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3 Ideas for Engaging Kids in Animal Care Service

Discover these creative Humane Society programs that engage kids in animal care service. 


Even before God created humans, he created animals. And when he created mankind, he soon tasked Adam with the first act of animal care: naming the animals. It seems that God’s command in Genesis 1:28 to “reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground” was quickly executed in this task.

Somewhere along the way, other things have taken more of a focus in the church, and caring for God’s creation has taken a bit of a back seat. But kids have a natural affinity for animals and love projects that involve caring for them. Animal care programs are a great way to obey God’s commands in a way that will naturally connect with kids.

And here’s a fantastically kept secret: The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a Faith Outreach team that’s developed materials—many of them free—that your children’s ministry can put to use. There are materials for care for various categories of animals, so you can choose what most connects with you and your kids.

Care for Pets: Fill the Bowl

You’ve probably done food drives in your ministry. Maybe you even recently finished one for the holidays. But did you know that families who need food often have pets that need food, too? And if they can’t meet the needs of their pets, families and pets may not be able to stay together—an additional hardship in an already trying time.

White dog with black sports on it's ears and eyes is laying down and holding a bowl in it's mouth.

The Fill the Bowl Project is a great solution. The project empowers kids to collect pet food to donate to local food banks. You can also use the project to support a local animal shelter.

“With Fill the Bowl, kids can do something and make a difference in their church,” says Karen Allanach, communications manager for the Faith Outreach division of HSUS. “They’re not separated from the rest of the church. They’re actually doing ministry. Kids totally relate to animals. We’ve taken that love and affinity and made a program where they can make a difference.”

Kids connect with Fill the Bowl because they readily connect with animals. It’s an easy project kids can take on as their own. Some kids involved in this animal care program have collected pet food from neighbors or asked local businesses to donate or display fliers. In many cases, kids come up with the ways to collect the food. And when kids help deliver the goods, they’re more motivated to continue the efforts to serve God through caring for animals.

Fill the Bowl in Church

Cheryl Hentz, the facilitator of the animal ministries group at First Congregational Church in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has used a variation of Fill the Bowl in her children’s ministry. Kids give their weekly offering to the local animal shelter by dropping it in a small dog-house bank. In the 18 months, the ministry has had this offering option, kids have raised close to $1,000 for food and supplies for the Oshkosh Area Humane Society. On top of that, they’ve collected nearly 2,000 pounds of food, plus additional supplies.

“We need to employ social justice to the way we live our lives,” says Hentz. “That includes taking care of others and those of God’s creation that cannot care for themselves. We also believe we have an obligation to make things better where we can and for those we can, including animals.”

Roland Halpern, a board of directors member for the Colorado Council of Churches in Denver, Colorado, says Fill the Bowl is a great place for children’s ministries to start because it’s simple for kids to get involved. He recommends timing a new campaign around Earth Day, St. Francis Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas when you can incorporate it into an existing theme.

When you order your free Fill the Bowl kit online, you’ll get one poster, two collection bin stickers, and 25 glossy postcards to hand out to neighborhoods or businesses. You can also download and print 11×17 posters and church bulletin inserts.

Care for Wildlife: Human Backyard

Dogs and cats aren’t the only critters God created. HSUS also offers Humane Backyard, a program that provides a lot of great, hands-on ideas for projects kids can do to help the animals in their backyards.

This free Humane Backyard resource is available online, and you can find a lot of great project ideas right on the website. This program also includes a “prayer for animals” prayer card and information on faith outreach and rural development programs.

The ideas in the Humane Backyard program were created by wildlife experts and include information such as how to build a pond, set up bird feeders, make space for native wildlife, plant trees, make birdseed ornaments, and more. HSUS takes ideas about God’s creation and puts them into action.

If you’re looking for more of a family-centered program, Humane Backyard is a great option. The recommended projects are great for parents to do with their kids. And because kids learn by doing, they’ll feel connected to the efforts they extend to care for God’s creation.

“People interact with animals on a daily basis, either directly or indirectly,” says Akisha Townsend, a previous member of the Integrity of Creation Committee at Church of the Resurrection in Burtonsville, MD. “But we often don’t hear about our responsibility of compassionate stewardship toward them in the context of faith. So many people are interested in issues involving animals but are often hesitant to approach faith leaders for fear that this subject is inappropriate to discuss.”

Humane Backyard is a great opportunity to address this faith issue.

Care for Farm Animals: A Pig’s Tail

Still frame of "A Pig's Tail". The Pig is staring off to the side, concerned.

There’s one way most kids interact with animals every day, even if they don’t have pets…and that’s as food. Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to where the meat we eat comes from, but this too is a faith issue.

Roland Halpern has explored this topic with kids through the HSUS Eating Mercifully program. Designed for adults, this program also has a companion video for kids called A Pig’s Tail. It’s a short, animated video on factory farming geared for kids ages 8 and up. This free video and its companion lesson are a great way to bring awareness to humane eating.

Halpern’s church passed a resolution on ethical eating, calling members to be more mindful of where the food they eat comes from. So he developed an interactive presentation for kids, helping them make connections between what we eat and where it comes from. Halpern introduces short-term projects for kids, such as “Meatless Mondays,” and asks kids to try it for two weeks.

As for the impact, Halpern says, “Hopefully kids will make it a habit of thinking about where their food comes from, discuss it with their parents, and work toward making more merciful choices when they decide what to eat.”

The Goal of Ethical Eating

The goal isn’t to make everyone a vegetarian but simply to raise awareness of the lives of mistreatment many farm animals live before becoming dinner. If kids start thinking about humane eating at a young age, they can form habits that help break this cycle. As ethical-living author Syd Baumel says, “Ethical eating, like ethical living, is not about absolutes. It’s about doing the best you’re willing and able to do— and nurturing a will to keep doing better.”

A Pig’s Tail features the voices of James Arnold Taylor and Catherine Taber from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Along with the video, you can download a one-lesson curriculum and read Q&A interviews with James Arnold Taylor. All of these materials are provided for free online and can be a great way to kick off discussions about humane eating.

Other Animal Care Ideas

  • HSUS also offers St. Francis Day in a Box. These free kits are only available from August through October (or until they’re gone!). The kit combines all of the above programs, plus Eating Mercifully, a discount code for HSUS books, a 12-part video series for adults called Living Legacy, and a copy of Kind News magazine—all in one kit. It’s an excellent way to get your ministry engaged in the topic of animal care. Put a note in your calendar to request this great kit from HSUS in early August!
  • Kind News is a magazine for kids about animal welfare. Though not specifically faith-based, it goes well with lessons on creation and is a great resource for Sunday schools interested in incorporating animal care programs. Kind News contains animal facts and ideas on how to care for animals. It’s perfect for elementary kids.
  • Every Living Thing is a reference book that’s great for church leaders. Although not for children, this guide may be helpful for you to understand the history of what your denomination says about animal protection. Every Living Thing includes statements from Pope Francis and other noted Christian leaders and professors. This book shows the rich history in Christian tradition of animal protection. It’s not a new idea! Every Living Thing is available on amazon.com.
  • And stay tuned for more. HSUS is working on Sunday school lessons that’ll help elementary kids integrate faith and animal protection issues. For more information about the HSUS Faith Outreach division, visit humanesociety.org/faith.

Ali Thompson headshot, with a dog around her shoulders.

Ali Thompson is managing editor for Group’s children’s ministry curriculum division. 

For more great ideas like this in every issue, subscribe today to Children’s Ministry Magazine!


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