One common method parents use to teach children responsibility is pet ownership, where kids help feed, clean and generally look after pets.
As important as instilling a sense of responsibility is, there are many more lessons pets can teach us, says Cheryl Smith, a rescue-animal advocate who founded a non-profit that assists pets in need. Smith, a public defender, has cared for rescue animals since childhood and believes they can help humanity as much as humans help them.
“Our courtroom deputy found a scared and thin little Chihuahua, alone on the street; I had to adopt the little guy, who I named Oliver,” says Smith, who adds the incident was the impetus for her to write “Oliver’s Heroes: The Spider Adventure” (oliversheroes.com) and “Oliver’s Heroes: Two Paws Up.”
Oliver joined the rest of her six rescue dogs. Smith says the happy dog pack features the perfect characters for teaching the following life lessons.
1. Acceptance of others, despite arbitrary differences: Humanity has bred dogs to suit a variety of purposes, resulting in an enormous diversity of physical and character traits. Despite the differences, most dogs have an innate ability to assemble into a pack. In Smith’s children’s book, when the group encounters different kinds of creatures, such as a polka-dotted and striped spider, the dogs judge the spider on its character and not its exotic markings.
2. Overcoming fear, together: Oliver and his friends go places like the woods, which are unknown, unpredictable and scary to some. The dogs who are scared are reassured by those who are not, which is a great example for children who may fear the next grade level, or moving to a new town.
3. The regular expression of gratitude: Anyone who has ever rescued an animal has probably experienced the gift of gratitude in return. These rescue animals tend to be more loving and are less likely to take for granted what’s given to them, such as love, food, shelter and company. It’s a great reminder for children to keep in mind as they mature.
4. Now is a good time to have fun: Dog owners are constantly reminded of at least one thing – the time, and the time is always now to play catch, enjoy a treat or simply bask in the company of companions. Remembering that the time is now, and that now may be a good time to enjoy fun, is a lesson children may not want to lose as they grow older and take on more responsibility.