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I’ve known Jerry for almost two years now and wanted to share a little of his developing empathy, compassion and self-awareness through some stories about his engagement with animals and pets. It’s very encouraging.
A couple of days after Jerry first came to live with me (almost two years ago), I bought him three finches at a local market. Ever well-intentioned, I thought the little birds would be good pets and help teach him a sense of responsibility, but it was a crazy idea.
Actually the thought of a little kid, who only days earlier had been roaming around the street living in pure survival mode, having a developed sense of empathy that would enable to him love and care for pets was completely naive of me. He killed the first finch within a few hours. The second finch escaped within inches of its life and I can still picture the poor little thing wriggling out of Jerry’s hands and awkwardly flying out the window minus most of its tail feathers. I managed to free the last bird but it’s unlikely it survived.
In those early months I found he was excessively cruel to dogs and cats and even under my close supervision he found it really difficult to pat an animal without hurting it. We buried the first finch and had a little funeral. Jerry made a tiny cross from two sticks and we said a prayer, though the neighbourhood cats dug it up about an hour later and I had to throw it away to stop Jerry dismembering it.
I feel so proud of how much he has developed since then.
One of the first breakthroughs I noticed was about a year ago when Jerry was playing with a caterpillar (or then he was still calling them butterpillars). He was throwing it around on the ground after pushing it out of a tree and worrying it with a stick. He was very excited and shouted out to me “Tita Mel, this butterpillar will turn into a butterfly!”.
“No it won’t.” I replied.
“But why?” returned his puzzled little voice.
“Because you are hurting him and he will die. He cannot turn into a butterfly if he is dead.”
I continued with what I was doing and he came to me a while later telling me very earnestly he had put the butterpillar back in the tree because “I don’t want it to die Tita Mel, I really want him to be a butterfly!”. I was delighted as well as surprised.
This was probably the first time Jerry really appeared conscious of his affect on others: people or animals. You can imagine he played pretty rough, kicking, biting, pinching; and if he hurt me or another kid in a game he would never say sorry. Perhaps he didn’t even realise the other person was hurt. He was such a problem in the classroom too because he really didn’t know how to interact with the other kids.
As his self-awareness is expanding he has been playing much better with other kids and with animals too, and he is constantly asking me now for a pet.
The last few months the neighbours have had kittens and puppies and Jerry has been playing with them like any regular little kid. Gently stroking and holding them, wanting to feed them and give them treats. Being so interested in pets I found him a large black beetle one night a few weeks back and a completely thrilled Jerry immediately named him Mickey Mouse (note photo above of Jerry and Mickey Mouse watching Frozen).
“Mickey Mouse,” I heard him telling the black insect, “you are my pet now and I am caring for you and loving you and getting you all the things you need.”
Oh it was so cute. He emptied one of his plastic smurf boxes (compliments of a McDonald’s Happy Meal) and made Mickey Mouse a little house. He lined it every day with fresh leaves and red hibiscus flowers (carefully stolen from the garden of the lady next door) and put little bits of water in the lid.
“He’s drinking! Tita Mel come and look, Mickey Mouse is drinking.”
“Jerry why is Mickey Mouse out of his box and on the floor?”
“He need his exercise Tita Mel!”
It was everything I had earlier hoped for him and the finches and I am so proud of him becoming more independent in his choices, especially his new decision not to eat chicken (though cooking-wise it would be easier if he still ate it).
Jerry’s favourite food in the world in Chicken BBQ but after watching the video below he now refuses to eat chicken in any form. Considering his background where he barely got enough food to eat and was severely malnourished when I met him, this is a big thing.
I was watching this video on Facebook and Jerry happened to come and look over my shoulder, had I known what was at the end I probably would not have shown him [note: the video below is really disturbing and upsetting so watch with caution].
This probably my proudest moment to date (not because I am necessarily an animal activist) but because he making choices (his own choices) now and has a sense of right and wrong independent of me.
I wanted to share these noticeable developments in Jerry: not suggesting I have all the answers (or even any answers at all) I just hoped that this might renew the confidence of other parents and carers out there who have children experiencing difficulties relating to animals and pets.
© 2017 Melinda J. Irvine
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