How Nurturing Baby Cultivates Empathy
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How Nurturing Baby Cultivates Empathy
Empathy and Nurturing go Hand-in-Hand
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FLYING UNDER THE RADAR | How Nurturing Baby Cultivates Empathy |
Shelley Germain Calissendorff's insight:

It's difficult to understand how something so important has been flying under the radar for such a very long time. It's time we shine some light on it. The FACT that there is a link between the abuse of children and the abuse of animals. This is not a theory or an old wives' tale. There are stacks of reports full of statistics, and multitudes of organizations committed to education, prevention, collaboration and problem resolution all about "The Link." Leading the charge today is Phil Arkow. Mr. Arkow is a consultant for the ASPCA and the Animals and Society Institute, is chair of the Animal Abuse and Family Violence Prevention Project with The Latham Foundation, and is coordinator of the National Link Coalition.


Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in April 1866. Bergh also prompted the formation in 1874 of the New YorkSociety for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC). Bergh is credited with saying, "Mercy to animals means mercy to mankind."


Many early humane societies had the dual function of protecting both animals and children. The American Humane Association marked this first occurrence at an annual conference in 1895. "The man who was cruel to his beast would be unkind to his wife and child."


Phil has worked for and/or with SPCAs and humane societies across the U.S. since the early 1970's.  He discovered that many of the same families that were being investigated by the Bucks County, Pa. SPCA were also being investigated by that county's local child protective agency.  The funny thing was, neither agency was aware of what the other was doing, andthey weren't talking to each other.  In other words, both the children -- as well as the companion animals -- in those homes were in danger.


It makes sense. People who neglect or abuse their own children will think little of abusing and neglecting Scruffy and Fluffy. But what about vice versa? What happens when the dog and the cat aren't being loved and tended to? Does that mean the children are apt to receive the same sort of treatment? Not always, but frequently, yes.


What about children who witness Mom or Dad kicking the dog? I think we all know that this sends a strong message to Junior that abusing Scruffy is OK. When Junior starts kicking the dog himself and gets away with it, the odds of Junior growing up as an abuser are high. In most cases, abusers aren't content for long with being cruel "just" to animals. As the abuser grows older, he will likely "move on" to bigger targets. Violence begets violence.


Perhaps the title of this article should have been, "Smile At Your Baby, Smile At Your Dog, and Smile At Your Cat." Smile At Your Baby! is all about creating a healthy emotional foundation for baby to help insure that baby grows up to be a well-adjusted, functional adult. Question: Do well-adjusted, functional adults perpetrate acts of violence? Not in our book.


Why do we bring dogs, cats, birds and other animals into our homes in the first place? Why do we want them there? Are they members of the family? Should they be treated as such? According to Mr. Arkow and many other experts, "The way we raise our animals mirrors the way we raise our children."


Fact: Jeffery Dahmer abused animals as a child. Of course we'll never know the answer to this question, but if someone concerned had intervened when he was a child, might he and his victims havebeen spared later in life? What if a neighbor had called the local humane society and they had sent out an investigator? What if that investigator had then shared her findings with a social worker?


As the coordinator of the National Link Coalition, Mr. Arkow works closely with dozens of community-based, local Link coalitions. He speaks to city administrators, Child Protective Services, animal control officers, domestic violence groups and anybody else who will listen. Mr. Arkow and the National Link Coalition facilitate collaboration between violence prevention advocates and people who work to protect animals. He gets them to talk to one another and to work together. Here's the good news: It works!


And the not-so-good news? Today, in the U.S., only two states require veterinarians to report suspected child abuse, and only 13 states require them to report animal abuse.


Sadly, of the 20-plus communities around the country that have local Link coalitions, not one exists in Smile At Your Baby!'s home state of Washington.


For the sake of our children, we must break the cycle of violence. Like children, dogs and cats don't come with an instruction manual. Make companion animals members of your family and treat them as such. "When animals are abused, people are at risk, and when people are abused, animals are at risk," according to Phil. We are linked together. Treating animals humanely IS a big deal. They are NOT only animals. "Boys will be boys" is not a valid excuse.


Pick up your phone and make some calls. Build a coalition in your community. Help animal protection and child protection organizations become partners. For more details on how to create a Link Coalition in your community, visit:


And at this time of year, let's all keep in mind that companion animals are responsibilities, not rights, so let us choose to not give them as gifts. We wouldn't give a child as a gift, would we? Let there be peace, empathy and compassion on earth for all of our family members, two-legged AND four-legged.


Written by Shelley Calissendorff, Founder/Executive Director


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