A few years ago I was visiting with my parents on their back patio when I noticed a neighbor boy throwing kittens high into the branches of a tree. When I stormed the neighbor’s yard and confronted the child (grabbing the kittens before the next toss), he said he just wanted to see if they would “stick.” Dad left the car he’d been working on nearby, and when informed how his son had been entertaining himself, looked at me as if confused by my outrage. “They’re just cats,” he said. “What does it matter?”
For years I had visions of that boy, grown, standing over his father’s aged, emaciated body, a sack of bones jutting against skin covered in bedsores, and telling the rest of the family, “He’s just an old man. What does it matter?”
Children learn values, including the value of life, from the example their parents set. Children generalize. Lessons learned about animal life will influence their attitudes toward human life on some level.
How much is that doggie in the window?
Few children can walk past a pet store window without crying out, “Mommy, can we get a puppy?” Even the most determined parent can be lured in by the fluffy ball of fur staring hopefully back through the glass. But what are you teaching your child by buying a puppy from a pet store or a breeder? Here are a few possibilities:
1. That life is a commodity to be created, extinguished, bought, sold or traded for profit
2. That like all commodities, life has a finite dollar value.
3. That the value of life is determined by looks and pedigree, not what’s inside
4. That life is replaceable. If it is lost, you can always buy another
5. That love and devotion don’t have to be earned; they can be bought
The adoption option
Parents can teach their children an entirely different set of values by adopting a pet from a shelter or a rescue group. Adopting a dog instead of buying a dog for your children reinforces the value of life. It teaches them:
1. That all living beings are worth saving
2. That taking responsibility for a living being is a lifetime commitment
3. That the value of a living being is not determined by looks or registration papers
4. That there are second chances in life
5. That love and devotion don’t come with a price tag
The wisdom of a child
A dear friend of mine, who has rescued multiple horses, dogs and cats in recent years, shared with me a conversation she had with her nine year old daughter about buying a dog versus adopting a dog. The daughter said unequivocally that she would rather adopt because “Those dogs need help.”
When asked what kind of dogs she’d expect to find at a shelter, the little girl said, “The same as at the pet store. The same exact dogs that were at the pet store, but then got thrown away.”
Wise beyond her years, this nine-year old understood what so many adults fail to grasp: That buying a dog is about the disposability of life, while adopting a dog is about taking responsibility for all living things.