Children and Compassion for Animals
On a recent bitterly cold afternoon, one of my 5th grade students entered my room after school. “Are you sure you don’t want another cat, Mrs. Cammisa?” Carrie asked timidly. Well, of course I wanted another cat, but there is a long distance between the heart and the head, and reason dictated “no.”
I questioned Carrie about the animal, who had been a birthday gift to her two years ago. Her mother no longer liked Mittens, who had been banished to live on the outside porch. Carrie couldn´t bear to hear her meowing outside the house.
I offered to call Carrie´s mother to discuss the problem, but she said it just wouldn´t make a difference – her mother thought a small box was sufficient to keep the poor cat warm. I asked for a picture and promised I would help find a new home for the kitty very soon. We spoke about some ways to keep Mittens warm and more comfortable, and Carrie seemed relieved to be able to help her little friend.
Where does compassion for animals come from? As a 7-year-old, I remember crying hysterically when my mother´s uncle proudly showed us a freezer full of rabbits he had shot. I wouldn´t watch westerns on television because I was afraid the horses would be hurt. Later on, I began volunteering to help animals, became a vegetarian, and eventually ran an animal shelter. Now I teach humane education any way and any time possible, automatically inserting it into the curriculum. As painful as it can be, I am so grateful to feel such empathy for animals, and pity people whose lives are not enriched by this bond.
Where did Carrie get her sensitivity, when her family certainly did not instill it in her? We can only hope now for her compassion to grow and for there to be other children like her. There is hope. Walking down the hallway recently, I stopped to read some 5th grade essays in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., and what dreams these young writers had. One little girl passionately envisioned a time when children and animals were not abused, beaten, or hurt while being disciplined. Later another child confided in me that she was punished for attempting to stop her father while he was violently kicking her dog. The school social worker and I followed up according to protocol and the dog has been removed from the home.
We’ve printed information in this issue about New York’s anti-cruelty statutes. It´s important to know what they are, what they mean, and what we can do to help law enforcement officials alleviate animal suffering. Have your facts at hand when you report a cruelty case, be persistent, and call our office if you need help or ideas.
If a 10-year-old already knows what cruelty is, it´s certainly conceivable that all of us can work together and do something about stopping it.
As always, for the animals,
New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XIX, No.4, Winter 2004