Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is co-author of Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified animal therapist in the New York City-metro area with her dog, Moose. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
I had some doubts about Moose, my chocolate Lab, when I first had the idea of signing us up to become an animal therapy team. Though he was a good dog, with a good heart, I found it impossible to envision him as any other pet than the jumping, barking, crotch-sniffing pup he was at age two.
At each weekly visit, I marvel at Moose’s gentle attentiveness to our patients, who are adults suffering from schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. He stands calmly at a patient’s side, letting him stroke his fur, scratch him behind the ears or reach around his chest for a hug. Meanwhile, as a bystander, I am never surprised to feel a familiar lump in my throat grow while I watch the magic of his brand of therapy.
What qualities makes Moose (and other therapy animals) a wonderful partner? He does not discriminate in his friendliness but likes humans of all races, ages and genders. His Pet Partners trainer referred to him as “bomb-proof,” which means he is not startled by the unfamiliar. He adores attention, and soaks it up from family members or strangers alike. Moose makes eye contact and holds it for several seconds before looking away. When he gazes into my eyes I believe we are, in that moment, sharing in a feel-good loop of happiness. Likewise, when he looks up at our patients, I hope that they, too, are having their own “Moose moment,” where happiness is both given and received.
National Therapy Animal Day is May 18, which also marks our six-year anniversary of volunteering. Moose turns nine this summer and my birthday wish for him is for many more years together as my Pet Partners partner.
Every animal in the world has the right to live without fear of being hunted, tortured or abused. In our own homes, so many of us treat our pets in the same way we treat our children, and they are considered to be part of our families. Like children, pets need our protection. They are fully dependent on us for food, good health and safety.
My hope is that society realizes animals need our protection and that we work together to ensure that animals are treated with care, become vigilant about animal abuse in any shape or form and punish those who harm animals. Unless we are mindful of their interests and speak out loudly on their behalf, abuse and cruelty go unchallenged.
We can each do something to make the life of an animal better. Here are some ways to help animals right now:
Report Animal Abuse Reporting animal cruelty is vital because animals cannot help themselves; it is our duty to step in.
Adopt From a Shelter Most pet store puppies come from puppy mills and every time we patronize a store that sells puppies (even if we only buy food or pet accessories), we help fund puppy mills where mothers and puppies are bred and often kept in filthy and devastating conditions. There are countless pets waiting to be adopted at shelters in every state in our country. Visit the ASPCA’s Adopt section to find available dogs and cats in your area.
Support Animal Welfare Organizations There are so many organizations that do outstanding work to help animals and they all need our support. By donating just the cost of a few cups of coffee per month, you can help fund food, medical care and basic necessities for many animals.
Teach a Child to Love Animals Children learn so much from having pets. They also learn how to treat animals from their parents and family. When you teach a child that animals are beautiful beings that need our protection, you not only change the life of a child, but also of every animal that child encounters over a lifetime.
Volunteer Shelters need people to help, plain and simple. Most are publicly funded and just do not have the manpower needed to handle the large volume of animals they take in. You can walk dogs, clean cages and help prospective adopters. Every little bit helps when it comes to helping get homeless animals into permanent homes.
Speak Up Join animal organizations to help pass humane laws to help improve the lives of animals. Get vocal on Twitter and Facebook, join online groups and attend meetings in your area. When speaking with family and friends, let them know ways they can helps animals as well.
Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor toVetstreet.comand other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site,Crayons and Collars.
Many parents will be faced with the inevitable request from their kids: Can we get a pet? If you determine that your family is in a position to take on the responsibility for a cat, dog, bird, guinea pig, rabbit or other animal, you’ll have to determine where to acquire your furry new family member.
Adding a pet to the family can help children continue growing into caring and empathetic adults, and pet adoption has many benefits.
Set a precedent. Teaching kids that adoption is a wonderful way to find a new family member will help perpetuate that attitude throughout their lives.
Introduce societal issues. Adoption introduces children to an important issue in our society—pet overpopulation. It also gives them an opportunity and the experience of helping to make a difference by adopting their own pet, which provides a valuable lesson for any child.
Teach compassion. Introducing a child to a pet who has had a difficult start in life can help a child develop compassion for another’s plight.
Lead by example. A common misperception is that shelter pets do not have homes due to behavioral or health issues. Adopting a wonderful pet and introducing him to family, friends and neighbors can go a long way in changing people’s minds.
Show that everyone deserves a second chance. Adopting a pet who needs a new home is a great way to illustrate to kids that circumstances are sometimes beyond our control, even if we’ve done everything “right.” While a cat or dog may not have been a good fit for his former family, he’s getting a second chance at love with yours.
Pets are great for kids in many ways, and pet adoption offers a unique opportunity to teach children important lessons that will last throughout their lives. Visit the ASPCA’s Adopt section to browse adoptable dogs and cats in your area.