I'm sure that within our own small family circle most of us devote considerable time and effort to passing down our own respect for the animals that share this planet with us. They enrich our lives; we want rich lives for our next generations.
|My grandchildren enjoying some outside play time at the park.|
Today I'm concerned that within wider society we are failing at these goals. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Silent streets. Last week, Spring Break, featured beautiful balmy weather. On a two mile walk through the neighborhood with Toby, I didn't see a single person under the age of 50 outdoors. The children weren't playing in backyards. They weren't riding bikes. They certainly were not birdwatching or watching ants or playing with Daddy-long-legs as I did as a little girl. They weren't pretending to be horses, or making chains with dandelions or picking flowers for their mothers. They weren't visible at all outside.
I ask you: if kids don't play outside, how do they learn to appreciate the plant and animal life beyond their front door?
- Fear of the gentlest creatures imaginable. While teaching a zoo program in an underprivileged school I was astonished to see children burst into tears when a domestic rabbit was removed from its carrier. Some literally ran for the safety of a teacher's lap. And it was all downhill from there. Later a veteran zoo educator explained to me that for children living in poverty, the only animals they may be familiar with are rats, mice, and other vermin. They transfer the fear and loathing they've learned to feel for these animals to all creatures.
According to the National Center For Children In Poverty, 22% of children in the United States live below the poverty line. Think of this: if you struggle to feed your children, how will you cover food and vet bills for a companion animal?
- Shrimp have heads?? That's a question I was asked by a high school student several years ago while teaching Marine Biology. If you had only seen shrimp fried on a plate, would you know they had heads? Our children have a frightening level of ignorance about where their food comes from. Most have never been to a farm, been fishing or hunting, or otherwise understand that what is on the table was once alive.
Who will advocate for humane treatment of livestock and protection of the oceans if our children know nothing about the ethical, environmental, and economic impacts of factory farming, commercial fishing, and monoculture?
So what to do?
Be mindful of social justice. When almost a quarter of American children are being raised in poverty, every aspect of their development is harmed.
Talk to youngsters you meet about your pet. Your dogs or cats give you a wonderful opportunity to introduce kids to the joys of spending time in the company of animals.
Encourage children to spend time outdoors. As neighbors, teachers, mentors, and friends, we adults have a responsibility to share our own love of nature with the next generation.
Think about your own situation, and consider what you could do to help your community foster love of animals. One quick example: the amazing impact therapy animals have at schools on children of all ages.