Children and Animals – there’s more to it than you might think…

“One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” ~ Margaret Mead.

“Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger or arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

When you get to know the children at risk in Jaco, there’s something that you will probably observe pretty quickly.

It’s animal abuse.

These children will throw rocks at dogs, tease them, kick them, hold them under water without hesitation and they will laugh.

Why do these children do this? I’ve heard others comment that these kids just need some discipline, someone to get them in line so they know what’s right and wrong.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

In reality when a child abuses an animal – it is a signal that the child is deeply disturbed and needs help. Animal abuse by a child should be considered a warning that a child may be experiencing some form of psychological or physical distress.

Most commonly, children who abuse animals have either witnessed or experienced abuse themselves.  For example, statistics show that 30 percent of children who have witnessed domestic violence act out a similar type of violence against their pets.

Even scarier, children who abuse animals are at risk of becoming violent toward people. Nearly all people who have committed a violent crime have a history of animal cruelty.

When children’s needs are not met at a young age, and they don’t receive the caring and nurturing required in infancy and toddlerhood, they have trouble developing empathy.

Children’s compassion towards animals is related to their empathy towards humans.

These children often also walk around with a deeper sense of anger at not having had their early dependency needs met, and they will take that out in all kind of ways.

Sometimes when kids are hurting inside, they try to make themselves feel better by hurting other people or animals, something smaller than them that cannot defend itself.

When they kick the dog, for instance, it makes them feel more powerful. It dulls the ache in their own heart. But only momentarily.

In the end, though, this doesn’t work, and they end up feeling even worse.

We have to recognize that children who deliberately abuse animals are crying out for help.

So what do we do at our program when we see children abusing animals?

We start by making our program a kind one. Leading by example is the most powerful tool. Our efforts to rescue a spider, feed a bird, pet an iguana or care for a hamster make a lasting impression. By modeling and demonstrating empathy, we help develop empathy and compassion in these children for people and animals.

We like to incorporate animals whenever possible. We’ve had children help care for aquatic turtles, hamsters, and most recently our dog, Lucy.

When  I observe the children interact with Lucy at first they are very aggressive. They tease her or try to hurt her in some way.

I make it a point to help each kid get to know Lucy. The child usually laughs uncomfortably, and then I see underneath the tough exterior, he is afraid of the dog.

And then he confesses that he’s never pet a dog before. Sure, he’s tortured dogs, but never actually pet one. And so we sit as I instruct the child to let Lucy sniff his hand and then we pet the dog together. It is a very healing experience.

It’s interesting, too that studies have been focusing on the fact that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that helps us feel happy and trusting. It also helps the body be in a state of readiness to heal and grow new cells.

How amazing that there are so many benefits for children spending time petting a dog!

Creating new pathways in the brain that open a child up to experience compassion and empathy, and a release of the powerful hormone oxytocin,which makes a child more receptive to love and healing.

Have you pet your dog today? 🙂


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2 Responses to Children and Animals – there’s more to it than you might think…

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