There's been a lot of talk on the forums lately about people's perception & attitude toward furry family members, so I thought posting this article would be appropriate.
Molding Future Generations
By Stella J. Raasch
Many people are in awe by how many children and teenagers are flooding our juvenile detention centers. Despite all of the human service workers attempting to rehabilitate them, the vast majority continue on their paths of destruction, many of whom find prison to be their final resting place. There are several theories about why society’s children and teenagers are in this particular state of devastation. One theory contends that we currently live in a day and age of ‘permissive parenting,’ where children are the authority figures in the home; parents are either afraid to exert control and discipline, or they just choose to condone the wrong behavior by dismissing it. Another theory contends that families have experienced a dramatic shift; both the mother and father are in the working world because it is becoming increasingly difficult to live on one income, resulting in less family time and parental supervision. Other social scientists contend that the problem stems from the parents not setting the proper example; therefore, the children display the same behaviors and attitudes of their parents. From my experiences with working in the social services field, all three of these theories are applicable.
However, the parents who set a bad example for their children are allowing those cycles of abuse, neglect, poverty, and distasteful attitudes to continue on from generation to generation. This is a devastating predicament because it is very difficult to penetrate through and destroy those harmful cycles. Numerous studies show a clear relationship between early childhood exposure to violence within the home and future violence toward animals and humans. One particular study by Carslile-Frank, Frank, and Nielsen (2004) found that pet abusers generally have unrealistic expectations about their pets, show less affection to their pets, generally only communicate through commands and threats, view pets as property, scapegoat their pets, frequently punish their pets, and are more sensitive to stressful life events. The findings suggest that the abuse of animals appears to be “embedded in a complex content of attitudes, perceptions, and a belief system that are translated into actions” (p. 40).
There are numerous things that parents can do to instill a sense of responsibility, empathy, self-discipline, and kindness within their children, with regards to the family pet(s). But, in order to instill these things into children, the parents and/or caretakers must first possess these qualities. A great deal of animal abuse and neglect initially starts out with an attitude that animals are disposable creatures; property, such as a desk or a chair. If a child grows up in a home always hearing adults devalue pets by stating, “it’s just a dog” or “it’s just a cat,” then that automatically sends a message to the child that the dog or cat is not valuable, and undeserving because they are “just animals.” So, it should be quite obvious why we find unwanted dogs/cats thrown in dumpsters and dogs/cats being heinously abused and neglected without even a sense of remorse-people have the wrong perception of animals.
First and foremost, the very core of preventing animal abuse and neglect is through teaching people, adults and children alike, that family pets experience the same emotions and senses that humans do: pain, fear, joy, excitement, anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc. They have two ears, two eyeballs, a heart, a central nervous system, a kidney, a liver, etc. just like humans do. Embedding this into one’s mentality, allows them to understand how their actions affect them, since animals possess all of those similar physiological body parts. For instance, that mentality would help people understand that an untreated ear infection or a deep wound is equally painful for humans and animals alike; therefore, both need medical attention.
Imbedding this into children is a vital aspect of teaching them how to become responsible and loving pet owners. But, it is also important for parents to teach children how to interact with them appropriately. For instance, parents should teach children not to pull on their ears and tails, by helping the children picture how they would feel if they were getting their ears or tails tugged on. This is often the culprit behind dog attacks, as well as parents not providing proper supervision when their children are around dogs (there are multiple other factors contributing to dog attacks). I find it upsetting when parents think it is cute and funny when their kids ride on the dog’s back or pull their tail and ears, while the dog just nonchalantly sits there and takes it. This is not only dangerous, but it is also irresponsible of the parents. The parents are not respecting the dog’s body by providing healthy boundaries, and they are not sending a positive message to their children about how to respect the family pet(s).
Parents also need to teach children how to display kindness and patience toward the pet(s), two things that are often lacking in our fast-paced society. For example, if parents are very affectionate and express love for their pet(s), both vocally and physically, then the children are likely to demonstrate those same behaviors. However, if children see their parents being abrasive, unaffectionate, and/or indifferent toward the pet(s), then they have a strong predisposition to act in the same fashion. For example, my mother was always talking goofy-like to our dogs, rolling around on the floor with them, and being very affectionate. I am grateful that I also share those mannerisms; I learned how to interact with dogs through watching my mother who still acts the same way. Dogs are very responsive to body language, facial expressions, and tones of voice, so this an area where parents can really set the tone for how their children may interact with pet(s) in the present and future.
In regards to dog ownership, parents also are in a great position to teach their children about the responsibility involved with dog ownership through allowing them to watch and help as the dog(s) get groomed, go to the vet, as well as feeding and exercising them. Showing children how much money, work, and time is involved with dog ownership gives them a realistic view of their needs. Particularly, it shows them that dogs need much, much more from people than merely food and water. As children get older, parents should encourage them to take on more responsibility, such as brushing the teeth, bathing, cleaning the ears, brushing the coat, trimming the hair, picking up after them, and obedience training, to name a few. I have seen young boys and girls who were not even 10-years-old, helping groom their dogs and working them out in the ring at obedience schools. It is never too early to start getting them involved!
As children mature and reach the teenage years, it is then pertinent for parents to start discussing serious issues with them, such as such why routine heartworm and flea/tick preventatives are critical, the importance of spaying/neutering, how to detect and prevent common ailments (ear infection, staph infection, and BLOAT), routine veterinary needs and vaccinations, parts of their bodies that need to be routinely looked over and groomed, the importance of keeping them cool in the summer/warm in the winter, safe and unsafe humans foods, to name a few. The list of what parents can teach their children about responsible pet ownership is endless! If the parents are highly involved with the family pet(s) and encourage the children to become involved as well, then it is likely that the kids will carry those skills and attitudes with them as they become adults, because they were shown how important this is at a young age.
The more parents are willing to learn themselves about responsible pet ownership, the more they are able to, in-turn, teach their children. Providing exceptional care for pets is an ongoing learning process, and requires a great deal of time, money, patience, and a desire to learn. People who put up a defensive wall against others who can offer valuable information about other ways to go about feeding dogs, for instance, are only doing an injustice to their dogs and children. Broaden your horizons, learn about what is out there, learn from those who have education and experience with other diets, and allow yourself to think outside of the box! New information about dogs and cats is continually being brought to the public’s attention, so learn from those who keep abreast on these issues. Additionally, parents are in a great position to teach their children how to be proactive in standing up for animals’ rights by teaching them what to do if they see an animal being mistreated or neglected. Mold your children to be passionate leaders, instead of passive followers and condoners.
If one feels compelled to make a difference in this world and make it a better place to live, then set a good example for children, educate them, and get them involved with the family pet(s); let them experience the joy that coincides with living harmoniously with our furry friends. Together, we can help decrease the instances of animal abuse and neglect, and in-turn, raise a generation of responsible, loving pet owners who respect and empathize with all living creatures. This is the greatest gift you can give our children, and our country!
Carlisle-Frank, P., Frank, J., and Nielsen, L. (2004). Selective battering of the family pet. Anthrozoos, 17(1), 26-42.
PetBuzz Magazine, Sept/Oct 07 Issue www.petbuzzmag.com
, ©2007 Stella J. Raasch