The day dawned chilly and bright. We were up with the sun that morning, operating in full gear. Today was the day we had volunteered to man the Baltimore County 4-H Rabbit Club table at the World Pet Expo, and when you’re an excited 6 year old girl, being late is not an option! We packed up our gear: one furry blue mini lop on whom the world revolved in Abby’s eyes, one large coffee for Mama, various treats for all of us, and two bright red camp chairs. We loaded the van, found parking behind the pole barns, set up the table just in time for the crush of pet owners, and took a breath. We were ready, and they were, too!
Hundreds, upon hundreds, of pet owners and enthusiasts, trickled, marched and were dragged past our table. There were dogs in carriers, dogs on foot, and one petrified cat riding on a man’s shoulders. Despite the signs requesting some distance, many dog owners brought their pets right up to our bunnies for a sniff. The rabbits held their likes champions and didn’t bat an eye as the canines took a closer whiff. But the magic wasn’t in the dogs. Or even the crowds of consumers. It was for the kids. The 4-Her’s to be more specific.
Gone was the shy child who doesn’t like to play at other houses, and prefers all her friends to come to hers. Gone was the girl who was intimidated by strangers, and doesn’t know what to say. In her shoes now stood one very proud, very confident, rabbit owner who was more than happy to do her 6 year old best at educating the public on rabbits.
Now she spoke freely, smiled widely, and rarely looked to Mama for help on what to say. With her best bunny in front of her, a fellow 4-H friend beside her, and an enchanted crowd around her, this child stood straight and did what she came to do. Share her love of bunnies with the world, and they loved that bunny right back!
It didn’t matter if any of the hundreds of people who stopped by the Baltimore County 4-H table to pet the bunnies ever went on to become bunny owners themselves didn’t matter. Yes, many of them shared tales of rabbit ownership themselves as children, and a few fondly recalled their 4-H membership days. But watching our 4-H kids grow in their confidence, communication skills, and animal care knowledge right before our eyes, was fantastic. It was why we were here. The club is fun. Sharing your pet is fun. But teaching strangers, as a child, is empowering! And she nailed it.
We hated to leave, the day flew by, but our precious bunny was stressed, and it was time to give our spots at the table to another family with a love of bunnies, and children desperate to share them. They day had been a raging success. Our chests swelled with pride as we packed up our camp chairs and headed back to the van. We came, we shared, we taught, and we conquered!
By Beth Schmidt, Baltimore County 4-H mom