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Why pets are good for children.

Pets and children seem to go together as naturallyas love and affection. As a mother and a veterinarian, I've had many opportunities to watch and to join in the fun between young people and animals.

During a recent talk I gave about pet care, three- and four-year-old preschoolers gathered around me to hold and to pet the kitten I had brought. Hands shot up as the little ones related stories about their own pet gebils, rabbits, parakeets, dogs and cats.

One year, I broguth white mice, guinea pigs and embryonic eggs to my daughter's class. First graders marveled at the tiny life within the opened shell of the eggs, and I was faced with a tough question from the audience about the survival of the little chicken thus exposed. Young children have such a reverence for life!

Whenver I talk with young people about their animals, I remember my own childhood pets such as Rosie, my first Jersey calf, and Henry, the injured bantam rooster I nursed back to health. These animals and others had a lasting impact on my life and my decision to become a veterinarian.

The bonding between children and animals can be very strong, and bonding that occurs early in a child's life is usually sustained with other animals and people throughout that individual's life.

Pets can be even more important to young people today than they were in my own youth. Today's child is alone much of the time because of changes in family structure and in lifestyel due to the increase in divorce, single-parent homes and working mothers.

Pets are loyal companions who serve to alleviate loneliness. A "latch-key" child often needs the reassurance that a living individual is at home waiting with anticipation and a friendly bark or meow when he comes home from school in the afternoon.

Animals give and accept love and affection with no strings attached. They offer feelings of warmth and closeness through touching or petting. A young child can learn about texture by feeling the fur, feathers or scales of an animal. A pet in the house may also stimulate a chidl to crawl or to walk as he attempts to follow the pet. Anolder youngster may be motivated to seek knowledge by studying pets.

Pets teach children about life and birth, as well as about death and the grief process. Children who experience and express grief within a loving and supportive family may develop coping skills that will prepare them for losses occurring throughout life. Grief in chidlren may last a shorter period than it does in adults, yet children tend to escape reality by denial. Young people should be allowed to express their grief for an animal that has died. Often, comfort can be derived from burial of thepet or from drawing pictures and writing essays about the deceased animal.

Pets stimulate responsiblity and build individual self-esteem because they need us. Children develop nurturing attitudes, as well as improved social skills, when caring for a pet. Training a pet teaches youngsters about time and patience. Stressful events in a child's life, such as a divorce or a move, can be buffered by the child's relationship with his animal friend. Pets can also comfort an ill or dying child exposed daily to a hospital that is full of machines and unpleasant medical apparatus.

Much ahs been written recently about the beneficial effects of animals on human physical and psychological health. Children need to feel respected, needed and loved by others. And pets can fulfill those important needs. Animals are sometimes used to treat sevrely withdrawn, emotionally disturbed and abused children.

Dr. Boris Levinson, a clinical psychologist, was one of the first health professionals to report the therapeutic benefit of contact between young peopel and pets. In the '50s, Dr. Levinson discovered the positive of fect of his own dog, jingles, on a severely withdrawn boy. The boy was about to be institutionalized when he and jingles met by chance. Through playing with jingles the young man regained his interest in the world around him and later became a successful physician. Dr. Levinson's work, which includes research on the benefits of animals for the treatment of autism, a severe emotional disturbance of childhood marked by an inability to form relationships, continues today.

Children with physical and mental disabilities often lack self-esteem and confidence. Horse-riding, for instance, can increase feelings of self-worth and power. Such physical control of a nondisabled creature can be used by the child as an extension of self and increase his coordination, mobility and skill. Even if the handicapped youngster can only sit on the horse's back while led by another, the movement of the horse's muscles and the swinging motion of the horse's back are transferred to the child's body. The patient's muscles are alternately tensed and relaxed and circulation is thereby improved.

PArents, teachers, friends and veterianrians can nurture a positive relationship between children and pets. We live in a throw-away or disposable society, and the shocking statistics of animal humane shelters across the united states reveal that people often view animals as throaways, too. We must foster our children's natural reverence for life. That entails giving them the responsibility for selection, care and training of a pet.

Pets represent different things to different people. A beautiful, purebred St. Bernard romping in the snow may conjure up a beautiful image, but if you live in a small apartment or condominium, you would be wise to steer your younster away from that type of selection. Determine the prerequisites for a pet that will fit your family's lifestyle before you make a selection. Investigate teh training and care needed by the animals you are considering. Libraries are filled with good books on subjects varying from feeding a budgie to house-training a puppy. Chldren's dog training and horse-riding classes are available in many areas. Foster your child's sense of responsibility for the pet. Many children can benefit from the lessons learned while caring for a pet: how to respond to its needs; the right time to apply discipline; the often onerous task of cleaning up after the pet, as well as keeping it well-scrubbed and groomed, healthy and presentable.

I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Leo K. Bustad, veterinarian and expert on the human-animal bond. Dr. Bustad emphasized the need for educational programs, beginning at preschool and continuing throughout the chld's formative years, taht stress the various aspects of responsible pet ownership. Dr. Bustad has helped to develop such programs in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia.

We have only just begun to explore the complex bond between people and animals. With our guidance, children can receive many character-building benefits from their animal companions. Who can deny the love on the face of a young girl as she strokes the silky muzzle of an old, gray mare or the joy and the laughter of a boy as his dog races headlong across a field after a frisbee?
COPYRIGHT 1984 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:learning responsibility & caring
Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1984
Words:1163
Previous Article:Life and death.
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