On Behalf of Their Animal Friends: Involving Children in Animal Advocacy: Since Time Immemorial, Animals Have Been Serving Human Society in at Least Three Broad Roles: As Teachers, as Healers, and as Companions and Friends
Pattnaik, Jyotsna, Childhood Education
Children and teachers in 750 kindness clubs (organized by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, WSPA) in 32 African countries are actively involved in coordinating rural animal clinics and participate in clinic activities including the treatment of these animals. (WSPA, n.d.)
Blanca Villarreal's class at Austin Elementary in Harlingen, Texas, collected and recycled plastic ring tops from soda cans to prevent seagulls and other animals from becoming tangled in them. (The Humane Society of the United States, 2003, 3)
The two news items shared above bear testimony to children's commitment to the welfare of animals. Animals have occupied a central place in the physical and emotional lives of children across cultures, as is evident in a gamut of animal-related products, places, and hobbies that are of interest to children, such as books, videos, software programs, stickers, toys and games, live and virtual pets, zoos, and sea worlds.
Since time immemorial, animals have been serving human society in at least three broad roles: as teachers, as healers, and as companions and friends (Pattnaik, 2004). As teachers, animals have been used as symbols to convey cultural wisdom and moral lessons, as reflected in proverbs from various cultures and such stories and tales as Aesop's Fables and the Jataka Tales (from India). Animals' potential role in children's educational and emotional development is gaining wider acceptance. Teachers in many countries have begun to include pet animals as integral members of their classroom communities. Animals also have served the role of healers in ancient cultures as well as in modern medical practices. Originally developed by Boris Levinson, an American child psychotherapist, the technique of "pet therapy" is frequently used in hospitals, nursing homes, and with children all over the world. Dogs also are used as companions for children with special needs (Hart, Hart, & Bergin, 1987) and for people who are blind. Children's authors around the world have championed the companion aspect of the human-animal relationship. John Heffernan's (2001) My Dog (Australia's 2002 "Children's Book of the Year for Younger Readers") is set during the crisis in Kosovo and centers around the optimism and courage of a boy whose only companion is a dog he rescued from a dying man. The dog serves as a constant companion to the boy amid the horrors of war.
While both ancient and modern cultures emphasize the importance of animals to the human society, we are witnessing rising incidences of cruelty towards animals and growing endangerment of the world's animals and the ecosystem. Although some governments and animal advocacy organizations are acting to protect the welfare of animals, many feel the need for proactive measures, especially those that concern educating and involving children in animal welfare and advocacy activities.
NEED FOR INVOLVING CHILDREN IN ANIMAL ADVOCACY
Many recent publications have focused on the benefits of child-animal relationships (e.g., Jalongo, 2004; Melson, 2001; Myers, 1998). Using the child-animal relationship as an important mediator, the author will argue the need for preparing school children as caring, compassionate, and eco-friendly individuals.
Benefits of Child-Animal Relationships
Researchers in the United States have reported a host of benefits that accrue from the child-animal relationship, including the developmental benefits (Poresky & Hendrix, 1989). According to Levinson (1972), pet ownership provides young children with many advantages to their development, such as tactile stimulation through touching a pet, physical development through following a pet (by crawling, walking), and enjoying a pet's unconditional love and acceptance. Through cuddling, stroking, and touching pets, children nurture their sense of love and affection. Relationships with pets allow children opportunities to test their own capacities for gentleness, empathy, cruelty, and indifference (Hindley, 1999). …