|My friend, Patti Christie, with her dearly loved Amazon, "Higgins"|
(Picture is from 2004.)
Many years ago, when I was just beginning my career as a public school teacher, I had the privilege to teach first and second graders. It was a privilege, because I was witness to children exploding into literacy; watching them become readers, proud "authors," problem solvers. It was, to use the over-used word, awesome. And, I had a wonderful principal, who allowed me the freedom in my classroom to do what some of my teammates I'm sure considered unnecessary and unorthodox. I kept animals in my classroom.
I knew that most kids had some exposure to dogs and probably cats. But the unknown to me was, if my students did have dogs and cats at home, did their parents model gentle care, kindness and love toward their pets? And I didn't know if birds and rabbits were part of their life experiences up to that point.
Since I couldn't answer that question (and we all know the horror stories of chained up dogs, animals without shelter during extreme weather, empty water bowls, physical abuse, death), I wanted my kids to have hands-on positive experiences that they might reflect on and take with them into their coming years. I wanted them to be able to gently hold a rabbit, pet it, speak to it with compassion, and understand its worth. We laughed together as Cisco (mini-lop) did leaps in the air, flipping 180° and leaving a trail of flying "raisinettes" in his wake! They heard that lovely chirp of parakeets in the classroom. The noisier the kids were, the louder the birds got. It was wonderful. My students loved it. I modeled proper care, cleanliness, and feeding...and kindness and compassion. I loved that rabbit. I loved my little flock of parakeets. I hope some of that rubbed off on my young students.
And, when our senior citizen dogs were in their last days and couldn't be left alone, both my husband (a teacher as well) and I took them to school with us. They slept under our desks. Our students watched us give them companionship, tenderness, and care in their final days. They were not alone. They were loved.
And I hope that those children left my classroom (and my husband's as well) with an appreciation of the value that all living creatures have; that the animals that we deem pets deserve to be treated with respect, and cared for with kindness, compassion, and appreciation, no matter if their experience is with the short life of a mouse, a gerbil, or the decades that a macaw can share with us. We are responsible.
My point here is, if you have animals in your life, feathered or not, please take the time to share your love, your passion, your kindness, appreciation, compassion with others, especially young people. Tell them about your animals. Let them touch (safely), explain the funny quirks and wonderful qualities that make your pets so special. If you have children, let them take on responsibilities within their age and capabilities, so that they feel they are their own, and they can feel the wonderful inner gifts that caring for an animal generates within us...even at a young age.
Our birds, our animals bring us such great joy. I know that all of my animals have played profound roles in my life. I bet the same goes for you as well. And, I realize I've used the words "kindness, compassion, appreciation and love" over and over again in this blog. But...can you say them too much? Can you model them/"live" them too much? Please, just be cognizant and do pass them on. They are invaluable, tremendous gifts to share.