When my children started to ask if we could buy a dog I found it hard to explain to them that owning a dog as a pet is a responsibility that requires some education, training and commitment. It is easy to buy a pet but caring for an animal properly over many years of its life is often overlooked. Of course the kids didn’t fully understand why they couldn’t simply buy a dog off the shelf like a tin of beans.
The question kept coming from my 3 young kids “Daddy can we buy a dog”. How was I going to teach my kids about animals in general and for them to learn more about caring for animals longer term? In Jogja there are very limited opportunities for children to gain hands on experience and contact with animals.
Fortunately a friend who volunteers at AFJ suggested that the kids could learn about animals by visiting the animal sanctuary. Naturally I followed up on the suggestion. The kids keen as mustard to ‘start off’ by learning how to walk and handle some of the rescued dogs at AFJ sanctuary.
On our first visit both the kids and dogs were very excited about meeting. However, the kids were a bit scared as were some of the dogs at AFJ on their first encounter. They simply didn’t know how to react to each other.
The staff and volunteers at AFJ were relaxed and supportive: showing the children how to walk the dogs in a controlled way and interact with them. It took a bit of time for the three young adventurers to gain confidence and learn how to handle the dogs without panicking and shouting, causing the dogs stress. Many of the dogs weren’t used to being with young children but both the kids and dogs soon got over that hurdle.
It has been many months since we started visiting AFJ and I am glad to say we are now regular and welcome guests. The kids enjoy the experience as much as the dogs do when they set off on their walks.
What is clear to me is the children have really benefited from being close to animals and nature during their many walks by the riverside under the shade of tall bamboos and trees. Walking the dogs at AFJ offers many benefits: Healthy outdoors activity, learning to care for animals and about compassion for living creatures we share our world with. We have all seen children and adults react badly to animals. Chasing them with sticks or throwing stones at them. The reason could be that people are scared and lack the experience required to relate to animals if they have had no contact with them.
When we first walked the dogs it was a bit chaotic as neither the kids nor the dogs knew how to react to each other. Now they are like old friends and simply enjoy the pleasure of river side walks chatting away and laughing playfully. The kids know all the dogs by name and understand much more about how to handle the characters of each of the dogs they take for walks.
AFJ now has 3 young volunteer dog walkers which is providing great pleasure to the children and giving much needed exercise and attention to the dogs that have yet to be adopted. It seems that the children were able to help AFJ by socializing the dogs that were not very used to children too so now they can be adopted by families that have children.
We have made many new friends with staff and volunteers at AFJ and of course without the dogs this would never have happened. I thank AFJ and the wonderful dogs for giving my children the opportunity to learn and discover the friendships that animals can give so freely when treated with respect.
Daddy of the three young AFJ Adventurers: Jogjakarta March 2015.