“I am sometimes asked “Why do you spend so much of your time and money talking about kindness to animals when there s so much cruelty to men?” I answer: “I am working at the roots.” – George T. Angell (1823-1909)
I am not a huge animal person. I was attacked by a pack of dogs in 1999 in Thailand and have never fully recovered from that experience. I am terrified of dogs. As hard as I try to overcome this fear, it grips me still.
Having four boys I have this understanding that pets are going to need to be a part of our lives. I mean four boys, come on, they’re going to need a dog, right? But the thought has just never felt appealing to me.
There’s also the work factor. For the last four years I have felt overwhelmed just trying to feed, bathe and clothe these boys. The task is monumental and overwhelming.
I can’t imagining adding care of another living thing into this mix.
So, we’ve started slowly on the pet journey. Our first attempt at caring for a living “animal” was our ant farm. That actually ended up being a lot of fun. I even shared a few “tips” for making an ant farm – hee hee.
The next pets were hermit crabs. It was easy because we live by the ocean and just made a simple habitat at home for them. This was really cool because we got to see them change shells, grow and all kinds of stuff.
Our next project was tadpoles. We just scooped a bucketful of tadpoles from a pond in town and kept them in a tank. We fed them pond muck from the pond we took them from and watched the transformation take place. It was pretty amazing seeing over 100 tadpoles turn into little frogs. We released them back into the pond.
Well, this year we got our first furry pet – a little hamster. I bought him on a whim when we were in the mall and it was the best purchase I ever made. The boys named him Raphael, and call him Raph for short.
This little hamster has wiggled his way right into our hearts.
It’s the funniest thing, I never would have expected that owning a hamster could be so impacting.
When we first took him home he was a baby and very skiddish. We looked on You Tube for videos of how to tame hamsters. The boys were all scared, so I ended up taking the lead in taming him.
Every night we took him out of his cage, put him in a box and played with him. We worked hard at getting him to eat out of our hands and become used to being handled.
Now, several months later he is the sweetest, most tame hamster I have ever seen. Even our two year old knows how to hold him gently. He never bites, in fact he seems to really enjoy us.
Kai says that Raph is his best friend.
There is something about that hamster, but holding him and petting him is so relaxing and calming. I can see it is soothing for the boys as well.
In addition to the hamster we have two little semi-aquatic turtles. These are easy to keep here because we live in a tropical climate. Each morning Ezra and I bathe them and feed them, then put them out in the sun for the day. At night we bring them back inside.
They are so stinkin cute!
Caring for our pets is now part of our daily tasks. Kai cleans Raph’s cage and keeps him fed and watered. Ezra and Jude care for the turtles with my help.
One of my favorite things is sitting out back with my morning cup of tea feeding the turtles with the boys.
It’s our favorite chore.
I wanted to share this because I feel in a lot of ways caring for these animals has enriched our lives. In fact, I think caring for animals can be very beneficial for children (and adults).
Here’s what I’ve observed:
1. Having an animal gives children a sense of responsibility.They have to grow and stretch themselves to be able to care for another life.
2.Having an animal builds empathy. Children begin to think about how the animal might feel, or how a certain action they do may impact the animal positively or negatively. It helps them learn to take another’s perspective.
3. Having an animal gives the child a sense of importance. The weight of the responsibility they carry gives their life a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Someone is relying on them for food, comfort and care.
4. Having an animal helps children regulate emotions. I don’t know if this is a fact or not, but it seems that the physical act of holding and petting an animal, feeding it and taking care of it is a very soothing activity. It brings an inner calm to the child, a routine, a way to settle down, move slowly and gently, breathe deep, relax and enjoy.
5. Having an animal teaches children about love. Watch this video posted below. It’s about a man’s last moments with his dying dog. He talks about how his dog impacted his life and what the dog taught him.
He went through a dark time in his life and says about his dog, Oden, “I needed to go through what I needed to go through and he was there the whole way through, man. From the beginning to the end. (crying) Completely unjudgmental. He would just lay there next to me like it was another day. He knew when I was hurting.”
“He showed me through his example how to love and I loved him. I don’t think I showed him how to love, I think he showed me how to love.”
And again he says about Oden, “He showed me unconditional love and by that I think I learned to love people a lot more.”
What about you? Do you have any pets? Why or why not? And what do you think your children gain from caring for animals?
*Since writing this post we have a new addition to the family – click here to find out who our new pet is!