Raising animal lovers

KELLY EDEN-CALCOTT explores the benefits that fostering a love of animals can have for our children.

Growing up, my sisters and I had a farm’s worth of animals scattered around our small suburban property. Dogs, cats, mice, rats, guinea-pigs, lizards, frogs, fish, birds and bunnies – we had a lot of pets! Even if you can’t accommodate as many as we did, there are certainly some very good reasons for helping your children foster a love of animals.

Many living situations make pet ownership difficult but there are other ways to include animals in your children’s world. For a whole year my daughters and I volunteered as SPCA kitten cuddlers. For an hour or two each week we spent time patting and cuddling cats and kittens to socialise them, preparing them for their new families. It was great for the cats, some of which came in fairly wild, but had many benefits for my children too. Their fear of cats disappeared and they became compassionate and ‘tuned in’ to the animals. They learned to take a very gentle approach with the scared ones and be very observant of the cats’ signals. The volunteering experience led to us adopting two cats of our own who are adored by my girls.

Starting off with bugs as pets is another way to introduce animals. Snails are great! Or simply observe, or catch and release caterpillars, ladybugs, and spiders.

The empathy and social skills children learn when caring for animals translates to how they treat others as well. Animals require gentleness, responsibility, and putting yourself in others’ shoes – does kitty like that? Research has shown that children benefit greatly from interactions with animals especially in their development of empathy for others.

Animals can benefit children emotionally too. Companion animals have fantastic benefits for us both mentally and physically, including reduced stress, according to numerous studies. Clearly there are just some things that are best talked out with your dog.