A veterinarian mom explains how her work has helped her three kids become more gentle, kind, and compassionate.

Advertisement
An image of a veterinarian and a dog.
Credit: Getty Images.

My life has revolved around loving and caring for animals, no matter their difficult circumstance. My childhood dog was blind, and my vet school dog was diabetic. The love I had for those dogs is still palpable decades later.

Now, in my work as a house call veterinarian, I see this type of love between animals and humans every day. The human animal bond, whether it be with a dog, cat, rat, bearded dragon, or a pretty blue beta fish, brings out deep compassion and kindness.

At home, my husband and I have enriched our children's lives with animals in many different ways. When our kids were young, we agreed to keep the numbers under control with our two-dog max rule and brought Lucy, a deaf border collie, and Wendy, the whippet, into our home. The pooches gave our kids an opportunity to learn to be gentle, kind, and sensitive to another's needs. We've now brought more animals into our home, and along with watching me at work, it's continued to change their lives in a positive way and here's how.

Helping Those in Need

As our kids got older, the fringe benefits of having a veterinarian mom started to surface. On some level, it makes perfect sense that I would move away from the two-dog max rule. It's not that I wanted a house full of dogs and other animals, but I did want more than two.

So, we expanded the numbers by both fostering and adopting dogs and birds. Of course, this was all orchestrated by the veterinarian side of me. Our kids got to feed tiny, helpless, orphaned baby birds that resided on our kitchen table for weeks before learning to fly around our living room, and they helped severely traumatized and medically complicated dogs heal so that they could move on to their forever homes. As a result, they developed a keen awareness of animals and people who are in need.

Understanding the Importance of Compassion

In addition to our in-house animals, our kids regularly traveled with me to do veterinary house calls. The young "assistants" met cuddly puppies and kittens, geriatric labs who could hardly walk, and cats who hid under dusty beds. They sat and had breakfast with my clients while I took care of my patients. They observed our interactions during happy and very sad times. These were important teaching moments that nurtured a lasting sense of compassion for others with a sense of responsibility to take meaningful action.

Advocating for Those Who Can't

When our son was only 5 years old, he literally screamed at some kids who were throwing rocks at seagulls on the beach. My husband was mortified which led to a discussion about how to advocate more appropriately, although it is likely because of my son's reaction, those kids probably found other more humane ways to coexist with seagulls at the beach!

All three of our kids also frequently shared their concerns about children who were ostracized by peers on the playground. We saw a steady flow of injured birds from the schoolyard to our home. When they would consult with us as they formulated a plan of action, we knew that our values were making a difference. Caring takes many forms and they were caring!

Adopting a Growth Mindset

In early 2017, I unexpectedly crossed paths with a tiny deaf blind puppy. A shelter veterinarian friend of mine was looking for someone who would be a "good fit" for the puppy. I offered to briefly foster the profoundly disabled, extremely anxious puppy. Long story (that is told in our new book, Piglet, The Unexpected Story of a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy and His Family), my husband and I formally adopted Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy in May of 2017 after two fitful months of fostering.

To justify adding a seventh dog to our already full house, I partnered with Piglet, my husband, and our three kids, to raise awareness and funds for dog rescue organizations that focus on dogs with disabilities. But as I posted pictures and videos on his new Facebook page, Piglet's positivity and determination to connect with his people and his environment, despite his limitations, inspired adults and children to face their own challenges in a positive way.

A photo of Piglet
A photo of Piglet
| Credit: Courtesy of Melissa Shapiro

Through our popular Facebook posts, I connected with a third-grade teacher who planned to use Piglet videos as part of her "growth mindset" lessons. She called it Piglet Mindset. I created educational materials for her to use, and our Piglet Mindset educational outreach program was born.

The program is essentially an extension of what I had been doing all along with my own children. Piglet Mindset focuses on the five stances of growth mindset (optimism, perseverance, resilience, flexibility, and empathy) as well as acceptance, inclusion, and kindness through the example of our six other rescued dogs who skillfully accommodate their deaf blind puppy brother. We call them Piglet's Inclusion Pack! The program offers teachers and parents worldwide, free downloadable curriculum that brings these powerful concepts to their students through an engaging animal model. In-person and virtual visits with Piglet and the other dogs enhance the Piglet Mindset experience.

The Bottom Line

There are countless ways children can be involved in experiencing animals that will foster compassion, inclusion, and kindness. A veterinary degree is not required to have family pets, although bringing pets into the household should be done only when parents are ready to take on that responsibility. Kids can also join a local nature center, volunteer for rescue groups and animal shelters, have birthday party fundraisers, and even give informative presentations about animals in school. Either way, their involvement will teach them valuable life lessons and how to care deeply for others.

Melissa Shapiro, DVM, is a veterinarian, a lifelong animal welfare advocate, and mom to three children, six rescued dogs, three rescued birds, and Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy. She is the author of Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf Blind Pink Puppy and His Family. Learn more about Piglet Mindset by visiting PigletMindset.org.