The Star-Herald

Pets benefit kids’ mental health

For those of you on Facebook, our staff does an amazing job of posting pets that are up for adoption.  They all have a beautiful photo with information on each pet. Be sure to go to The Central Aroostook Facebook page to check out all the available pets and to see what is going on at the shelter. A study by Barbara Wood at Capital University showed that children with severe emotional handicaps measurably improved when therapy included a pet. Green Chimneys has had great success with neglected children or those with a history of extreme physical and emotional abuse by using farm and wild animals in their treatment programs.

Green Chimneys is group of “farm campuses” in the state of New York that accepts children with severe emotional handicaps from psychiatric institutions and the New York State school districts. Treatment includes responsibility for caring for healthy animals and rehabilitating injured livestock and wildlife.

Students act as handlers when the animals are taken to inner-city neighborhood schools for special programs. They also act as guides for the 30,000 schoolchildren who visit annually to experience farm life.

Dr. Ross, who founded the school in 1948, said of the program at Green Chimneys, ”For many children whose nurturing has been faulty, taking care of an animal can interrupt the cycle of abuse repeating itself over generations,” he said. ”They can learn to be caregivers, even if they haven’t been well cared for themselves.

“It’s an especially powerful experience for these kids, who are wounded themselves in a sense,” Ross said. ”If you can take care of a disabled animal and see that it can survive, even with a leg missing, then you get the feeling you can survive yourself. It’s a bit corny, but true.”

But the help that pets provide emotionally and psychologically is not restricted to those with problems or illness. Studies show that pets provide help to normal children as well.

Studies have linked family ownership of a pet with higher self-esteem and greater cognitive development in young children.

Among the findings are that children with pets at home have significantly higher scores on scales for empathy and social skills. One study of a group of 100 children under 13 years of age who owned cats found that more than 80 percent said they got along better with family and friends. A survey study found that 70 percent of families reported increased family happiness and fun after getting a pet.

We think much of the profound effect that pets have on children’s health, learning skills, and emotional development is because they are not “just pets” but are non-judgmental, unconditional, loving members of our families. Pets help families grow stronger and closer.

Check out for more information.

Please be responsible pet owners: spay and neuter your four-legged family members.

Gloria J. Towle is the secretary and a member of the Board of Directors of the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

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