Future Reflections                                                               Convention Report 2005

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Dr. Doolittle Comes to Louisville

by Jill Weatherd

Mom watches as her daughter pets a turkey held by a volunteer.
Pat Renfranz (Utah) looks on while her daughter, Caroline Blair, carefully examines a turkey.

Editor’s Note: The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, NOPBC, has a talented and diverse board. Brad Weatherd, the second vice-president, and his wife Jill are Range Managers (they live in Wyoming) with extensive experience in working with farm animals. The NOPBC treasurer, Sandy Taboada (Dr. Merchant), and her husband, Joe (Dr. Taboada), are teaching veterinarians at the Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge. Needless to say, the kids in the Weathered and Taboada households have lots of experience in raising and caring for animals. However, many blind kids are not so fortunate. So, the Taboadas and the Weatherds pooled their knowledge and expertise about animals and put together a fantastic animal event for families on tour afternoon of the NFB convention. Here is their report:

Gobble, gobble! Maaa, maaa! Moo! Neigh! Squish, (oops!). The sounds coming from the Kentucky School for the Blind on that July 6th afternoon were pure country! With the generous help of the Kentucky Jefferson County Farm Bureau under the supervision of Matt Michaud,
we were able to get over seventy-five children and adults up-close-and-personal with chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, horses, cows and goats.

We arranged this event to expose our blind kids to a variety of animals they might not otherwise get to investigate. We wanted the kids to come away knowing what each animal feels like from head to hoof, and to be able to find the various body parts of each animal. Our goal was for the kids to come away with an accurate picture of each entire animal—not just its disconnected parts. The volunteers did a great job of
handling the animals and answering questions.

Many of the kids had never had the opportunity to touch some of these farm animals before. One child, after holding a baby duck for several minutes, said she had just found out that the noise ducks really make isn’t the word “quack”. A little boy felt part of a rabbit and declared that he was holding a cat—until he felt those long ears and said “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not a cat, it’s a rabbit!”

Even teens and adults enjoyed examining the animals.

Several of the kids were surprised, and frankly “grossed out,” at all of the fleshy parts a turkey has on its head, neck, and beak. The mother goat went way above and beyond the call of duty as lots of little hands checked out her udder. I even saw the cow’s height being measured with a long, white cane!

The kids also got to hang out with many beautiful and friendly dogs from W.A.G.S. (Wonderful Animals Giving Support) of Louisville, Kentucky. The kids were impressed with all of the different breeds of dogs they got to visit. For one child who was afraid of the farm animals, these dogs were a real hit!

The California guide dog user group also came and gave the kids a demonstration of what it feels like to use a guide dog. Some of the kids said they were surprised by how fast they walked in this demonstration.

As an extra bonus, volunteers even brought around twenty interesting plants for the kids to examine. They got to experience the various scents from the plants, like mint, vanilla, and lemon. They even brought plants with a wide variety of textures, from the soft and “wooly” lamb’s ear plant to a prickly cactus.

Using a borrowed rabbit and lots of verbal description, twelve-year-old Hannah Weatherd—an award-winning 4-H club member from Wyoming—demonstrated how to exhibit the animal at a 4-H county fair.

At the end of the afternoon, there were several tired volunteers, a herd of dazed animals, and lots of happy kids who were eager to get to their next exciting NFB activity.

Editor’s Note: In preparation for this event, Jill and Brad composed a letter to the volunteers who brought their animals for this
activity. The letter gave some tips and suggestion on what the volunteer could do to make this the most meaningful experience possible for blind kids. In the chance that any of our readers might want to duplicate this activity, we’ve included the letter below. Also, Brad and Jill Weatherd are willing to answer questions or provide information about organizing events with animals, and/or how blind kids can participate actively in 4-H. Contact them at <[email protected]>.

Dr. Doolittle Comes to Louisville—Letter to Volunteer Helpers

Dear Helpers,
First, we’d like to thank you for donating your time, animals, and skills for our “Dr. Doolittle Comes to Louisville” afternoon activity. We hope this will be a fun and informative event for the kids. You may learn something, too!

We’ve written some suggestions that we’d like you to follow in working with the blind kids. Our goal is for these kids to get some good hands-on exploration of your animals, so we’ve put this list together to help us all achieve that goal.

Respecting Personal Space and Independence
Probably the most important point for you to know is that most blind people, like most sighted people, do not want others to touch or move their hands or bodies for them. It will be easy for you to understand this if you imagine how you’d feel if someone grabbed your head and turned it for you when they wanted you to look at something. You would be very annoyed and ask them why they just couldn’t draw your attention to it by saying “look over here.” Blind people don’t enjoy being grabbed any more than you would, and they deserve the same respect for their personal space. Just tell the kids where they can put their hands to begin their own independent exploration. You could say “If you reach out in front of you you’ll touch his back, neck etc.”

Getting the Picture
We want the kids to come away with an accurate “picture” of the entire animal—not just disconnected parts. This means that the kids need to do their own exploring of the
animal, from head to tail to foot. We want you to encourage the kids to explore the whole animal. Many of these children may never have had the opportunity to touch animals before (other than cats and dogs) so they will probably be experiencing your animal breed for the first time. As the blind child must make up the picture in his head by putting together all the parts touched, it is very important that you let each child take as long as he likes to touch the animal all over. The child may want to find and re-find the same part several times to verify that the picture he is making in his head is correct. Some kids may come back to visit your animal several times. The children may ask you “Is this the ear?” Before answering, ask them “What do you think? Is it on her head? Is there another one just like it?” This encourages the children to make their own picture by locating parts for themselves.

It’s good, especially with the younger children, for you to point out which part of your animal the child is exploring as he does it. You might say, “Now you’re going from her neck to her shoulder.” If you are giving direction, use verbal descriptions instead of pointing or saying “The ear is over there.” You might say something like, “The goat’s horn is about eight inches to the left of your left hand.” or “If you slide your hand more to the right you’ll touch her tail.” Don’t insist that the child touch things when you first mention them since they may want to explore in their own way and time. You can, however, remind them to check out something a couple of minutes later e.g., “Now, do you want to look at his funny curly tail, long mane, etc?”

If possible, try to make sure each kid explores the animal’s back, rump, tail, back and front legs, belly, chest, neck, head, eyes, ears, mouth, nose/beak, feet, and especially those parts of your animal that make it unique (duck’s webbed feet, cow’s udder, pig’s snout and curly tail).

Encouraging Reluctant Touchers
If a kid seems really reluctant to touch the animal, tell them a little about your animal. For example, “This is only a baby calf so he’s not very tall. He comes up to your chest. He has lovely soft hair and a very soft warm nose. And, he’s got lovely big brown eyes and he’s looking right at you now hoping for a pat. If you reach out your hand you could pat his back”

Remember, children who can see get information about things before they are expected to touch them. They see that the feathers or fur looks soft, that the animal is reaching its head toward them for a pat, etc. This information tempts children to reach out and touch. If the child is still reluctant, it’s sometimes helpful to ask if he wants to put his hands on top of yours as you move your hands to an area. Then you can say something like, “Oh, this is so soft, prickly, fuzzy etc. do you want to feel it?” and the child will most likely take his hands off yours and touch the animal. You can then remove your hands and encourage him to explore the animal.

Use Your Own Judgment
Remember, you are there to keep good control of your animal and also to encourage the kids to explore the animal. You know your animal and how it will respond, so, please use your own judgment when supervising the interaction between each child and your animal. We want the kids to experience each animal safely.

When it’s all over, it would be great if you could help clean up after your animal. We’d really like to leave the school grounds as much like we found them as possible. We’ll be there to help, too, and we’ll have trash bags on the site.

Again, thank you so much for your willingness to help with this event. We truly appreciate it, and so will these kids!

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