there's an age requirement for assistants. A person with 7 baby raccoons living inside her house can definitely use an extra pair of hands!

If there's an Audubon facility in your area, they should have a list of rehabilitators whom P. could contact. And the DNR pages on the Illinois government site may have names too.

FWIW, it's legal to raise starlings, sparrows, and snapping turtles without a license...

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