Last month in St. Louis, a 10-year-old boy used a belt to beat to death his docile Pomeranian-mix dog. A boy in summer camp boasted that his unspayed cat had given birth to more than 20 kittens. A woman brought her tabby to the veterinarian after a dangerous infection developed beneath the cat's constricting collar, which hadn't been replaced since it was a kitten. And a dejected family tacked up "LOST DOG" signs on telephone poles around the neighborhood, wishing too late that they had bought a tag for their spaniel's collar. These true incidents, piteous and shocking as they may be, illustrate problems caused mainly by ignorance and misinformation rather than malice. The 35 volunteer teachers in the Humane Society of Missouri's Docent Program educate the public in an effort to prevent abuse, neglect and overpopulation and to promote proper pet care. Last year, docents gave 140 lively presentations on these topics to nearly 3,000 children, most of whom were elementary-school students in the city of St. Louis. The docents taught more than 500 children and adults in a series of Pet Etc. classes, such as "So You Think You Want a Dog?" and "Safety with Animals." They instructed and entertained more than 150 children at the Kids for Critters summer camp, which included a field trip to the Humane Society's large-animal-rehabilitation center. And they mentored junior-high, high-school and college students in a pilot service-learning project. The docents work days, evenings and weekends, joining volunteers from other area animal-welfare organizations to spread the message of compassion and respect for all living creatures.