- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2001

Two new friends recently joined my burgeoning household. The hamsters Peek and Boo (named by my 20-month-old) were taken in after my wife and son encountered a panicked father who needed to get rid of the little fellows. His son apparently had grown tired of the pair and wanted to release them in a randomly chosen back yard.

This way of thinking is witnessed every day and affects millions of unwanted family pets each year. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has tried since 1866 to teach humans to appreciate the animal kingdom.

The organization has created an excellent cyber-stop geared toward children to remind them about the responsibilities of owning another living creature, the work involved and the importance of cherishing life.

Animaland

Site address: www.animaland.org

Creator:

Animaland is owned and operated by the ASPCA, located in New York City, and funded in part by a grant from the Disney Wildlife Foundation.

Creator quotable:

"We designed this site to create a cyber-community of kids who love animals while educating them in a fun and challenging atmosphere," says Garth Moore, Web master for the ASPCA.

"On a single site, kids can play innovative, multilevel and educational games. They also can e-mail animal-related questions to ASPCA staff, participate in contests and learn about the latest news in the animal-welfare community."

Word from the Webwise:

Animaland presents a positive Web destination packed with fun information for children and parents. It is filled with colorful photos, backgrounds, drawings and plenty of sounds.

Quickly catching a visitor's attention will be the site's navigation pole with its eight directional signs "Big Stories," "Nose for News," "Our Heroes," "Pet Care," "Career Center," "Ask Azula," "Animal ABCs" and "Games" supplying links to stories, activities, primers and other chunks of advice for pet owners and other animal lovers.

Giving the site a little slickness, passing the mouse over any "headline" treats the visitor to an audio clip related to that section. For example, "Big Stories" offers stories on a specific species. A horse's neigh leads visitors to two stories on horses.

The first, "A Horse, of Course" provides general information on horses, and the second, "Fancy Footwork," displays a captioned slide show depicting the steps it takes to maintain and shoe a horse's hooves.

From the first story, visitors can click through to a page about horses that work for their oats, such as the carriage horses often seen in big metropolises such as New York City. Children can read the story and learn about the ASPCA's efforts to monitor horse carriages and protect the animals; they also can give their opinion as to whether they would continue to allow carriage operators to offer rides.

Animal lovers of all ages will want to proceed to "Our Heroes," which tells the stories of people and animals that have gone the extra mile for the sick or injured. An especially interesting read can be found under "Our Founder Henry Berg," which looks at the ASPCA and its beginnings 135 years ago.

A chirping cricket heralds the "Nose for News" section. I really enjoyed its vignettes about unique incidents, such as the fisherman who kept netting a blind codfish. After releasing the fish back into the water 39 times, the fisherman took the little guy to live at a marine park.

What may be the site's most important section, "The Pet Care Guide," gives visitors advice on the eight most common household pets cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits, birds, fish, gerbils and guinea pigs.

Specifically, the "411" area assigned to each pet provides a general definition, statistics about the animal and specific information on some breeds. Visitors also will find details on day-to-day care and feeding, special housing needs and fun activities to do with the new family member.

My favorite section, "Animal ABCs," highlights 13 animals, from black coral to zebras, showcasing them with editorial and video content.

A click on the panda area yields educational tidbits, such as that the giant panda eats up to 12 hours per day. What I really like about this section is the links to additional information. In this case, that means clicking over to the San Diego Zoo Pandacam (www.sandiegozoo.com.)

Other pages worth a peck, I mean peek, include "Ask Azula," which gives children a chance to submit questions to the site's mascot, a blue-and-gold macaw, and "Career Center," which highlights the work of professionals such as arachnologists and veterinarians.

Ease of use:

The site looks great but needs a speedier Internet connection, Macromedia's Shock Wave plug-in and Flash player to function fully. Navigation was a bit frustrating without a site map or search engine; once the fledgling site's content grows, things could get confusing. Additionally, I would appreciate an area explaining the plug-ins needed.

Don't miss:

Visitors can participate in some nicely animated activities found under the "Games" section. They range from "Fetch," an animated skill game featuring the pooch Buddy, to "Klara's 24 Carrot Quiz," which tests players' knowledge about animals through a very active, multiple-choice screen. Additionally, children can send animal-inspired postcards and download screen savers from this area.

Family activity:

Once a new pet arrives in the home, visitors can look under the "Pet Care Guide" for instructional cartoon video snippets on caring for an indoor cat, brushing a cat and training a dog to sit.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing, and children's surfing habits should be monitored. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).

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