It’s a horrific story you’ve probably heard by now–how two young boys allegedly set fire to their cat, who miraculously survived and is now up for adoption at a local shelter. The boys have been charged with animal cruelty in juvenile court.
The story is disturbing on many levels, not the least of which is the parents’ claim that the boys are “mentally disabled.” If so, we wonder how they got access to lighter fluid and matches, and why pets were left unsupervised in their care. (The family dog allegedly suffered the same fate and didn’t survive.)
We bring up this story simply to inject a note of caution. It’s not uncommon for kids to be cruel to animals in less extreme ways. Ever heard someone boast that their dog sits placidly by while the baby pulls its tail or ears? Everyone champions the dog’s patience, but few think to ask why the baby is allowed to behave this way.
Kids and pets go together. No one disputes that. But pets deserve respect and loving treatment from all family members, not just those who know better. Young kids don’t understand how fragile an animal is, nor that the animal experiences pain. (It takes a few years for them to understand that about other people, let alone animals.) Kids pull a cat’s fur or climb on a dog’s back; even a kind child can unwittingly injure a small animal, and any pet can be driven to defend itself if tormented long enough. Older kids may simply let go of the leash or forget to close the backyard gate.
This isn’t the child’s fault. It’s a parent’s job to teach the proper care and handling of an animal. Guide your young child’s hand in stroking a pet, particularly a small one. If a child doesn’t understand “gentle,” have her practice on a stuffed toy until she gets the idea. Always supervise kids and pets, and enforce strict rules against teasing and manhandling. This ensures safety for both child and pet.
A young child also shouldn’t be responsible for a pet’s safety. She’ll forget to give the cat water on a hot day or leave the hamster’s cage door open. Don’t assume that because your kid is smarter than your dog that he’s more responsible. Chances are, he isn’t.
Most tragedies involving pets and children are avoidable. Bottom line: Pets don’t teach children to respect life. Parents do.
Posted by Claire M. Caterer