Youngsters learn to appreciate animals as pets

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:14

    Goshen-The Goshen Historic Track offered more than horse races last Saturday. Visitors to its annual Youth Day and Animal Appreciation Day had a chance to cuddle a rat (with or without hair), say hello to some rescued dogs, or watch a cowboy work his lasso. A few takers, mostly kids, petted rats from a rescue operation in Middletown. Jan Berlin, director of Everything Animals Resource Center in Bullville, teamed up with Sheree Biro of Great Pets Rattery for the occasion. "I love rats," Berlin said. "We're trying to extol the virtues of rats because the idea is if you can change someone's idea about a rat, maybe you can get rid of other prejudices." Rats are "fabulous pets," Berlin said. "They're better than hamsters and gerbils. These guys are normally friendly." Berlin is a certified teacher with 25 years of classroom experience teaching about animals. . "We have all kids of critters, but the rats are the way coolest," she said. Ferrets, which were a craze in years past, aren't the best pets, Berlin said. "They're wonderful and I've had them, but they're perpetual kittens. They just never grow up. They need a lot of attention." And mice just don't have the personality of rats, she said. "Rats, on the other hand, aim to please. They're more like a dog in terms of you being able to train them," she said. The downside is that rats have a short life span, about two to three years. One of Berlin's rats, Cream, is allowed to roam around her house, where she keeps 45 pets. Cream uses the cat's litter box and eats out of dishes. On the more traditional side were dogs rescued by Glen Wild Rescue, including a redbone coonhound that the organization's director, Liz Keller, adopted last summer. Jackie Geoghan and Katie Brosnan, 12-year-olds from Warwick Valley FFA, pitched their organization. Although it used to be agricultural centered, FFA now stresses leadership and skills like public speaking, parliamentary procedure, and job interviews. They welcome members in grades 6-12 with no background in agriculture. Warwick is the only school in Orange County that still has an "ag" program with an active Future Farmers chapter.