Teasing, Cruel Behavior Must Be Stopped Early

By Fleming, Alexandra Rockey | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Teasing, Cruel Behavior Must Be Stopped Early


Fleming, Alexandra Rockey, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Humane educator Cory Smith sometimes leads a class with a role-playing exercise. She talks to the fifth-graders, using hypothetical numbers, about how much room the Washington Humane Society's shelter might have to house unwanted pets.

"Say we have 50 occupied cages or runs, and we impound 20 animals in one day," she begins. "Let's figure out what to do next."

Participants are assigned roles - there is the cute kitten, the sick poodle, the aggressive pit bull. What should happen to each of these animals when there no longer is space at the facility? Send it to a different shelter, suggests one child. Nope, no room there, either, replies Ms. Smith. Find it a new home? Nobody wants it, says Ms. Smith. One child suggests sending it to a different country.

"They come up with every option, and we go through all the motions," Ms. Smith says. "Finally, one student ultimately will yell out, `Kill it' And we agree on it."

Much of humane education is focused on responsibility and sound decisions, Ms. Smith explains. She presents euthanasia, for example, not as a solution but as a symptom of the problem.

"Yes, this dog had to be euthanized. So, what can we do to prevent this from happening again?" she asks the children.

"When we finally do decide what to do with an animal, the children get really upset," Ms. Smith says. "Many feel angry about it, and some feel really sad. Even the toughest kids withdraw somehow."

"Children have a natural affinity for animals," says Lisa Lange, director of policy and communications for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "It's only when adults step in and teach children it's OK to hurt animals do they change their viewpoint. The lessons adults must teach instead are that animals have value and the capacity to suffer. This must be considered so the child may grow up to be a more compassionate person."

Psychologist Barbara Boat agrees. "Most of pro-social behavior, which is what compassion is, is learned," she says. "You have to live in an environment where it is modeled and reinforced."

Behavior specialists agree that many young children hurt animals unintentionally. …

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