All species of colorful animals are perched on the top shelves that surround our room. These cuddly toys seem to offer a guard of protection to the children who run around below or engage in the educational games, puzzles, and stories on our iPads. In this environment of interactive arcades and virtual realities that serve as attractors, or some might say, distractors in the library, it is heartwarming to see how the affection for one very real lovebird can still compete with several “Angry Birds,” the award winning hit app that has kids taking their best slingshot at the egg stealing pigs.
I love animals. Always have. But, growing up in my family, we only had dogs. To this day, I still shed a tear over the first one we lost. Gretel, as we named her, is still fresh in my memory. At that time, I thought I would never travel to the animal shelter again to break another beauty out of her cold cage to the soft quilt on top of my bed.
How wrong I was. I got over the loss of my first hound without forgetting the love. I remember asking my mother why dogs lived only a short time. It didn’t seem fair, particularly when a great white shark, which feasts off cute little seals, can live decades.
My mother’s answer at the time consoled me a bit. She said that dogs were angels and were needed up in heaven after they did their good work down on earth. And now, our family would be ready to free another one from the shelter. We would treat the second one like the first. We would treat this new puppy like the angel she was.
Dogs not only return your affection one hundred times over, but they give whether you do or not. As I have since discovered, so too are most live creatures. As Eckhart Tolle believes in his heartwarming book of a similar title, “They are the guardians of being.” I didn’t know this when I was growing up. The idea of having a cat, or gerbil, and yes, even a bird-just didn’t make sense to me. They couldn’t bark at an intruder, protect you from the bogeyman, or lick your tears a way. Again, how wrong I was.
Our lovebird, Holly GoFlightly, charms many of the children coming into our room and that is not an easy feat. Between the hours of 2 and 5, our area has the propensity to be rather loud and chaotic. So it can take quite a bit of creative, diplomatic energy to manage. Our Holly does an admirable job and she is a fraction of my size.
She is a lovebird in every way. Calming and sweet. Even now as I write this blog, she is taking a nap in the silk scarf wrapped around my neck. She is comfortable, warm, and I truly believe, knows she is loved. This eases me somewhat from the fact that she lives in a cage and her wings are clipped. I have since learned that this is done so these tiny birds cannot fly away into the cold winter wind or fly around the small cage and injure themselves.
Still, this upsets me and at first glance, appears barbaric. But, the fact remains, the market for exotic birds exists and there is nothing we really can do about it. Except make up for it. We try.
Holly receives love and attention from all of us at the Hampton Bays Library twelve hours a day. True, it may not be as good as her natural habitat of flying free in the wilds of her native jungle in Africa or the Island of Madagascar. Then again, the love from all of us here is all she has ever known; whether she is taking a nap on my shoulder, accompanying me as I help a child find another great read, or taking part in story time. This is the human kind of love, which is not so bad. And Holly is bathed in it.
She is waking up now. One of our young male patrons, who is usually rather rambunctious, asks if he can hold her. Since the busy hour has begun, I hesitate. But I have seen him with Holly before and he turns into a different person. He becomes protective, quiet, and responsible. He even tells his pals to “chill.” He doesn’t want his small friend to be frightened as he holds her gently and strokes her neck. She is happy. She feels safe. She feels the love. He does as well.
There is evidence that associating with animals enhances a child’s overall learning beyond their “abc’s.”
“Growing Up with Pets,” by Lynn Buzhardt in the May 1, 2010 issue of USA Today Magazine, discusses the advantages of having a pet in the development and growth of a child. Caring and loving a pet cultivates a child’s sense of responsibility, empathy, and selflessness.
Also, more than the emotional and psychological benefits are the physical health benefits. Alice Park, staff writer for Time reported on a study done by the journal Pediatrics. It described how a child’s immune system receives a boost the more contact he or she has with a pet, such as a cat or a dog (healthland.time.com, July 19, 2012).
In the 1996 May/June issue of Animals magazine, Bradford Swift, D.V.M., discusses the lessons that children can learn from growing up with pets and how these loyal companions make them grow into smarter, more successful, better-adjusted, and more responsible adults. He cites a study in the Wall Street Journal that profiled many successful Fortune 500 executives. Ninety-four percent of them grew up with pets and 75 percent still owned a pet. The national average by the way was only 53 percent. Swift wrote : “Many of the executives said their pets had taught them responsibility, empathy, and sharing, as well as providing valuable companionship.”
We are all huge animal lovers at the Hampton Bays Library and it shows in our events. It is not difficult to integrate the appreciation of animals into a library’s programming. Have the kids visit the local shelter where they can spend quality time with an abandoned cat, dog, or several other different types of living creatures. Also, the national campaign, “No Child Left Inside,” is one of many ways to arrange walks through a nearby nature preserve and listen to talks given by a wildlife expert. You can then coordinate a story time or discussion around some inspiring books, similar to the one’s here, while surrounded by the sound, smells, and sights of nature. Here are some of my favorite books to use with kids:
Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams
Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day is the first of seventeen warm and entertaining stories.
Harry & Hopper by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood.
Honk! Honk! A Story of Migration by Mick Manning and illustrated by Brita Granstrom
I Can Hear the Sun by Patricia Polacco
Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic, by Monica Carnesi
Puppy is Lost by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Noah Woods
Sammy in the Sky by Barbara Walsh and illustrated by Jamie Wyeth
Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, illustrated by William Munoz. This true story helps young and old truly see that love can shine a light at the end of any dark tunnel.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
That Pup! By Lindsay Barrett George
The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judity Viorst and illustrated by Erik Blegvad
Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery; Illustrated by Jean Cassels. This is an uplifting story about the power of true friendship. When all appears lost, love and loyalty keep us safe and together.
Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
Black Beauty by Anna Sewel
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Marley A Dog Like No Other, by John Grogan
Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan
Sable by Karen Hesse and illustrated by Marcia Sewall
Shiloh by Philis Reynolds Naylor and illustrated by Barry Moser
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume
Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff
Zoobreak, by Michael Korman
Most of us are familiar with these great books that deliver an enlightening and educational message in the power of love. Because let’s face it. Raising a pet is an expensive, time consuming responsibility. It might not prove practical for all families. If so, the life lessons found in these and other stories can serve as worthy stand-ins. Enjoy.
Our guest blogger today is Caroline McKinley. As a Librarian, Caroline is part of a great team of devoted, animal loving professionals at the Hampton Bays Library. She loves to write, read, and be around all “creatures great and small” wherever and whenever she can.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at email@example.com.