The older I get, the more I see my parents when I look in the mirror.

The older I get, the more I see my parents when I look in the mirror. I recall in my rebellious youth thinking that I, and my generation, was so much smarter than my parents. We would never make the same kinds of mistakes they were making. Don’t misunderstand. I loved my parents deeply, but the arrogance and inexperience of a 1970s young adult fed an attitude of superiority.

The facts are, I made many of the same mistakes my parents did, and I found myself saying and doing things in raising my own children that were just like my parents. The imprints made on me by my parents, some good and some not so good, have had a huge affect on my life. 

Monday I got an email from a volunteer saying that she had just rescued a small black poodle after its owner beat it with a baseball bat. The dog had growled at their two year old when the toddler picked up the dog in a way that hurt the dog. The dog did not bite but growled in protest to the handling by a toddler who should not have been “picking up” the dog in the first place. Rather than teach the little one how to be considerate and careful, the toddler was witness to their dog being beaten with a baseball bat. 

A woman called last week, asking me to pick up her dachshund before she “lost her cool and did something really bad to the dog.” The dog growled at her fifth baby who was now crawling and chasing the dog.  She’d had the dog for four years. I tried to talk with her about ways to keep the dog and baby separated and teach both the dog and baby how to interact. I explained that the dog was communicating in the only way she could, that she was afraid of the baby and trying to stay out of the baby’s reach. The dog had obviously lived through the “baby stages” of her other children. Her irritated response was she would just take it to a shelter “or something” rather than go to that trouble. 

What are the children in these homes learning? They are learning complete disregard and disrespect for loving, loyal, intelligent creatures that experience pain and emotions much like people. The imprint being made is that they are disposable and dispensable creatures at any time, for any reason. Their family pets can be used, abused and tossed aside with no apparent consequences.   

I am not saying that people can’t alter the damage done to them by bad or abusive parenting, but usually help, intervention and education are needed to make that happen. That is where I hope we come in. The next generations of children need to be taught respect and responsibility for domestic animals that depend on us for everything from their birth to death. They must be taught that these creatures have value, feelings and emotions. They must be taught that abuse or neglect is never acceptable. They must be taught the benefit and responsibility to spay and neuter their pets.

A middle school class has just chosen our organization as their charity service project. They are going to make dog treats to sell to earn donations for the care of our rescues. Miss Judy and I will have the privilege of talking with these children next month. These are such exciting opportunities to educate our next generation. My hope is that they will take the baton we hand off to them and continue the work of educating others, teaching them to treat animals with kindness and respect they deserve.

This “kindness and respect” message applies as well, in teaching kids how to treat their fellow human beings. 

As a child, our pets were family members and were treated as such. The imprint of responsibility, respect and love for other people and animals was a gift passed on to me from my parents and grandparents. I am deeply grateful for that “gift” and I will try to pass it on. I pray that in some small way, I will leave this world a more compassionate place than I found it.

Leanne Williams is president of Faithful Friends Animal Advocates.