He checked himself one last time in the mirror. He thought he looked clean-cut. He practiced his smile in the mirror. He practiced looking sad. He knew from past experience this would work; it always worked. He would elicit empathy from his targets. He knew the secret to his success was to incorporate enough truth from his real life into his heart-breaking tale.
He looked at the children. He paused and said, “Want to see a picture of my dog?” He had sought an image he felt might engage the children. He found it and several others readily on a shelf of blank note cards.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked the children. He knew the dog really was pretty: a well-groomed golden retriever, seated on its haunches, holding some sort of blue/purple flower in its jaws, the contrast of colors perfectly captured by the camera. He watched as the eyes of the children focused on the photo.
“Her name is Belle,” he said. “Why do you think my wife calls her Belle?” he added. Always throw in the idea of a wife, he said to himself. That family unit thing lets the kids think I’m just a regular guy.
The little girl said, as he hoped, “Because she looks like a princess. Just like Princess Belle.”
He smiled at her. “That’s right. My wife loves the movie Beauty and the Beast. She thought Belle would be a great name for our dog.” He paused to let that sink in. He needed to paint a more complete mental picture of “his dog” for the kids. He took what he thought of as qualities of dogs he had owned or friend’s had owned or ones he had read about. He knew to keep the photo of the dog front and center, not to break the kids’ attention on “his precious pup.”
“Belle is a great dog,” he continued. Smile, he thought. Don’t forget to smile. “Why, she would want any one of you pet her. You would be her new best friend. She is so gentle my wife takes her to nursing homes to visit some people once a week. Belle even goes to hospitals to see children who are sick. She makes them smile. She even likes to sit down and have those children read to her. When she leaves, she wags and wags her tail and gives each child a big wet kiss. Can you imagine?” He watches as the children bob their heads in agreement. Now, he thought, now for the real heart tug.
“Belle has one problem, though.” Start frowning, he said to himself. “She is very afraid of loud noises. She is really a scaredy cat with them. She can’t stand thunder. She runs and hides in my closet or in the bathtub when there is loud boom. Fireworks? Oh my, oh my! Fire crackers make her run around in circles, looking for somewhere to hide.” Look sad now. “Yesterday, my wife and I had Belle groomed. She looked so sweet. Our friend asked us to bring her over so she could see her. We put Belle out in our friend’s yard. A couple of fire crackers went off next to the fence. Belle got very frightened, jumped at the gate. It opened and she ran out. By the time we got outside we couldn’t find her. My wife was in tears. I’m going to go look for her.” Now set the hook. “Would you like to help me bring Belle home? I’ll give you a reward.”
The children said, “Yes!”
This storyline is one we have developed at the Foundation for our school presentations. Imagine this done in front of 100 or more children at a time. Now consider the fact that we get almost unanimous response from the students when we ask for their help. As one teacher gasped when she saw the terrifying agreement to help a stranger, “I can’t believe it. We talk about this all the time. I can’t believe they fell for it.” Fall, they do!
According to a news report, the abduction of the two Amish girls in Oswegatchie, NY, was facilitated by the abductors having a dog in their car.
Go over the story with your children or wards. Emphasize the need for your child to stay more than an arm’s length from a stranger, never to approach a stranger’s car for any reason, never to accept any handout or gift from someone they do not know. Practice and instill in your child the first response you want from them when they are approached by a stranger-he/she must get home, get to somewhere safe, where there is a trusted adult.
School’s open. These lessons do not require textbooks or manuals. The only requirement is that we talk to the children about these issues, any time, any place.