Animal advocates hope to break barriers

Updated: 2013-06-03 08:15

By Wang Yuke in Tianjin (China Daily)

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 Animal advocates hope to break barriers

Homeless Animals Adoption Day, organized by Tianjin's non-government shelters, has run for four years in Tianjin to encourage more people to adopt stray animals. You Sixing / for China Daily

Parents' misconceptions sometimes cause children to fear dogs and cats

Tianjin's animal welfare organizations held the Fourth Homeless Animals Adoption Day on May 25, aiming to help stray animals and find homes for them.

Organizers planned the event around Children's Day in the hope of encouraging children to get close to cats and dogs.

"Some parents likely tell children to stay away from animals, saying they carry diseases and would be aggressive," said Zhao Jing, a devoted volunteer with Eryi Pet Yard, an animal shelter in Tianjin. "In my experience, few dogs or cats are aggressive unless humans provoke them first."

Parents' misconceptions might lead children to refrain from fully engaging with their pets, said Zhao, a kindergarten teacher. "Most children in my class stay away from animals though they are obviously interested in them."

She has convinced her kindergarten director to allow students to make frequent visits to Eryi Pet Yard.

Liu Hao, who attended the event with her 6-year-old son, said she is trying to make him a caring person by encouraging him to care for the family's dog.

"My son looks after his dog just as we do with him," she said. "He gives it food, keeps it company and plays with it."

But she still worries about the unpredictability of other animals and the possibility they might have communicable diseases.

"I can't put my worries aside even if I am assured there is no danger or risk. I can hardly gamble my son's safety on animals he doesn't know," she said.

Niu Zhonghui, who has a 12-year-old girl and is also the director of Tianjin University Kindergarten, said that although she wants her daughter to be friendly with animals and care for them, she is still cautious.

"She is only allowed to throw food to stray cats and dogs from a distance. After all, it's anybody's guess whether these unhygienic animals carry diseases or not," she said.

When asked whether her daughter might grow up to be indifferent toward animals if she was not allowed to get close to them, Niu disagreed.

"I have bought her pets from time to time, such as fish, birds, silkworms and a rabbit. Likewise, children in our kindergarten are tasked with observing, tending and feeding caged animals in the yard, so long as it is under the supervision of teachers," she added. "Helping rear these animals will also help kids become familiar with animals and care for them."

But for some Chinese people, a wariness of dogs is deeply ingrained. Some dog owners said they often receive insults from passers-by when they walk their pets.

"I'm annoyed when pedestrians stay clear of my chihuahua or parents shield their children behind them. Some even order me to get away from them," said a Tianjin University of Technology freshman surnamed Li.

Chen Qinggang, a psychiatrist in Tianjin Anding Hospital, which specializes in psychological consultancy and treatment, said it is difficult to strike a balance between encouraging children to like animals and preventing kids from interacting with them due to health or safety concerns.

He suggested parents also become more familiar with animals so they can weigh the risks rationally.

He said parents are right to take protective measures in encounters with wild dogs because of the possibility that the animal might have rabies or other communicable diseases.

Wang Jing, director of Tianjin Beining Pet Clinic, said parents who take in stray animals should take them to the vet for a physical examination before allowing them to interact with their children.

She said parents need to protect their children from diseases.

"But diseases like toxoplasmosis affect pregnant women and fetuses only, so parents don't need to panic about it," Wang said.

(China Daily USA 06/03/2013 page6)