My name is Gillian Bird and I have been with the Dublin SPCA since 1998. I set up and have been running the Society’s Education Department since 2000 and during that time I have give thousands of talks to people of all ages throughout Dublin and the Republic of Ireland. The Dublin SPCA education service teaches people about the importance of caring for animals in general, especially pets, through talks in schools, workshops and tours of the animal centre in Rathfarnham. Over the past 11 years, the education services has become a very popular choice with teachers and youth leaders and as a result each year see an increase in the number of talks and tours given.

I really enjoy my job and get to meet so many people and learn about their likes and dislikes when it comes to animals. It is amazing the different types of animals that young and old are often scared of from hedgehogs to chickens, cats and rats. Part of my job is to teach these people about the importance of each animal in the environment, to teach compassion and how each animal, even down to the humble spider or wasp, has its part to play.

Beckham the DogOne of the best parts of my job is that I bring my education assistant – Beckham the Dog – with me to every school talk. Beckham is a Labrador/greyhound cross and he adores kids and visiting the schools and youth groups. He wears a very smart blue harness with DSPCA embroidered in gold and a navy lead with his name on it. Beckham was removed from his owner on 4th March 2002 because he had left him in the back garden to slowly starve to death. He was so thin you could see all his ribs and he could hardly stand up because he was so weak. He was named Beckham after Pop singer Victoria Beckham who was known at the time to be very skinny herself. Beckham’s cruel owner was brought to court by the Dublin SPCA and after a short court hearing, the Judge ruled that the owner be banned for life from ever owning a dog and was fined €150. Beckham now lives with me and has a large family of three rescued cats and two kids so he gets lots of ball throwing and walks at the weekends.

As well as giving talks in schools and to youth groups, I am often asked to give talks to groups such as crèches, third level colleges, Mother Union groups and I have even gone into some of the prisons in Dublin to give talks to the inmates about pet care and the work of the Society. These are very interesting talks and it is often through working with these groups that the most impact can be made, especially in the prisons, where many of the inmates are avid animal lovers and the presence of a living creature like Beckham can be a great distraction and even a motivation.

Some of the topics I cover in my talks are often not thought of as relevant until you look at the broader picture. Topics such as where our food comes from and how farm animals are cared for; how shopping for products that are not tested on animals can make a difference; how it is not right to attend events that use animals as entertainment can all help animals in the long term and teaches the importance of empathy for all living things, people and animals alike. With the younger children I focus a lot on Empathy and run a simple session to teach them that animals can feel the same things we can such as hunger and thirst, heat and cold, being scared and excited and of course that they can feel pain. I hope that by teaching children such  basic concepts at a young age it will help with the humane education in the future.

I think that I am very fortunate to have a job that gets me out and about meeting such a diverse group of people while discussing topics that are close to my heart such as responsible pet care including microchipping and neutering, and the broader aspects of environmental topics such as recycling and being compassionate to wildlife. It is very satisfying to know that I have reached a huge number of people and have made a difference in how they think about their relationships with animals and how they as individuals can help.

For primary schools, we have a variety of different programmes we can discuss with your class and we will tailor each program for the age group of your class. We have programmes for 4-7 year olds, 7-10 year olds and 10-12 year olds. A brief outline of these programmes are available on the Primary Schools Programme section of our website. We also run Animal Centre Tours at the Dublin SPCA. Tours are free and tour visiting hours are Monday – Friday between 10.30am to 3.30pm but must be pre-booked. Please ring our Education Department at (01) 499 4700 or email education@dspca.ie to make a booking. We unfortunately cannot accept any groups without an advance booking. We also have numerous Teacher Resources available for download including tips on care for many animals as well as games and wordsearches.