Samia Sharmin has been an animal lover for as long as she can remember. The mother to a three-year old recalls a childhood living in a house filled with an assortment of pets, where she would feed and groom her pet dogs by herself.
She remembers the time when she broke her ankle while jumping around. Her dog Bingo, a Labrador, came and sat by her, licking her broken ankle. “He immediately understood that I was in pain and I could see the love in his eyes for me,” says Samia.
Samia wants to pass on this love and empathy to her daughter Arshiya Aurora. She started taking Arshiya near her dogs when she was only six months old, to make her comfortable. The dogs, a German Shepherd and a Labrador quickly accepted her, and the little girl also enjoyed the company.
“Whenever she sees a dog or a cat on the street she is not scared. She will go up to them, talk to them and touch them to show her feelings. I never say no to her thinking it is dirty. I see myself in her every action! Moreover, counting dogs on the road is a favorite game for my 3-year-old,” explains Samia.
Samia later bought a Doberman named Lit, who quickly became Arshiya’s best friend. “Arshiya sneaks to the terrace to play with her, feeds her food when she is not supposed to or will plead me to let her bathe Lit all by herself! When Arshiya goes to sleep she makes sure Lit is not crying (she thinks Lit will cry when she is not around). This affection for an animal confirms my belief that she will grow up to be caring, empathetic, kind-hearted human being,” says the mother.
The bond between a pet and its owner is perhaps one of the greatest joys life has to offer. This is more apparent in children who grow up with a pet.
Dipanwita Ridi, owner of a shelter called Animal Lovers of Bangladesh (ALB), is an advocate of animal rights and is a firm believer of pets enabling children to having a healthier upbringing that other. She says children with pets learn to become: “more responsible than others. School is a place where children start learning and it’s important for our children to learn to care for animals and instead of being cruel to them. It’s scientifically proven that pet caring greatly help with early childhood development.”
According to the Australian Children’s Education & Core Quality Authority, “Having a pet at your service gives children the opportunity to observe, interact and learn about animals. It can be a valuable part of a child’s education and care experience, enriching their learning about nature, ecology and relationships.”
In Bangladesh, the superstition surrounding animals has not helped the cause for animal rights either.
“Most people never come to the aid of a street dog that is being beaten up someone. Even in this day and age people still have these ridiculous beliefs, like that when a dog bites you, it means somewhere, puppies are being born!” exclaims Dipanwita.
An American study in 2010, found that students who show stronger attachment with their pets tend to treat animals and humans in more empathic way and also have higher perspective taking abilities.
Dipanwita stressed on the need to incorporate awareness programs into school curricula. She says children who abuse animals will grow up as anti-social and more prone to violence and having an awareness program will help future generations building a more peaceful and harmonious society.
In an effort to help make a change, ALB plans to organise basic awareness and educational training in pet caring and also how to handle stray animals, starting with slums. Dipanwita says: “Most stray animals are found in slums and that is where we plan to concentrate our efforts.”
ALB plans to launch an awareness program in schools, colleges, and universities.
“We want to teach them what to do when someone is bitten by a stray dog, whether that person needs a vaccine or not and how to behave with strays. A street dog will most certainly bite you if you are aggressive with them,” says Dipanwita, adding that if the approach is calm then that risk is greatly reduced in most cases.
“Through this awareness program we will create volunteer groups. They will be tasked with educating people especially children about animal rights and welfare and continue ALB’s operations.”