Growing up with animals instills valuable lessons

Smiling lovingly, members of The Oracle Editorial Board pose with their beloved animal companions.  Growing up with animals teaches children valuable lessons.  Photos courtesy of the Editorial Board

Smiling lovingly, members of The Oracle Editorial Board pose with their beloved animal companions. Growing up with animals teaches children valuable lessons. Photos courtesy of the Editorial Board

Lilly Ludwig, assistant opinions editor

Between volunteering at animal shelters, caring for my own pets, and riding horses, it’s safe to say that I spend as much time with animals as most teenagers spend with their friends and family. This part of my life has taught me lessons I couldn’t have learned anywhere else.

I think every teenager should have the opportunity to grow up with animals. There is so much to learn from them, and the ways they can benefit our lives as humans are truly limitless. Here are just a few:

Growing up with animals forces you to be responsible. Ok, this is a given, but it goes beyond just changing the kitty litter when your mom tells you to. When you live with an animal, their fate is in your hands; they are relying on you to fulfill their basic needs: to care for them when they’re sick, to protect them and to love them. That valuable experience teaches responsibility in a more meaningful way than completing daily homework assignments ever will.

It teaches you to live in the moment. Humans struggle with the art of being present. Are animals truly the less intelligent creature because they don’t wallow over past misfortunes or manifest anxiety for future pains? I think having that same poise would alleviate an enormous amount of human suffering.

It reminds you that not everyone is malicious. We all know that growing up can be tough as we deal with the harsh reality that not everyone is going to be nice, supportive or honest. Animals are inherently pure; they don’t kill unnecessarily, they don’t say mean things and they don’t plot to hurt others. Sometimes, that alone is refreshing.

It teaches you to let go of past hurts. I’ve spent the greater half of 17 years with animals, and I’ve yet to encounter one that is holding onto past anger or resentment, even animals that have experienced some of the worst abuse. They forgive, they move on, they remember how to love again. Humans struggle with this.

It teaches you how to experience joy with zero possessions. In a community where somebody always has the newest phone or most expensive shoes, it can be difficult to remember that possessions don’t actually make people happy. Animals remind us of this because they don’t own anything, yet they experience joy from the most simple aspects of life: being outside, meeting a friend or just getting scratches. What a relief it is to know that most of this planet doesn’t actually care if your leggings are from Lulu.

Animals accept who you are. Being a teenager means your peers will judge what you look like, your teachers will judge how smart you are, your coaches will judge how athletically valuable you are—and that’s just called Monday. Every teenager should have someone in their life who will love them for who they are as a person instead of judge them for how well or poorly they fit the mold of what a teen is supposed to look like. Animals don’t have a mold; they will accept you wherever you are in life. And odds are, they’ll love you for it too.

It teaches you true selflessness. Animals are totally dependent on their caregivers for everything. When you’re caring for an animal, it doesn’t really matter how you feel or what you want, because the needs of that animal have to come first. You already have parents and friends looking out for you; your companion animal has only you. The ability to put another creature’s needs before your own with no resentment is a beautiful quality.

Animals keep us grounded. The bond shared between a human and their animal is deep and real. At a time in our lives when so much of our very existence seems shallow, where we are judged by the way that we look or the school that we got into, animals remind us that there is more to life than grades and money. They keep us rooted, they keep us connected to the Earth, and they keep us real.

I think that we are truly blessed to share our Earth with all of its creatures. Big or small, when you choose to live your life with an animal, you choose to set aside your ego and learn from a creature that is less powerful, a creature that doesn’t have a voice, a creature that is biologically different. And in return, the gifts they give to us are priceless.

I’m not saying that animals are better than people, but I am saying that animals make people better.