Many children are naturally sensitive to animals. After all, in many animated movies, cartoon series, and books, animal characters are personified to appeal to children. Therefore, teaching kids about the rights and welfare of animals means you are teaching something that is likely to be understood and absorbed.
It’s important to make a distinction between animal rights and animal welfare. Generally speaking, the philosophy behind animal rights is that animals have moral rights, and it is immoral to treat animals in ways that are cruel or even just demeaning. For example, the keeping of animals as pets is not advocated by the animal rights philosophy.
Animal welfare, on the other hand, has a philosophy that recognizes humanity’s role as stewards of animals. Animal welfare advocates agree with the conventional use of animals as pets and even as meat as long as the animals do not suffer unduly.
So you will need to decide which of these philosophies you want to stress in your children’s lives. Below are some ideas that are compatible with one or the other point of view. If you’d like to take an active role in teaching your kids about these issues, here are some ideas.
1. Let Your Child Keep a Virtual Pet
It may sound like it’s not a valid experience, but proponents say virtual pets are really a good education in animal care. The good thing about virtual pets is, it allows for a learning curve. For example, if your child is just learning how to care for an animal, she may forget some of the important tasks at first. But with virtual pets, no animal suffers when your child forgets to “feed” it dinner.
2. Visit the Local Petting Zoo
Most petting zoos are clean and well-run, and provide an excellent, hands-on experience for children to learn about animal welfare. There is just something about making that connection with a live animal that no book or video can duplicate. Books and videos are great follow-ups to your experience.
3. Volunteer Together at Your Local Shelter
This can be a real eye-opener. Even if you are just donating some cat food or offering to walk some of the dogs, the shelter environment provides a good learning experience. Take the opportunity to explain to your child about adopting pets from the shelter instead of buying one from a pet store. Talk about puppy mills, too, and why pet shops enable puppy milling practices to continue.
4. Teach Your Child to Care for a Pet
If you are comfortable with the idea of keeping animals as pets, let your child keep one. Make sure your child knows he is responsible for his pet, and do your research first.
5. Help Make the Connection Between Meat and Animals.
If your child is able to handle it, explain the origins of the meat you (or others) eat. Even many adults fail to make a realistic connection between the plastic packages in the grocery store and live animals. Use your discretion here, of course, but if your child is able to deal with it, explain that beef comes from cattle and chicken meat from chickens. Show him pictures of these animals and, if possible, show him these animals in real life.