Kindness: Can dogs show us the way?

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We know when we see cruelty. We feel it. We cringe. At least most of us do.

But can we fully describe kindness?

We describe kind acts and compassionate behavior.But the acts that show kindness and compassion for living things are broader than just absence of cruelty. I wonder if we include all acts of kindness in our description and definition of what it means to be kind? Can we even recognize and describe all the signs of kindness?

I believe healthy communities need to teach and model kind behavior to prevent cruelty to both animals and humans. Animal cruelty is often a warning sign of violence to humans. Kindness education is an important part of character education.

Abstract concepts in character education need concrete examples to make a concept real. To teach adults and children about kindness we need to emphasize the interconnectedness of all of us who cohabit this world. Our relationship and care of our natural world shape our attitudes toward each other and what we believe about how we should treat each other.

How can we make abstract connections real and clear?

Maybe we can tell a dog story .Stories about kindness are a powerful tool.

I have always loved hearing, telling and creating dog stories. Sometimes a dog’s story helps me access feelings and puts me in touch with the experience of an abstract concept that I can’t quite grasp.Dog stories open doors to feelings that are sometimes difficult to access in other ways.

My dog Junior and I occasionally do presentations on kindness for humane education classes. The great thing about talking to kids is that the kids and the animals always teach me something.

I learn that when we present humane education using stories about animals, things click with kids. With a dog in the room, we have a teachable moment about respect and kindness for all living creatures. Children relate to animals.

But we don’t pretend that Junior, my dog, is anything but a dog. He doesn’t wear a costume. He is not an object or a tool. He doesn’t pretend to talk. We accept him for who he is, a wonderful dog who needs help and protection and kindness from humans.

We hope to encourage understanding and to consideration of the needs and feelings of all creatures. We talk about what it means to be a responsible human in our relationship with other creatures who share our earth and the responsibility we have to respect each other with kindness.

Show and Tell.

In our presentation, we give examples of Ten Acts of Kindness in daily things we do for pets to care for them and to keep them safe. This is where my four legged partner makes the presentation literally come alive.

We use stories. Our favorite is Junior’s story.IMG_2575 I tell the kids about Junior, a dog left in a shelter because he grew from a puppy to a “too- active ” big dog. When my family adopted Junior, he needed to learn to trust, learn about rules and how he could be healthy, safe and loved. He needed to receive care and love in order to become all he could be. He needed time and attention and to be kept safe. He needed acts of kindness. In our talks we show and tell how shelter,food, fresh water, health care, grooming, safety, training to be a good canine citizen, love, commitment and respect are all acts of kindness.

Junior then steps forward and the children see how he looks today because he received acts of kindness. Now it’s personal, to the kids, and to Junior. Here is a dog in the room who is a real sign of what kindness can do for a living being.

We emphasize that caring for pets is not easy. Pets are family members and have feelings.It is important to understand what it takes to be a responsible pet owner. It takes time and patience to be kind. We stress respect for pets and how important it is to accept them for being different. It’s important to learn about them to understand what makes pets different from us since they can not tell us in our language.

We also discuss other issues of kindness. We have discussed problems of chained backyard dogs, and old dogs who were abandoned but then go on to new families. We talk about the importance of adoption of homeless pets and ,in some programs, even use some simple math to show how an unplanned litter can multiply the number of unwanted pets. In other classes we may plot a graph showing the rising temperature in a car in a hot Texas summer to remind everyone not to leave a pet in a hot car.

Amazing answers.

When we talk about acts of kindness ,it leads to discussions of what the group think it means to be kind. We ask the kids to answer the question, “What are the signs of kindness, and how can I follow them to live a kind life?

The group comes up with some amazing and thoughtful lists that I add to my own concept of what it means to be kind. Before the class ends and Junior and I say goodbye, we ask the group to learn more about how to be kind and to commit to kindness.

And not just to animals.

Not a bad committment for all of us.

The Ten Acts of Kindness is based on a Program of the SPCA of Texas. Learn more about their humane education program at their website.

This post was originally posted at The Daily Junior Blog on June 25, 2015 .

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