High School English Teacher
Miriam Rachelson is a teacher at San Ysidro High School who enriches her students’ lives with animal education — both in person and online. She’s hosted classroom visits from pets, arranged Google Meet lessons focusing on topics such as animal-related careers and helped pilot a program at her school to provide resources for pet families in need. In our Animal People interview, Miriam explained the impact her dogs have had in her own life and why she thinks it’s important to share her compassion for animals with her students.
I had a miniature schnauzer, Sprinkles, growing up. My first dog as an adult was also a miniature schnauzer, whom I named Trigger. I had him since he was a puppy and the impact he has had on my life is immeasurable. I just lost my best friend Trigger, who was almost 16 years old, this April. The pandemic was a gift in a way, because I was able to spend a majority of the last year of his life with him.
Trigger’s zeal for life was evident as a puppy all the way through to his last weeks. He was always active, either walking and exploring or playing tug of war. We spent our downtime together cuddling and the only times I would move him was if his beard tickled me. He’s a big part of the reason I’m so active; he was always go, go, go. His personality came through with his full-body mohawk, his gentle demeanor and his schnauzer bark. We watched thousands of sunrises and sunsets together on our walks and at the dog beaches.
Being kind and caring for animals is a common trait in my family. My cousin, Susan Friend, has a dog and cat rescue, Golden Years Dog Sanctuary, where she rescues senior dogs and they can live out their lives on her horse ranch. She inspired me to adopt my second dog, Flynn, when he was 10 years old. Trigger and Flynn taught me many lessons, and my connection with them inspired me to find more ways to give back, including fostering dogs with Second Chance Dog Rescue where Flynn is from.
I absolutely love being a teacher and I also love pets, so being able to combine those two passions has been incredible. As a teacher, I talk about my dogs because they are my kids and it is also a way to connect with my students. Just like me, many of my students’ pets are their lifeline and serve as a constant source of happiness.
Every weekend we would go to the dog park in Ocean Beach and we made friends with a San Diego Humane Society employee, Stephanie, and her dog, Odie. She told me about the Humane Education program, and I knew I wanted to get involved. The program is great and we were given the opportunity to have classroom guests in the form of rats, hamsters and a dog. The smiles, giggles and joy I saw on the faces of my 11th grade English students were priceless. They learned about taking care of animals as well as animal careers and services that are available.
These visits were the highlight of the year for many of my kids, and I think that years from now, they will remember these visits from the animals. As teachers, we don’t just dole out information; we get to help shape students into well-informed and caring young adults. I never take this privilege for granted and instead see it as a huge opportunity to educate kids on being better pet owners and humans who are respectful of all animals and also the planet.
Teaching from home through the pandemic with Trigger and Flynn has made the year quite special. We went on dog walks, met lots of neighbors, played quite often and I learned how to teach and grade with Trigger sitting on my lap! My students have also said that their pets were often their refuge — pets really are amazing!
This school year, we transitioned to virtual visits with San Diego Humane Society and were able to see behind-the-scenes tours of animals available for adoption, Project Wildlife and the Kitten Nursery. This was a sort of pet therapy for all of us. Seeing the pets virtually had a profoundly positive effect. Additionally, we learned about pigs (and how smart they are) from “The Last Pig” film, trash and its harmful effects on the ocean, recycling and how animals can serve many more purposes than just food. Many students even changed their habits as a result of these lessons.
As a teacher, I don’t always know what a student is going through outside the classroom. I can create an environment in my class that is welcoming, educational and positive, which I can confidently say is reflected in the atmosphere at San Ysidro High School. I have lots of students who want to work with animals as a career when they are older. I have also learned that not everyone has the background knowledge to care for their pets.
Since the start of the pandemic, I have worked with San Diego Humane Society to help launch a monthly dog, cat and rabbit food distribution at my high school, which has served hundreds of pets. We also started a free microchipping event, serving almost 100 pets. Helping to keep the pets of San Ysidro High School families fed and safe means happier students. Happier students leads to a better society for us all. As a teacher, that’s the most I can hope for.
We’re so grateful for Miriam and other teachers who bring education and compassion for animals to the next generation. Thank you, Miriam, for helping bring lifesaving pet resources to your students and the community at large!
Published: May 3, 2021