Teach Your Kids to Be Kind to Animals

An expert from the Huron Valley Humane Society shares her insights and suggestions for family-friendly, safe and humane interactions with all types of animals.

Kids love animals and they want to interact with them, especially in the summer when outdoor animal attractions abound. However, not all venues or activities are created equal. How can you expose kids to positive experiences that don’t endorse mistreatment or animal abuse? 

“Children have a natural affinity for animals and parents want their children to enjoy being with them. To support the humane treatment of animals, you have to know the right questions to ask and the things to look for,” says Karen Patterson, Vice President of Volunteers and Humane Education at the Humane Society of Huron Valley

Warning signs

Patterson points out that while some venues are excellent at putting animal comfort first, many do not. Sometimes this is obvious. For example, ponies dressed as unicorns walking in a circle for hours in 90-degree heat are a red flag.

However, it’s not always easy to determine that an animal may not be treated humanely, mainly because ill-treatment or poor conditions may be hidden by the business or event. How do you know if it is an animal activity or attraction you should avoid? 

“Families can consider several things when deciding whether or not an activity seems kind to animals,” says Patterson. “For example, are there loud noises? Are the animals handled too much by either trainers or visitors? How are the animals transported and what are the conditions? Are they forced to perform several times a day? Overall, does it seem as if profit is the main consideration, not the comfort of the animal?” 

One of the key guidelines Patterson says to look for is if the animal is being cared for in a way that resembles their natural habitat and allows them to express their natural behaviors. If not, the animal is probably not enjoying the experience. “Trust your intuition. If you feel that the animal isn’t enjoying something, you’re probably right. Take time to research and learn more about entertainment and animals in general.” 

Better alternatives

Once you know what to avoid, what are some friendly-family animal activities you can feel good about?

For non-domesticated animals, Patterson suggests visiting an animal sanctuary. However, do your research first. “Any venue can call itself a sanctuary, but that doesn’t mean the animals are treated well or acquired in a humane way,” says Patterson. “Look for a ‘true’ sanctuary that protects animals and takes their best interests into account. You can research this online or by making some calls and finding out how the animals are housed, handled and trained, as well as where they are coming from.” 

Fun animal activities can be as close as your backyard or a local forest preserve. “Take your kids on a nature walk. Take time to look at the animals, see what they do and how they live. It can be as simple as watching ants crawling around an anthill, watching birds through binoculars or seeing a deer walking in the woods,” says Patterson. “Best of all, it’s easy and it’s free.” 

One caveat: leave the animals right where you found them. “Kids might want to take a cute frog home with them, but this is a great time to teach them that the animal needs to live in their natural habitat to be healthy and happy,” says Patterson. 

Kids and domestic animals

Of course, most animal interactions kids will have are with dogs, cats or other pets. Your kids will undoubtedly be exposed to more neighborhood animals in the summer, as people spend more time outdoors with their pets. As a parent, you can model a kind, humane way to treat these animals, too. 

“One of the best things to tell kids is to let the animal come to them,” Patterson says. “This is also important for safety. I share with kids that other animals show and accept affection differently than humans. For example, we might want to hug a dog, but that may make the dog feel very uncomfortable.”

Young children may get very excited about interacting with an adorable cat or dog, which can lead to loud voices, something which most animals don’t like, Patterson explains. “This is a great time to tell kids to use their calm, gentle voices.” 

The Humane Society of Huron Valley has several programs that help children learn all about animals including movie nights with pets, reading to rescue animals, summer camps and more. Patterson says these programs teach kids to interact well with animals and are also useful for families who want to learn what type of pet might be right for them. 

“Teaching children to be kind to animals is a way to teach them empathy,” she says. “You can tell them that animals feel pain, discomfort and fear, just like they do.” 

Learn more at https://www.hshv.org

Jenny Kales
Jenny Kales
Content editor Jenny Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years. A natural storyteller, she loves helping Metro Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.

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