Teach your children to love animals, not fear them - opinion

It grieves me when I witness parents scooping up their children as soon as they see us coming, thus instilling in them a fear that will undoubtedly blight their lives in one way or another.

 Hugo, the floppy-eared spaniel, helped the writer's family through a difficult time.  (photo credit: ANDREA SAMUELS)
Hugo, the floppy-eared spaniel, helped the writer's family through a difficult time.
(photo credit: ANDREA SAMUELS)

In the Netflix series, After Life, the only thing that gets the protagonist Tony up in the morning after his wife’s tragic death is his dog, Brandy. Brandy plays an important role, as it is he who keeps Tony going through his darkest period. 

Although After Life is a TV show created by and starring Ricky Gervais, it’s a true reflection of the positive effects that our four-legged friends can have on us.

This is certainly the case for those who suffer from mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. The isolation and loneliness that often goes hand-in-hand with such illnesses can be alleviated, simply by having a dog. 

The unconditional love and support that dogs provide can be a lifeline for many. 

We shouldn’t underestimate our furry friends. Not only do they get us up and out when we’re feeling low, the things that they are capable of are simply amazing. They can assist those with disabilities, provide therapy to adults and children alike, serve alongside humans in the police force and army, aid search-and-rescue teams, and even detect cancer cells through their exceptional sense of smell. The list goes on.

 Illustrative image of a person holding a dog. (credit: PXHERE) Illustrative image of a person holding a dog. (credit: PXHERE)

I grew up with floppy-eared English Cocker Spaniels. Bubbles, who passed away when I was a young child, was our first. I was heartbroken. I can still remember the cruel irony of the Bees Gees song “Tragedy” being number one in the charts at the time of her death. Whenever it came on the radio, I’d bawl my eyes out. This went on for months, until finally Bugsy, another spaniel, came into our lives. 

These wonderful creatures were part of our family and instilled in me a love of animals that has endured to this day.

The first family spaniel

IT TOOK a while for me to convince my husband and children that having a dog would be good for us (my husband wasn’t a “doggy” person and the kids were scared), but once I’d managed to persuade them, our house soon became overrun with four-legged friends.

Hugo, another spaniel, of course, came first. He was a show dog who had appeared at the world famous dog show, Crufts. Sadly for him, but happily for us, he’d grown too big to show or breed by the time he reached the ripe old age of two, rendering him useless.

We adopted him, heralding the start of my own family’s love affair with dogs.

Hugo was a magnificent animal, insofar as looks go. He was pretty rubbish at most things however, apart from eating. That said, he did something only a dog could do.

He entered our lives at a difficult time – and helped us through it. His quiet, unassuming manner coupled with his unconditional love for us all was, quite simply, a Godsend. 

Pretty soon after his arrival, the kids decided that Hugo must be lonely – and so, the hunt for a companion – another dog – began. This time, however, the main criteria of our search was the ability to “fetch.” Woody, the Jack Russell, seemed to fit the bill and before I knew it, we were a two-dog family. Although it soon became apparent that Woody couldn’t fetch either, and Hugo was less than pleased with his new “friend,” he slotted into our family beautifully, tagging along with us wherever we went.

Not content with being the only girl, my daughter, Orli, who has three brothers, insisted on getting another dog; only this time it had to be a cute, little-girl dog. Bella, the chihuahua, then joined us. 

In the space of a year or so, we went from being a dogless family to one of those strange families with too many.

No dog left behind

WHENEVER we all went out together, the cacophony of noise was deafening. We traveled round in a van, the only thing which would fit us all in.

The dogs came everywhere with us, including on aliyah. Although the paperwork involved proved rather difficult, that didn’t stop us, “No dog left behind,” became our motto.

And so, we embarked on our new life here in Israel with three dogs. The two little ones, Woody and Bella, adjusted very well to their new lives; the climate, the beach and so on didn’t seem to faze them at all. 

Hugo, the spaniel, however, struggled from the start. He panted throughout the summer months and wasn’t partial to the beach since he hated the water. He refused to go in it to cool off. Consequently, he spent most of his time indoors, strategically placed under the air-conditioning unit, when he wasn’t following me around – his favorite pastime.

Sadly, Hugo passed away a couple of years ago, aged just nine. We all knew it was coming as he had been diagnosed with a tumor and we had been warned that he didn’t have long to live. When the time came, he slunk off to a far corner of the garden to die, something that animals do, I’m told. We found him there, taking his last breaths. Having sent Woody and Bella inside so they wouldn’t have to see Hugo like that, we carefully moved him into the shade and stroked him as he faded away.

We still miss Hugo dearly. Without even realizing it, just by being there, he helped us all when we needed it most and loved us unconditionally.

More importantly, he instilled in my children a love of animals, something that will undoubtedly enhance theirs and (please God) their own children’s lives in due course.

Of course, not everyone is able to have a dog. Even those who would like to often can’t have one for one reason or another.

It grieves me, however, when I witness parents scooping up their children as soon as they see us coming, thus instilling in them a fear that will undoubtedly blight their lives in one way or another. If only they could see how important it is for us all to have a love of animals, and dogs in particular, who at some point in their future, could be a source of great support and comfort to them.

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.