Breaking the chain of violence

Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas. Publicado en Relación.

 

Michael ValdezParents know that children and their pets can be inseparable. They hope their children learn valuable relationship skills by owning an animal, as well as learning responsibility and compassion.

http://www.edmondsun.com/cnhi/edmondsun/features/local_story_295203931.html?keyword=secondarystory

Published: October 22, 2005 08:39 pm

Breaking the chain of violence

Teaching kids compassion through animal therapy

Alice Collinsworth
The Edmond Sun
EDMOND —

Parents know that children and their pets can be inseparable. They hope their children learn valuable relationship skills by owning an animal, as well as learning responsibility and compassion.

Sometimes, though, the relationship goes bad. Children, for one reason or another, sometimes show a pattern of treating their animals with cruelty.

Parents who observe this behavior may be concerned about what it means.

Penny Nichols, originator of Creatures and Kids Inc. recognizes the importance of a healthy relationship between animals and children.

Workers with the Edmond-based group hope to avert future violent behavior by teaching young people healthy ways to relate to pets.

Nichols and her father, Mel Newsom, organized the group in 2001. It’s a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

About 20 specially trained volunteers and their animals work with the TAI program to help children in various circumstances interact with one another and with the pets themselves.

Most of the animals used in the TAI program are dogs, although there are four miniature horses and one cat involved in the organization, too.

“Creatures and Kids Inc. is dedicated to utilizing animals to instill positive character qualities,” Nichols said. “It is devoted to humane education and violence prevention.”

By teaching children to understand and respect animals, the organization hopes to help kids understand and respect themselves and others.

Staci Robertson and her miniature horse, Little Sister, volunteer their time to work with children through Creatures and Kids.

“It’s really interesting,” Robertson said. “The program uses animals to teach children to be kind. It’s very fulfilling.”

The volunteers hope to avert future violent behavior in children who may have already experienced trauma and difficulties in their lives, Robertson said.

“I hope kids will have the opportunity to see a direction that will help them to live, grow and have a healthy life,” Nichols said. “Kids need to learn to communicate, and that there are other ways to do so beside getting mad, yelling or screaming.”

Seeing the trained animals up close helps the children to learn patience, compassion and respect, Nichols added.

The organization brings their program to shelters, youth facilities and schools around the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

Volunteers also work with therapists and counselors to help at-risk children.

A recent report compiled by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) confirms that childhood cruelty to animals can be an early warning of a propensity toward violence against humans.

The report, published in August, found that abuse of pets in the home or neighborhood was often linked to domestic violence later in life.

Research showed that some children who come from abusive homes themselves mimic their abusers’ behavior, using animals as victims.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “someone who commits animal abuse may have serious psychological problems.”

Other ASPCA figures show that 83 percent of families reported for animal abuse also had children who were at high risk of abuse or neglect.

Many well-known criminals had an early history of animal abuse:

n Jeffrey Dahmer had an early fascination with dismembering animals. He later tortured and cannibalized at least 11 people.

n David Berkowitz, Son of Sam, shot his neighbor’s dog. He confessed to six murders as an adult.

n Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, put dogs and cats in crates and then shot them with arrows.

Although psychologists have known for years the connection between animal and human violence, new community programs and initiatives to address children’s relationships with animals are making headlines across the country.

Creatures and Kids is one of those groups.

Nichols tells the children at therapy sessions, “Starting today, I want you to make good choices.”

“We want to teach them not to be violent,” Robertson said. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”

The group works with people of all ages, with a particular focus on children.

Creatures and Kids offers an eight-week course for pet owners and their animals to learn the special skills needed to work with at-risk children.

“Volunteers are always welcome,” Robertson said. “The more, the merrier.”

And human volunteers don’t have to provide their own four-legged companions, either.

Extra humans are matched up as “spotters” with other animal teams.

Robertson’s miniature horse-like all the therapy animals — had to undergo testing to qualify for the position.

Robertson enjoys loading Little Sister into the back seat of her car and heading out to a session with young people.

“If we can get a smile out of just one kid, that’s what it’s about,” she said.