Recently I came across an ad from a woman who was looking to re-home her two cats because her children were terrorizing them.
She swore she loved her cats but because of her children, she had to part with them. I was heartbroken. All of them were going to lose out on this.
The cats were losing their home, and the children were losing the opportunity to learn kindness.
Children learn from their environment and showing them how to properly care for an animal from the very beginning is crucial.
From the moment a child is mobile it is necessary to ensure that they learn what is, and what is not, acceptable when handling an animal.
Even a baby that is crawling around can be taught to be gentle with the animal. Just as you teach your child not to touch hot surfaces, or not to pull the blinds, you can teach them not to yank the cats’ tail or gouge it’s eyes. You have to be patient and you have to be diligent. It might be hard work but what about raising children is ever easy.
To be on the safe side, it’s always a good idea not to get a tiny kitten when you have very small children. They may harm it without even meaning to. You have to expect that at some point there may be a scratch or two while the child and the cat learn their boundaries, but for the most part if your child is gentle with the animal, the animal will be gentle with the child.
Different animals have different temperaments and you need to teach your children what is, and what is not, acceptable with any given pet. Some animals want nothing to do with a screaming three year old, and some will let your child dress them up in costumes. You know your animal, you draw the boundaries.
When my children were babies the cats were like a magnet. Because I volunteer at a shelter, many of our cats have “issues”. Both my boys were always told to be gentle. I think I repeated that word a million times when they were first interacting with the cats. I would take their hand and show them how to pet the cat. I would show them how to hold the cat and in some cases, I would tell them to simply stay away from the cat because I knew any interaction would be painful. My kids have never pulled a tail, or yanked an ear, or poked an eye. They know animals hurt too and they know that some just want to be left alone. And once in a while they luck out when mom brings home a friendly one that they can actually dress up, or cuddle with, or carry around.
We need to give our kids more credit. They are capable of learning kindness just as they are capable of learning that fire is hot, cement is hard, and tree branches can break under their weight. There is no reason for an animal to lose their home just as there is no reason for a child to terrorize an animal. We are the adults and they learn from us.
Magdalena Romanow is a volunteer at Katie’s Place Shelter in Maple Ridge.