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The importance of pets
Most people do not doubt that pets are great companions and that they are good for everybody (young and old people). To many adults, especially those who live alone, animals are like family members. They fulfil your need for affection and attention like only animals can do. To children, in addition to being their companions all day, animals also serve to help them learn day-to-day things. Animals show the circle of life in an accelerated way compared to human beings (birth, youth, adulthood, old age and dying). They also show children other things related to life such as having an accident, getting ill and knowing how to take care of themselves. As these phases are more accelerated in animals than in human beings the children learn about them through the animals. Moreover, animals help the children to develop their sense of responsibility, since they need to be taken care of constantly. In a study performed by Robert Bierer it was concluded that children, aged ten to twelve who had animals had more empathy towards others and higher self-esteem. Pets also help children to reduce their anxiety, tediousness and fear and to develop a better capacity to integrate and to be more focused in school.
There are many important factors in the choice of a pet. The fact that the person who acquires it can have allergies (like asthma, bronchitis, etc.) is one. If that is the case, the person should opt for an animal that does not provoke allergies, for example, an aquarium with fish or a turtle.
Another important factor is the age of the children that will socialize with the animal. Despite each child having its proper rhythm of maturity, the appropriate age to have a first pet is from six years onward. At this age the child is already familiar with school, is already more sociable and will possibly already understand its responsibilities towards its’ animal. In other words, it will understand that it cannot mistreat the animal and it must care for its’ hygiene and feeding.
When a married couple already has a pet and the woman gets pregnant, it is necessary to train the animal to adapt to the pregnancy and later to the arrival of the baby. The animal might not like to share attention, it can feel rejected. After the birth of the child there must always be an adult to supervise playing, as the animal can bite or scratch the child unintentionally. This occurs mostly when the child starts to crawl or walk. You also have to be careful with the child in relation to the animal as the child can hurt the animal due to the fact that it is still not mature enough to deal with the animal.
Dogs are playful and adapt easily to children, but they need to take a bath once a week and to have a walk at least once a day, even if it is a short walk. Therefore it is necessary to consider if the future owner of the animal has the possibility to provide the treatment that it needs. Cats have better hygiene and are practically independent. They learn to use the catbox on their own and they lick themselves clean daily, thus they only need to take a bath once a month (at the time of the bath their claws should be cut too and in case you don’t know how to, it is better to take the cat to the vet).
It can be concluded that, despite the work and the constant attention animals need, we are always rewarded. They give us joy, company and loyalty like nobody else.

Pets facilitate communication
According to a study carried out in Paris, France, seventy-six percent of the people interviewed believed that the presence of a pet favoured the communication between family members. A group of sixty children was observed and sixty-three percent of them owned a pet such as: dog, cat, bird, fish or turtle. The results of the inquiry confirm the importance of these animals to the development of affection in children and adolescents. The fact that the animal is permanently available for sociability with its’ young owners appears in the study to be a key-factor for the relationship between family members and this also shows that the presence of pets in homes is of great importance.

Children and animals
The relation between man and pets has existed since thousands of years and has been the object of study in areas like Anthropology, Palaeontology, Sociology, the History of Mentality and Psychology. Studying the roles between animals and humans, as well as the desires that humans project on animals can provide important knowledge of the human mind.
When the child starts to grow and develops its’ emotional relations, objects are being substituted by living creatures. Of all pets the dog is the most common one, and it is also the one that interacts the most with human beings. With a dog the child can play, run, explore the environment and experience new things. There is a significant benefit here: the child does not interact with total power on the object of affection and its’ actions provoke reactions. The dog can run to pick up a ball or a stick. It can growl and even bite. He reacts to the affection, wags his tail, jumps... and attacks if he is mistreated. Not only the dog, though being the most common animal to interact with a child, also other animals have an important role. The cat leans against the child and lets itself be caressed and fish get agitated in the aquarium while being fed. Beside the development of emotional relations and the stimulation of the sensory-motor period (touching, feeling, exploring the body of the animal and observing its’ reactions), much knowledge is acquired in the psychologic and scientific field.
Having an animal also requires different chores and these chores, guided by an adult, stimulate autonomy and responsibility. Being in charge of cleaning the animal and its’ habitat, taking care of its’ food and giving it medication when necessary, also favours the development of the emotional bond. Being responsible for an animal means dealing with the most diverse feelings from frustration to joy and even death. It is in this aspect of life and death that the pet has a very important role, since the child learns to deal with loss and pain. We all have to go through it and even though we would like to avoid it and spare ourselves the pain, this is the circle of life and we can not change it.
In this very healthy and necessary companionship, the child learns a lot and develops its emotional feelings for the future. It teaches the child how to relate to other people and future partners. All this is done in safety, with understanding, acceptance and respect between the animal and the child. If in the art world we find a place for development of creativity and self-knowledge, it is in the world of nature that the child develops sensibility, observation, comprehension and feelings of solidarity, generosity and affection.
To summarise, the child who lives together with animals:
is more affectionate, shares its’ things, is generous and loyal. Demonstrates greater understanding of events and is critical. Observes things and is more emotional with people and situations.
presents autonomy, responsibility, concern with nature and social problems, and develops good self-esteem.
relates easily to friends, becomes more sociable, cordial and fair, knows the value of respect.
develops its’ personality in a balanced and healthy way, can deal with frustration more easily and liberates itself from selfishness.
A few interesting facts:
Patients with autism have been " woken up" from their state of constant withdrawal by the presence of animals;
In old people’s homes the presence of animals increases life expectancy;
Hippotherapy (complementary therapy with horses) is used in the psychomotor development of carriers of Down Syndrome and other congenital or acquired neuropsychomotor deficiencies;
Animals are useful for people with sensorial deficiencies (blindness and deafness), muscular motor coordination difficulties (ataxia), muscular atrophies, cerebral palsy, behavioural disturbances and other problems.
A dog is capable of having a presentiment of “convulsions", characteristic of epilepsy, both in a human being and in another animal.

How to combat the abandonment of animals
There is at least a million abandoned animals in Portugal. The problem is elevating each year and therefore it also becomes more difficult to have these animals adopted. Local councils and non-governmental organizations have organized campaigns in order to make people aware of this situation and also to encourage benevolence towards the animals. But apparently the number of abandoned animals is still not enough to make people react. When your father is ill you call 112 or you simply take him to the emergency service or, if it is less serious, you make an appointment for a medical consultation. You pay a small fee and most remedies will be accessible because their cost is shared by the state, to which you pay your tax. This is all well thought of and well programmed with accessible costs because it is concerning your health. Your right to health! And when a cat or dog becomes ill? Will the bank manager be touched when being asked for a loan of two to three hundred Euros to treat your pet? Will your family feel so sorry that they will offer you money to treat the health of your cat? Would it be too expensive for the state to have half a dozen veterinarian hospitals distributed in the most important cities? Many people who have animals still have to get civilized! A lot of people have no idea of the existence of the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights, which says, in article 6 - paragraph 2, in a very clear way, that the abandonment of an animal is a cruel and degrading act.
Fighting the abandonment of animals is not easy. There are some suggestions about how to deal with irresponsible owners, for example, the elaboration of simple and inexpensive pamphlets that supply information to all people who intend to hand over or try to adopt an animal. These pamphlets must show people the advantage of having a sterilized animal and inform about the costs for feeding and medication. Further on it should inform about the expected lifetime of the animal and explain what to do if the animal is not sterilized and how high the figures are of reproduction during its natural life (real numbers), etc. In case someone, for any reason, wants to return the animal to be put to sleep, this person must be reminded that the animal was not guilty of any crime and that it could not choose a responsible owner of its’ own. It is only the original owner who is guilty of neglecting its’ animal.

The charisma of the small felines
Domestication of the cat did not occur as fast as that of the dog, although this cannot be said for certain. It is thought that the domestication of the cat occurred about five thousand years ago, while the domestication of the dog occurred approximately twelve to twenty thousand years ago. In part of ancient Egypt (currently Sudan) the people passed from a nomad existence to an agricultural one, that due to the characteristics of the Nile, was predisposed both to times of good harvests as to years of drought. Consequently it was necessary to store cereals actively for posterior distribution in worse times. This food accumulation caused the multiplication of rodents, that obviously, caused a lot of damage. With this growing number of rodents the wild cat (the natural predator of rats and other rodents) was approaching itself to humans in order to obtain food more easily. In return humans, seeing the advantages of this approach, started to relate to the cats until creating a steady relationship. These wild cats gave origin to the Egyptian and the Abyssinian cat. There is also strong evidence that the cat was domesticated in different places at different times. Modern cats are the result of the mixture of these different origins.

Canine psychology
Ever since pre-history humans train the dog to fulfil various tasks in exchange for food and shelter. These tasks were quite natural and instinctive, including hunting and guarding. The relation between human and dog was very simple. Humanity started making progress. They exited their caves and entered into civilization, a process during which the dog was always present and had to adapt to new situations and perform new tasks. Meanwhile the relationship between the two was getting more complicated. Today we live in a different environment, in which the relation between human and dog is under great stress. Nowadays we expect a dog to have good manners, a steady mind and obedient behaviour. In earlier days the dog was only asked to perform simple tasks.
The increasing number of dogs and cats (as pets) and their concentration in cities has forced them to live in artificial environments and to adapt to the pace of human lives. At times, these circumstances cause behavioural problems. This leads to even more difficulties when it comes to sociability between man and animal. The instinctive behaviour of dogs has hardly changed with the passing of time. Domestic dogs and wild dogs still share much instinctive behaviour and the same standards of group behaviour. Even with the selective breeding of dogs by man over the years, nothing was added to their "natural design". Some good qualities were improved and others, less good, were reduced. However they remain characteristics that always have been present in the dog.
Successful training and development start with knowing and understanding our canine friend and having the capacity to apply canine psychology. A behavioural therapist can have a very important role, as he helps the owner to get to know his animal, in terms of behavioural and anatomical physiology and in terms of learning and development. Equally he will be important in identifying and correcting behavioural disturbances, contributing to improve the quality of life of the animal and the person. The therapist also can identify and differentiate the pathological behaviours of inadaptation, elaborate diagnoses and therapeutical possibilities.
It is important not to forget that a good relationship between the human being and its’ animal is based on mutual respect, knowledge, love and confidence, Though with greater accent on the human being. Problems often do have a solution; therefore you should not give up when they arise, but contact somebody specialized in these matters.

Whatever animal you choose, it will always be a great friend
In passed years and mainly in rural society, animals had a usefulness that was totally related to work. Currently, in an urban world that becomes "less natural" each day, animals are not used for this purpose anymore. Due to social demands and the fact that we all lead an extremely stressful life, man is emotionally isolated and has a profound necessity of interpersonal communication. These circumstances cause a desire to search for relief of this loneliness. Man needs something to keep his dreams and memories of a more distant nature alive. Thus, the pet is transformed into a confidant and trusted friend whose understanding and patience enables man to relieve his anxiety and depressions.
In this way we can say that:
stroking an animal can help to relax and lower blood pressure;
observing an aquarium makes you feel calmer (it is advised by many therapists in situations of work stress);
pets, especially dogs, teach children to communicate and to establish social relationships more easily;
pets stimulate good mood and happy moments (numerous studies indicate that a good mood is the best tool to fight stress and relieve tension);
in elderly people, the company of animals allows to reduce, in a dazzling way, the number of visits to the doctor and the risks of suicide.

 

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