What Animal Rescue is Teaching My Children

Written by NPN Guest on June 10th, 2014

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Activism, Balance, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Ecological Responsibility, Homeschooling, Love of Nature, Natural Learning, Work and Family
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Welcome to the June 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Animals

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about kids and pets.

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Animal Rescue 1

The Naked Deranged Parrot (hereafter referred to as “NDP”; her actual name is Valentine) is exactly what she sounds like.

“Parrot, free to good home, is missing feathers and has some issues.”

Her “issues,” as it turned out, are that she is not super fond of her gorgeous wrought-iron cage with dangly toys and hidey holes (encapsulated within a meth house). Instead, she prefers to hide under furniture on our floor, darting out to attack unsuspecting passersby like a miniature territorial T-rex. We contacted her owners and she was relinquished to our animal rescue, which is how she came to live at my house on Valentine’s Day.

My son, Zion, was raised with our rescue efforts as part of the scenery of his childhood. “Good dog habits” are second nature to him, and he approaches new dogs with a combination of respect and fearlessness that almost always puts them at ease. When we place our dogs for adoption with a confident “kid-friendly” tag, it’s because they’ve spent time with Zion or one of our other foster families with kids.

At nine years of age, I don’t have to remind him not to put his face close to a dog’s face. I don’t have to tell him to put his hand out, palm down, before he tries to pet a dog. To avoid their ears until he knows them. To back away when their tails droop and their ears lay back. If you ask him to demonstrate what to do in case of a dog attack, he will drop to the ground and assume a face-down fetal position. He knows what resource-guarding is. He recognizes a potential food fight and knows how to break it up before it becomes a knock-down-drag-out-teeth-baring-free-for-all. He knows to grab a dog around its waist; that tugging hard on a small dog’s collar can cause a collapsed trachea. He knows that grapes can cause kidney failure, but a few tortilla chips or cheerios under the table never hurt anyone.

While I am certainly proud of this knowledge, he knows these things in the same way that practicing math flash cards every day helps you memorize multiplication tables. Once you do it enough, it’s automatic. “Good dog habits” can be taught.

Every day brings something new into our lives – a new situation to discuss and from which we can learn (bad people did this to this dog, and here’s what we can do to help it), a new catastrophe to test our limits (yes, we do have to pick up all the trash the dogs scattered around the backyard when we went to the store, or codes enforcement will fine us), a new inconvenience that causes us to rearrange our lives (yes, we can cancel our visit to the park so we can drive an hour to pick up a dog on death row).

I have been roundly criticized for the amount of energy my family puts into rescue efforts. I was once asked to drive an hour and a half away to pick up a mama dog and her two-day-old puppies – they were going to be put to sleep in their small, rural shelter. My son spent the night vomiting from the flu; the following morning I bundled him up as much as I could and stuck him in the back seat with a bucket. We picked up mama and her puppies, dropped them off at our shelter, and headed home for snuggles and chicken soup.

Animal Rescue 2

Another morning, I received a call that a puppy had to be picked up from a home in another city before 3pm or he would be taken to a shelter. A quick assessment of the situation: should we allow puppy to go to the shelter, contract whatever diseases happen to be flying around in that environment, and maybe end up being put to sleep? Or should we pack up the math homework and do it in the car on the way to pick up the puppy?

(We do a lot of math in the car.)

Criticisms aside, I believe my son is learning important lessons from the work that we do in rescue. We don’t judge books by their covers. The NDP being rescued from the meth house could actually be an awesome mini T-Rex, remember? We know about commitment, because a no-show from us means certain death for the dogs we were scheduled to pick up. We know about prioritizing and time management, because sometimes death row trumps algebra (not always – but sometimes.).

More than anything, though, I believe my son is learning that it is his job, as a resident of this planet, to meet its needs. We don’t talk about who hurt these dogs; we don’t blame people in dire situations who have been forced to give up beloved family pets. We talk about what we can do to help alleviate some of the suffering. How are we able to contribute to the cause? I teach him these things in the same vein as, “Please pick up the trash on the curb and toss it in the bin. I know it isn’t yours, but it’s there and you are able to meet that need.”

Everyone has their passions, their contribution to society. I wouldn’t bat an eye if my son decided that animal rescue wasn’t his, but I do believe the lessons he’s learning right now in his work with our organization will set him up for a lifetime of positive contributions to the world.

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Sara Mabin is a working, volunteering, homeschooling mom of two awesome kids, Zion and Serafina (and wife to Mike, who is super tolerant of the Crazy she brings into his life on a daily basis). She believes in controlled chaos, unconditional love, and mutual respect for other people’s journeys. She has been working with Reno Ranch Rescue since her mother, Tracey Reno, founded it almost five years ago. You can find her there (http://renoranchrescue.com) and occasionally at her blog, Making My Own Magic.


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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • HOW PETS CONNECT WITH EMOTIONS: KIDS & PETS AFTER 9-11 — Parenting Expert Laurie Hollman at Parental Intelligence discusses the importance of pets in lowering stress after traumatic situations, why children choose certain pets, the loss of a pet, and the role of parents in teaching care-giving to animals in a warm, gentle way.
  • It’s not our house without a dog! — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work describes why giving a loving and disciplined home to at least one shelter dog at a time enriches the life of her family, and has become a vivid memory in the minds of her children.
  • Canine Haikus

    Kids, dog, haikus, at

    Dionna (Code Name: Mama).

    Pet-centric poems.

  • Beanie’s BunniesOur Mindful Life‘s Sofi Bean has gotten her first pets!
  • Montessori Care of Pets — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her experiences with kids and pets and shares Montessori resources for pet care.
  • How to Nurture Your Child’s Awareness of Spirit Guides — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama hosts a post from her regular contributor Lauren of SpiralElixir.com. Lauren looks at the concept of animals as spirit guides and how deeply children are connected to this realm. She also encourages us to open ourselves up as parents to the reality that children are naturally more connected to the animal world, giving us ideas on how to nurture their relationships with their Spirit Guides.
  • No Puppy! — Meg at the Boho Mama shares her tips for dealing with toddlers and the (very real) fear of animals.
  • Year of the Pets — Jorje of Momma Jorje wasn’t sure she ever wanted pets again, but things have changed a lot this year!
  • 3 Reasons Why Keeping Backyard Chickens is Good for my Toddler — Bianca, The Pierogie Mama, started keeping backyard chickens for the benefit of their eggs, but what she wasn’t prepared for was what they would teach her two year old daughter too.

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9 Responses to What Animal Rescue is Teaching My Children

  1. Life Breath Present

    I do believe that working with animals (or even just learning to meet a need of others) is an important life lesson/skill. I believe it nourishes compassion and understanding, while also providing opportunities to give and be unconditional, while also having and setting boundaries. :)

  2. Dionna  

    I love watching Zion with dogs – just the few times I’ve seen him, he is such a natural! By the way, Hans has already inserted a bit of a rescue lover in Kieran – we’ve had a couple of discussions about shelters lately, and Kieran is horrified at what Hans could have been subjected to. :(

  3. Survivor  

    I totally agree that animals teach us incredible life lessons that are just as important, if not more so, as algebra. What you and your family do for these animals is really a matter of life and death!

  4. Donna @ Eco-Mothering

    What a beautiful piece! And kudos to you and your family for rescuing animals on a regular basis.

  5. Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.  

    Your family is learning about care so beautifully. So impressive. Thanks for sharing.
    Laurie at Parental Intelligence

  6. Erin Yuki Violet from And Now, for Something Completely Different

    Ah, my best friend has a parrot! I used to be frightened of it when I was small, but now I enjoy it. Except when it bites me-that part is much less enjoyable, haha.
    I think it is very honourable that you are teaching your son to assist animals, and to value the life of other creatures and care for the earth, at such a young age. I hope that he carries these lessons and memories with him for the rest of his life.

  7. Lauren Wayne  

    What an amazing post! We prioritize adopting shelter pets and are considering fostering at some point. I love all the animal & life lessons your work has taught your family.

  8. Tracy

    Bravo Sara, bravo. I want everyone I know to read this. You said it so perfectly. I love the lesson of compassion and responsibility our children can learn, and the love returned is so precious. When I get the criticism for maybe doing to much or asking to much of the kids sometimes, I remind people of the saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And I tell them this is what it looks like when you live it instead of wearing it on your t-shirt.

  9. Claire  

    Haha I love the Mini T-rex darting out to attack you. I also love the part about teaching good dog habits. I, too, believe that it’s something that we just have to keep focusing on and it will become second nature. Even a one year old can start to learn these things. I should definitely teach my girls what to do in case of a dog attack though.

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