a special feature from Leesa Rowland, animal advocate*

As a young girl growing up in Austin, Texas, many of my fondest memories are of those spent with my numerous beloved pets. These relationships helped to develop my empathy for all living beings, and my compassion blossomed into a lifelong appreciation.  All things considered, having a pet is a great responsibility, but one that creates a special place in the heart of a child forever.

For children, having a pet is like a rite of childhood; they enjoy animals and their companionship, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a cat, goldfish, hamster or dog. Pets are not only a source of entertainment, but also a play partner and warm companion.

• Animals offer developmental benefits to children. They help to build various social skills, improve self-esteem and aid immensely in developing compassion, as well as teaching important aspects of responsible behavior.  Children’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development can be greatly enhanced by interacting with their pets.

• Pets motivate children in practicing motor skills and exercising. Playing, walking or running with a dog in the yard are great ways for children to move around and not spend time with indoor sedentary activities.  And for those who may have special-needs, animals provide therapeutic benefits.

Animals have no agenda. They express love without judgments or opinions. Love and companionship are ageless. Pets teach us that living in the moment and caring for and accepting others for who they are the noblest ways to lead a positive and constructive life.

*Leesa Rowland currently lives in NYC with her adopted shelter cat Moo. She has rescued and found homes for over 200 animals, and is the founder of Animal Ashram, a 501 non-profit in NYC. For more information, email Leesa at leesa@animalshram.com or visit her website at www.animalashram.com