As a kid my best friend was my dog. He walked in the woods with me, he swam in the lake with me, and he slept next to me in the bed of the station wagon. My dog was a friend, a playmate, and a refuge from warring parents. He got lost and was found. He was injured and healed. My dog even got old and died. Through him, I learned about life.
Children have a natural attraction to live animals. When young children (2-6 years old) had dogs and birds in their classrooms, they kissed the dogs and talked to the birds but ignored stuffed animals (Melson, 2003). Children who live with animals also have a better understanding of biology. According to E.O. Wilson, there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems which he calls biophilia. Children love animals and as city dwellers they are so often detached from living things. So many children grow in concrete jungles devoid of plants and animals.
Children trust and confide in their pets. When asked to name the 10 most important individuals in their lives, 7 to 10 year olds included 2 pets along with their parents and grandparents (Melson, 2003). They talked to their pets and told them when they were feeling angry, happy, sad, and even shared secret experiences. One study showed that when compared to parents and friends, elementary aged children perceived their pets as loyal “no matter what” “even if you get mad at each other.” Children saw their pets as more loyal than friends. Everyone needs social support and pets are a form of social support for children.