Guest blog by Emily Schneider, a proud mom of two feisty Yorkies and a two-year-old living in the Garden State. Emily works in media and public relations for the ASPCA. Find her onTwitter.
I read recently in a New York Times article that doctors are encouraging parents to read aloud to their infants from birth, as it enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills in children. I also learned that reading has benefits for shy or timid four-legged family members as well.
I asked ASPCA animal behavior experts if reading is a good socialization activity for dogs nervous around people, and found out that reading helps fearful dogs become more comfortable with people without forcing interaction. As an individual reads out loud, he or she is focusing on something other than on the dog. In turn, the dog grows accustomed to the person’s presence and voice, which is much less intimidating than being handled or stared at (see the ASPCA’s article on canine body language. If you have a dog who is terrified of people or specific individuals, you may want to seek professional help to find out how to help reduce your dog’s anxiety.
Reading is also a good activity for those who aren’t yet skilled enough—e.g., my two-year-old son—to handle a timid dog. If there’s a choice between playing with your iPhone and reading a book, encourage your kids to go for the book and make it a family activity. You might be surprised by the results, as I was—my dogs Olive and Mikey sat quietly nearby while we read a story about Splat the Cat. Our next book? Skippyjon Jones, a story about a irrepressible Siamese cat who thinks he’s a Chihuahua.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
Happy birthday, dear Moose! Our chocolate Labrador is turning eight, and we are planning a birthday party for him. With family, friends and neighbors’ special dates to remember, I must admit that our dogs’ birthdays have sometimes slipped through the cracks. But this year, Moose is getting the royal treatment. Here are three reasons why you should celebrate your pet on his birthday, or anniversary of adoption, too:
Fun for the whole family: What child is not gleeful at the thought of a birthday party? Let your kids create decorations, plan refreshments or shop for an edible gift for your pet. We once held a festive 100th birthday party for our first dog, Choco, estimating this milestone when he turned 13.5 years old. Typically, though, our “parties” have entailed singing “Happy Birthday,” giving our pup a chew stick gift and sharing a few extra hugs.
Special attention for your pet: In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, sometimes our pets don’t receive extra helpings of attention. Here is one day to shower him with the love you feel but might not always have the time to show.
Along with the 30 men and women we visit weekly, I will sing “Happy Birthday” and eat a cupcake in my pup’s honor. I’ll get to share the love I feel for him with others. For both Moose and me, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Guest blog by Kathleen Makolinski, DVM, ASPCA Senior Director Shelter Medicine Service and Shelter Research and Development. Kathleen gradu¬ated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. After working as an associate veterinarian for five years, she served as Director of Veterinary Services for a non-profit animal shelter. Since then, Kathleen co-founded and served as president of Feral Cat FOCUS, a community advocacy group for free-roaming cats and co-founded Operation PETS, a stationary spay/neuter clinic in Western New York.
I am very fortunate to have an 8-year-old son named Charlie who is very eager to learn about every type of animal. Given his seemingly insatiable curiosity, my husband and I search for opportunities for Charlie to interact with and build respect for many kinds of animals. These opportunities often include summer day camps, books from the library and internet research, as well as visits to nature centers, animal shelters and museums.
One great way Charlie has learned about animals is in his classroom at school. These “classroom educators” have included a bearded dragon, a turtle, a betta fish, African clawed frogs, finches and gerbils. Students in Charlie’s class provide these pets with regularly scheduled feedings. They also learn about the animals’ anatomical features and how such animals live in the wild. Together, Charlie and I have learned about these animals’ nutritional, lighting and temperature requirements. We have implemented environmental enrichments and shared newly discovered information with his fellow students and his teachers. This summer, we are caring for Charlie’s classroom’s turtle, Zippy.
It’s important for teachers, parents and students to consider the following questions before acquiring a pet for the classroom:
How will classroom pets be obtained—from a shelter, pet store, student or teacher, or from the wild? What are the ramifications of each choice?
Where will animals go and who will provide care during breaks from school?
Is the classroom’s ambient temperature appropriate for the animals when school is not in session?
Who will finance food, habitat furnishings and veterinary care?
Are related zoonotic diseases—contagious diseases spread between animals and human—understood and are steps taken to minimize them?
Are allergen sensitivities adequately addressed?
Given the numerous demands on teachers, do they have enough time to maintain animal habitats?
Although there may be great educational benefit for students who have animals in the classroom, some animals may be better suited to this environment than others. Perhaps students and animals can optimally benefit from a mix of interactions with classroom pets, animals who visit occasionally and during field trips.
Have you or your children interacted with classroom pets? Please share your experiences in the comments.
Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for over 10 years. Danielle also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find her on her blog, Some Puppy To Love, Twitter, or Facebook.
For my kids, summer equals water: the pool, ocean waves and even the garden hose will ensure sunny day amusement. Nearly every day since school ended has involved time spent in the pool. Our dogs, Hayley, the Chihuahua, and Django, the Lab, enjoy accompanying us to the pool. They sit with us by the water and join the party. They snack, run and play, so we thought they must want to swim, too. Especially Django—her breed is known to enjoy the water.
Dogs will naturally start “dog paddling” when they find themselves in water, but that doesn’t mean that they can stay afloat for any length of time, that they like being in the water or that they can safely swim.
To see if our dogs would even enjoy being in the water, we bought a child-sized pool, filled it halfway and placed Hayley in the water. She swam across it, paddling her little paws non-stop. She really seemed to enjoy it. But Django wanted to get out of the pool immediately. She didn’t like the water and didn’t attempt to swim. Later on, we let Hayley in our 4-foot pool with my daughter staying right by her side, ready to intervene if she needed help. Hayley made her way across the pool and then we took her out. She was one proud and cool girl.
Every dog is as individual as is each person, and although dogs of a specific breed may embody similar personality traits, they certainly won’t display every characteristic of their breed. The most important thing as a pet parent is tuning into your dog’s individual personality—just as you do your child.
In this blog series, Sharon Discorfano, Esq., a Government Relations Intern at the ASPCA, will discuss her experiences with helping her nephew make food choices for better health and animal welfare. For more information about Sharon’s animal-related projects, please visit sharondiscorfano.com or follow her on Twitter @shadisco.
Now that Nicky’s getting older, our family has started seeking opportunities for him to meet farm animals by visiting animal sanctuaries. The beauty of visiting sanctuaries is that visitors interact with animals who live in natural settings that allow them the basic freedoms and care all animals deserve. Additionally, each animal comes with his or her own compelling story. Our own little Nickster prays at night for “Nick the horse who got burned” in a barn fire. When children have an opportunity to give a pig a belly rub, or pet a chicken, or rest a hand on a cow, suddenly what’s on their dinner plate has a name and a face. For those who choose to eat animal products, this instills a desire to ensure those animals were treated as humanely as possible.
Here’s an example of how incorporating healthier choices can be simple, empowering, and fun for kids and adults alike:
My parents watch Nicky after school, and they usually all have dinner together. My parents, who are not vegetarians, have chosen to participate in Meatless Monday to reduce meat consumption by committing to one meat-free day each week. Nicky was absolutely delighted when we suggested he be “in charge” of Meatless Mondays at the house! In the beginning, it was mostly about reminding Nana and Papa to order a pizza—hold the pepperoni! Now, his role has expanded to more creative meal planning for Monday night each week. Go, Nicky!