That dogs bite and cats scratch are the images I get in my head but I discover more and more how irrational my fears are when I allow my child to discover the animal by herself.

Im uncomfortable around animals but heres why I keep my fears away from my child
Blog Parenting Thursday, October 06, 2016 - 17:52

It’s only when I became a parent that the word ‘consequences’ hit me full in the face. Being responsible for the welfare of another person meant that I was always thinking ahead, negotiating a maze full of dangers and evaluating risks not just for my child but also for me. Because I want to be around to watch my daughter grow up. Harvesting my own pesticide free tomatoes is of higher priority currently than bungee jumping.

However, even as I’ve become more cautious as a person, I try not to pass on my fears to my child. Especially when it comes to how she forms her perceptions about the world.

I’m not a very animal friendly person. If I see a stray dog on the road, my first thought is that it might attack me. I keep away from cats. Rabbits might chew up my fingers. Parakeets are sure to peck my eyes out. Goldfish are all right as long as they’re in a glass bowl. Perhaps this has to do with my upbringing – as a child, I did not grow up around animals and have never loved one. I had a dog for a brief period when I was trying to live out Enid Blyton fantasies but we soon gave him away because nobody in the household knew anything about bringing up dogs.

However, my daughter, like most small children, likes animals. Even beetles and bats. She is yet to be convinced that a human life is superior to that of an animal’s, something we believe easily enough as adults. The liking that young children have towards animals is instinctive and immediate. I remember answering numerous questions that my daughter had about a mouse that was caught in the sticky pad at home. What were we going to do with it? Why couldn’t the mouse live in the same house as us? How do we know this isn’t Mickey Mouse?

Of course, not ALL young children feel this way and some discover early on what it is to cause pain and may even enjoy the power that they derive from it. But for the most part, small children enjoy the company of animals.

I’ve observed that friends of mine who’ve grown up with an animal at home are generally more comfortable when encountering someone’s pet or a stray on the roads. They don’t tense up the way I do, sending the wrong signals to the animal in the process. They don’t assume immediately that the animal will get violent or behave senselessly. They are willing to offer it their respect.

When I see the bond that people have with the animals they love, when I see the depth of their grief when a pet dies, I’m sometimes jealous that the doors of this world are closed to me. 

This is why I don’t discourage my child from interacting with animals whenever she has the opportunity. I keep an eye on her when she makes friends with a puppy or sits down on the ground, intently watching an army of ants on a serious march. I don’t shout out a warning when we go to a restaurant and find the owner’s cat curling up at her feet. That dogs bite and cats scratch are the images I get in my head but I discover more and more how irrational my fears are when I allow her to discover the animal by herself.

We’ve been to farms where she has petted cows and horses, delighting in the throb of their skin against her hand. She thinks pigs are cute and in any animal game, would like to be addressed as one. 

We currently stay in a large campus where mongooses come to the carpark, the occasional snake slithers in the bushes, and the milk bag sometimes has a surprised grasshopper. Once in a while, a peacock might come visiting too, exciting the numerous dogs on campus. My daughter has been campaigning for a pet in the house. I think I need to work on myself a lot more for that to happen. For now, I try to be the enthusiastic mother pointing out weaver bird nests and the many butterflies that surround us when we go on a walk, even as my heart beats a little faster every time a stray dog joins us for the journey.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.


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