Children at Westminster Preschool learned just as much as their adult teachers about caring for puppies and kittens Monday.
Eva Sippel, who is in charge of shelter community relations and volunteers, and seven members of the Volunteers of the Burbank Animal Shelter brought several kittens and a Labrador puppy and talked about pet safety. The youngsters, ages 3 to 5, were shown how to approach a dog they don't know and how to hold and pet an animal.
"I believe it's important to teach kids how to approach an animal so they are not afraid and they can learn what wonderful friendships exist between animals and people," said Sippel, who is a volunteer. "It's a wonderful gift."
Mary Seward of Glendale, who was picking up her son, Luke, after the session, said youngsters learn a lot by having pets.
"We have a kitty in our home, and sometimes Luke squeezes it too hard because he loves her. He has to understand it's alive and he is much bigger than she is," she said. "I don't think children realize how much power they have because they are smaller than most people around them. And it's better for him to hear it from someone else."
Children need an early introduction to pets because it helps teach them responsibility and respect for pets, Seward added.
"If you have an animal in your life, you have to treat it as a family member," she said.
The Burbank Animal Shelter offers the educational outreach for younger children only through its volunteers because there is no official funding for it, said shelter Supt. Brenda Castaneda.
"We hope to teach them how to care for a pet at home or approach a dog they might not know and other general safety rules," she said. "Some kids might not grow up with pets in the home. So by our teaching them how to care for them and respect them, hopefully it will carry on to not only respecting animals but each other."
On instructing the children that one should ask a dog's owner for permission before petting: "Let them smell your hand first, and then pet them gently on the head," Sippel told the class. "Don't run up to them; use your walking feet."
Several youngsters took turns petting the black Labrador puppy.
Justin Nastell, 3, announced he had a dog.
"A cockapoo terrier mix," he repeated a couple of times proudly.
In another room, Sippel asked if the students wanted to name the puppy. Several called out names until they settled on Star.
Khaty Fallah, co-director of Westminster Preschool, said she hoped the volunteers would come back more often during the school year.
"It was really great," she said. "They really enjoyed it. We love for the shelter volunteers to bring the pets to class. I didn't know about how you have to have the dogs smell your hand before petting them."