Abby watching a gorilla at a distance
Apart from the observation that some children appear to be animals, this post is a commentary on how well children and animals go together.
I had the chance over the past few days to witness this fact again for the millionth time, first when my wife and I took our granddaughter to the zoo on Tuesday, and then in watching children around animals at the state fair on Wednesday. Of course, every day’s walk with my dog to a nearby park also reinforces the attraction of kids to animals and vice versa.
On Tuesday’s trip to the Louisville Zoo, my granddaughter was most anxious to see the giraffes. We headed in that general direction and soon saw the giraffes as part of our 2.5 hours of strolling around all kinds of animals. Fortunately, we caught her before she crawled under a barrier that would’ve allowed her right next to an indoor stall where a baby giraffe was feeding. (Shhhhh… don’t tell her parents.) There is a natural curiosity of children toward animals as well as a lack of fear, even when a healthy dose of fear (or at least respect from a distance) is in order.
This was my first trip to the zoo with Abby, and as animal lovers, we felt right at home. It won’t be our last.
Kids watching ducks at the state fair
Then Wednesday at the state fair we witnessed many, many animals. I couldn’t help but notice some of the small children who were members of the families who owned the farm animals and cared for them. They were right at home pulling up a chair and sitting next to their animals, walking them, grooming them, showing them, leading them, talking to them, etc. It was just as natural to those children as could be.
We also sat and watched a little bit of a horse show while at the fair, the first competition being with riders who were eight years old on their huge show horses. On a return trip later in the day, I noticed a small petting zoo area I had missed earlier. Petting zoos are child magnets as little hands reach out to touch whichever animals they are allowed to pet.
Last night while walking my dog at the park near our home, two young boys chased me down to ask if they could pet Callie. The answer to that question will always be, “Sure!” Callie knows no strangers and will befriend anyone interested in her.
Younger Abby riding Callie
It didn’t take experiences from this week, though, to teach me about kids and animals. I grew up with pets nearly all my life. My parents and grandparents owned farms with horses and cattle. I’ve almost always had a dog or two as well as a variety of other pets. Life just doesn’t feel right for me unless I have a canine companion nearby.
I think it’s important for children to have pets. So many life lessons can be taught through such a relationship. It is through having a pet that many children first learn to take care of another creature who depends on them for food and drink. The companionship of a loving pet provides joy, satisfaction and unconditional love that is not always felt in human relationships. Some of life’s toughest lessons such as dealing with grief are taught through the tears of losing a beloved pet. Respect for all of God’s creation is best taught through actual interaction with that creation rather than as a philosophical concept we hope carries over should the opportunity arise.
My son, Jason, at age 3 in 1987 covered with cicadas
So parents, I encourage you to endure the inconvenience of having pets when the children don’t keep their promise of taking care of them as they said they would when you got the pet. Allow them the chance to have some strange creatures in your home that you’d be quite content to never have inside your walls (like the tarantula I had in high school). Accept the added expense of pet food, cages, supplies and vet bills as a childhood rite of passage even though you have other things you’d rather spend your money on. Don’t freak out when kids come in the door with a shoe box or a jar saying, “Look what we caught!”
By allowing and encouraging your children to live life harmoniously with animals, you are teaching your children about some of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of our world. You are teaching them to respect life in all of its forms. You are teaching them compassion that leads them to care for others who can’t always care for themselves. You are teaching them that the world doesn’t revolve around them, but that we are part of an amazing planet made richer through frequent interaction with other species.
We need our children to grow up with a healthy respect and love for nature and all forms of life. That is most likely to happen through actual participation with nature in all its fantastic variety of plant and animal life.
Parents, grandparents, and guardians, please make sure that the children in your life have the chance to grow up with and interact with animals along the way. It has the possibility of making them better people and contributing to a better world.