Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is co-author of Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified animal therapist in the New York City-metro area with her dog, Moose. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
I had some doubts about Moose, my chocolate Lab, when I first had the idea of signing us up to become an animal therapy team. Though he was a good dog, with a good heart, I found it impossible to envision him as any other pet than the jumping, barking, crotch-sniffing pup he was at age two.
At each weekly visit, I marvel at Moose’s gentle attentiveness to our patients, who are adults suffering from schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. He stands calmly at a patient’s side, letting him stroke his fur, scratch him behind the ears or reach around his chest for a hug. Meanwhile, as a bystander, I am never surprised to feel a familiar lump in my throat grow while I watch the magic of his brand of therapy.
What qualities makes Moose (and other therapy animals) a wonderful partner? He does not discriminate in his friendliness but likes humans of all races, ages and genders. His Pet Partners trainer referred to him as “bomb-proof,” which means he is not startled by the unfamiliar. He adores attention, and soaks it up from family members or strangers alike. Moose makes eye contact and holds it for several seconds before looking away. When he gazes into my eyes I believe we are, in that moment, sharing in a feel-good loop of happiness. Likewise, when he looks up at our patients, I hope that they, too, are having their own “Moose moment,” where happiness is both given and received.
National Therapy Animal Day is May 18, which also marks our six-year anniversary of volunteering. Moose turns nine this summer and my birthday wish for him is for many more years together as my Pet Partners partner.
It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I adore Labrador Retrievers. My fondness for them went up exponentially when we adopted our pup, Django, four years ago.
She is the perfect blend of friend, companion, and fun for our crazy family. But I’m not the only one who has a special affection for Labs. In fact, the Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds for families year after year.
Because of the breed’s popularity, there are generally many Lab-mix pups in shelters around the country. If you’ve fallen for this loveable breed, please consider merits of adopting a mix before shelling out big bucks at a breeder or, worse yet, a pet store. Here are some reasons we love our Lab-mix:
Easy Grooming Their coats are easy to care for, and they only require a bath here and there. No hair cuts or any extra grooming required, and their fur dries off in minutes because their thick outer coat naturally repels water.
Original Water Dogs Most are wonderful swimmers and have (really cute) webbed feet to help them swim well.
Kind Temperament Most Labs are well-suited to family life and like to feel as though they are part of a family's daily activities. Django accompanies us in everything we do. If we are in any given room, the yard, or porch, so is she. When we sleep, she sleeps. When we eat, she eats. You get the picture.
They Can Get Big—But Not Huge Although some males can grow to 100 pounds, generally, Labs tend to be about 22-24 inches tall and 60-75 pounds. Females are typically 21-23 inches tall and 55-70 pounds.
Well-Loved Labs are widely considered one of the most popular breeds not only in the U.S., but around the world.
Intelligence and Service They often serve as guide dogs and therapy dogs and are sometimes used in police work thanks to their supremely good sense of smell.
Even a Little Lab Will Do Ya There are usually many Lab mixes available at shelters all over the country. Our pup is a Lab mix (with what, we have no idea), and she has all the adorable traits of a full-fledged Lab.
Good Health As far as health goes, Labs are slightly prone to hip and elbow dysplasia and eye disorders but often lead long, healthy lives.
Lots of Exercise Labs need to be walked a lot. Without enough mental or physical stimulation, they can become destructive. But this can be a beneficial side effect for you and your dog, and it needn't be a chore. If you incorporate at least one long walk into each day, your Lab will be pleased as punch.
Denise Daniels is an award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children. Denise hosted her parenting show, Parents Helper, on NBC’s cable network and has appeared on numerous morning and primetime TV shows. Read more by visiting Denise’s website or by following her on Facebook or Twitter.
One of the greatest lessons of my life came from a dog. It was Christmas Eve, 1989, and it happened as our house was burning to the ground. As we stood in the snow in our jammies, our Newfoundland, Alfie kept running back toward the house to make sure all the children were out and that everyone was safe. (We were, thankfully). That action was the most powerful lesson in pure, selfless, unconditional love that I’d ever witnessed.
While not everyone’s experience will be that dramatic (I hope!), pets are invaluable in teaching families, especially children, “emotional intelligence,” or EQ—their ability to empathize, understand and connect with others. EQ can grow and be nurtured, and what better way than with a loving pet who is a gift to the whole family? Here are 10 ways in which pets can help children develop their EQ:
By teaching children to care for something besides themselves. One of the cornerstones of EQ is empathy. Hearing a kitten meow when it wants to eat or seeing a dog run to the door when it wants to go outside gets kids to think, “What are their needs, and what can I do to help?”
By being a non-judgmental pal. If your child got in trouble at school, is struggling to read, or has difficulty with homework, pets love them regardless. While parents have to be disciplinarians, pets don’t. Pets show children the meaning of true friendship.
By teaching children to read nonverbal cues. Children aren’t born understanding facial expressions, body language, or gestures, but loving a pet can help them learn. When my husband leaves for the airport, our dog pouts. Parents can point out this kind of thing: “Look, Fido is feeling sad today” or “Max the cat is turning his back because he doesn’t want you to leave.” Children will learn how that applies to other humans and animals.
By teaching responsibility. I’ve heard people say, “I’m not getting a pet because I’m the one who will end up taking care of it.” We do have to be aware of our child’s ability level, but at a very early age, children can be taught graduated levels of responsibility.
By letting boys practice nurturing. All children need to learn this skill, but this is especially important for boys, who—for all our efforts and awareness—may not be taught to show tender feelings. With a pet, it’s socially acceptable to be loving and gentle, scratching pets’ ears and tummies.
By providing a natural stress buster. At the National Childhood Grief Institute, we conducted a study with the Delta Society (now called Pet Partners) using dogs in children’s support groups. A therapy dog would sit in front of an emotional child and put its head in the child’s lap. As the child started petting the dog, you could visibly see the child relax. We studied the blood pressure readings of the dogs and the children, and the experience lowered the blood pressure of both. There’s almost no better way to help a child deal with stress than with the company of a loving pet.
By boosting confidence. Learning to read can be stressful for a young child. And while reading out loud is critical for literacy, it can be difficult for a child who’s intimidated or embarrassed. The answer? Read to your pet. Children can go at their own pace and sound out difficult words with no fear of judgment.
By providing stability. After our house burned down in 1989, our family was displaced for months, and our Newfie couldn’t stay with us. It wasn’t until we were reunited in our new house that our family was truly whole. People and situations can be unpredictable, but pets are stable, loyal and true.
By helping children express their emotions. It can be hard for children to talk about powerful emotions. I’ve worked with children all around the world who’ve dealt with the traumas of war and natural disaster. In these cases, a loving animal is invaluable. Besides reducing a child’s stress, an animal provides safety and comfort. Dogs and cats listen and are there for you.
By making children laugh. Whether it’s chasing laser pointers or their own tails, jumping into cardboard boxes or rolling in snow, there’s no greater source of free entertainment than a pet doing its goofy thing—and there’s nothing healthier or more joyous than a child bursting into an unselfconscious peal of laughter.
Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is co-author of Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified pet therapist in the New York City-metro area with her dog, Moose. Find her on Twitter, Facebookor Pinterest.
My husband and I welcomed Choco, our first dog, 18 months before we had our son. Next in line was our little girl, who was the baby in the family for only a year before we added a new puppy, Argus. Our family expanded from two to six in as many years, and we were thrilled!
Both of our kids grew up with canine companions who enriched their young lives every day. To observe them romp around the backyard, with their two big brown dogs following close behind, was to watch happy childhood memories in the making. But, in addition to being our children’s playmates, Choco and Argus added other dimensions to their lives by simply doing what dogs do.
During the years that Choco and Argus were part of our family, they offered gifts to each of us with every tail wag and snuggle. As the dogs aged and became somewhat frail, they gave both kids additional lessons on how to be a caregiver.
At 14, Choco’s legs were weak and it was difficult for him to stand and eat. Our daughter sat patiently by his side feeding him kibble mixed with cottage cheese. He took small bites off the spoon she held out to him, chewing slowly, his eyes looking up into hers.
Years later, our son came home from freshman year in college for spring break and learned that Argus, at 13, had developed a serious breathing condition. He stayed behind from our family vacation to watch over his pup, sleeping on the couch near Argus’ bed, ready to attend to his needs.
The dogs were gentle and affectionate companions to our kids up to the very end. Along with sweet memories, what endures for our children are our family values including compassionate behavior to animals and to other people. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children what we believe by our actions and through our words. But having these two dogs during the formative years of our children’s lives gave them daily practice in a virtue that we hold dear.
This St. Patrick’s Day, my daughter found a way to include our dog, Mr. Happy, in the celebrations. This idea sprouted from a recent morning when my daughter noticed that we were giving Mr. Happy medication to help with his separation anxiety. She asked if he was sick, so I explained how upset Mr. Happy gets when we leave, and that his doctor gave him medicine to feel better.
My household doesn’t miss a holiday, and St. Patrick’s Day is no exception. This year, in addition to making healthy green smoothies and green pancakes, crafting a homemade “leprechaun trap” out of a tissue box and dressing for the occasion, we decided to celebrate Mr. Happy.
After having our chat about Mr. Happy’s story last week, I noticed that my daughter had provided him with extra love and attention. On Saturday, after a day full of errands, she requested to go to the store to see the “birds, snakes, fish, and cats” to get “something special” for Mr. Happy and for our bird, Diva. I knew exactly where she wanted to go: the pet store. My daughter also wanted to know the name and story of each dog and cat up for adoption at the store that day.
Following our tour to see the adoptable animals, she asked if she could choose special treats for our pets. I was hoping for a quick and easy adventure, but she carefully sorted through toys to find the perfect green stuffed item for our dog and examined each shelf for the perfect food treats for Mr. Happy and Diva. I expected the stuffed toy to quickly enter my daughter’s overflowing collection of stuffed toys, but to my surprise, she proceeded to give Mr. Happy the green toy. She wanted him to feel special and loved, and in her own way, show him that we are lucky to have him in our home. This is a new St. Patrick’s Day tradition that no pin on Pinterest can capture, but is one that we will repeat next year.