As an elementary school teacher for ten years in North America and teaching children in Hong Kong, Australia, and Japan, I’ve come to understand that a child’s behavior towards him or herself, others, and animals is intimately connected to the way they have been treated by the adults in their lives. Too often, when I’ve witnessed a child being cruel to another on the playground, when I’ve seen them spit, hit, or bully another child, it later becomes clear that that child has himself been the victim of bullying, neglect, or another form of abuse. Children are the ultimate imitators – whether or not we are aware, they are constantly watching the behavior of the adults in their lives to learn patterns of behavior for themselves. And sadly, when adults in these young children’s lives are abusers, too often, children tend to become abusers themselves.
The American Humane Association clearly documents the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence, and has found that “71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32% reported their children had hurt or killed animals.” Further, “68% of battered women reported violence towards their animals,” and 75% of these incidents occurred in the presence of the children to psychologically control and coerce them.
Children who have been abused tend to imitate their parents behaviors in an effort to re-direct their anger onto another victim. And because pets live most frequently in homes with children, with 64.1% of homes with children under the age of 6, and 74.8% of homes with children over the age of 6 having pets, animals can become the ancillary victims of children’s re-directed hurt and anger.
Bob Ferber, former Animal Abuse Prosecutor and Los Angeles City Attorney, states that the FBI has found that animal abuse is one of the greatest indicators of future violence. He notes that because of this strong connection between child abuse and animal abuse, we need to do all we can to help prevent animal cruelty. To learn more about Bob Ferber’s incredible work, please watch the 7 minute video below.
In all my work with children, it isn’t uncommon for me to witness or to hear stories about children interacting with animals in a way that might not seem humane, but often, children just don’t know any better, or haven’t observed a positive model for how to develop a kind and compassionate relationship with the pets in their lives.
How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed In the Classroom teaches children to act in compassionate ways towards animals by helping children to understand that just like us, dogs have feelings, and that dogs can feel lonely, scared, and vulnerable, just like we can. We teach children that it isn’t ok to hit or hurt a dog when he or she makes a mistake (and it’s not ok for us to hit another person when we are angry with them). We help children to understand that it is our responsibility to take care of our dogs’ unique needs by ensuring that they have fresh water and food every day, by teaching them that they need love, companionship, and a warm, clean, and comfy place to sleep. We teach children that dogs need to see their own kind of doctor, a veterinarian, not only when they are sick, but to help prevent them from becoming sick, and that dogs need to be spayed and neutered so they don’t have unwanted puppies who later end up in shelters – or worse.
But we don’t stop there. This program also encourages the parents of these children to become more compassionate towards animals by engaging them in weekly “BoneWork” challenges that provide a natural extension and application of the lessons their children are learning at school. For example, the children are challenged to write a list of 5 ways they will show love and appreciation for the animals in their life that week, and then receive a star from their parents for each action they take. The parents are also challenged to show love and appreciation for their children in 5 ways that same week. Encouraging this ongoing cycle of love and compassion offers families a positive model for how to shift from possible pain and neglect to empathy and respect for the incredible and vulnerable animals in their care.
As Mahatma Ghandi so eloquently said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” To learn more about How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed In the Classroom and to find out how you can get this program in your child’s school, please click here.