Everyone has heard of the positive benefits of pets for the elderly, but what other demographic can you think of that may need some unconditional love and understanding? Why, teenagers of course! They often feel misunderstood, unloved and just plain dumped on as they are caught between being children and being adults. Teenagers are trapped between being responsible for their decisions and having to ask permission for the things they want to do. Pets are a very positive interaction for troubled teens, providing love and emotional support as well as teaching responsibility.
My oldest son is now 16. Just after he turned 13, he went through my divorce and the destruction of all that was stable and safe in his life. We were both thrown into turmoil. Anger and depression were affecting my son’s choices, and he made quite a few bad decisions.
He began misbehaving at school, dabbling in drugs and just generally choosing to be around people who were a bad influence. I felt like I was losing my son. The sweet boy who smiled and laughed so easily was becoming an angry and out of control teenager who more often wore a scowl. He stopped communicating with me, and I was at a loss as to what to do. Punishments and talking didn’t seem to help; everything I said went in one ear and out the other.
We found a place to live with a friend, and lo and behold there was a dog. Not only that, but a dog that was shy and a bit insecure, and more often than not could be found hiding under a bed. This dog was Bear. This wonderful patchwork dog that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere and lived on the fringes of the family became part of my son’s salvation.
My son instantly began working with Bear to get her to be more sociable, even when he wanted nothing to do with other people himself. He took on the responsibilities of taking care of her, and before I knew it everywhere my son was there was Bear. They formed an intense friendship, he talked to her and he petted her, and Bear? Well she listened to him, she didn’t judge and she loved him no matter what. She absorbed the love that the troubled teenager had to give but couldn’t find a way to express to people.
The boy and the dog formed their own unit of support and love that was a doorway to my son learning to express his emotions. Because of Bear’s nervousness, my son learned to express anger without yelling or throwing things; he learned to keep his composure because of his love for this dog. It was a friendship that helped him see the future instead of the destruction in the past. In many ways Bear helped save my sanity by being a source of unconditional love and understanding for my teenage son.
To this day, there is no one that Bear loves more than her boy. She is protective of him and always full of love and excitement when he comes into the room. She loves to sit beside him or try to get all 50 pounds of her into his lap to be petted. Not only did Bear transform my son, he also transformed her into a real family dog that loves her people and interacts with us all regularly. She still prefers to sleep under the bed, but if a hand is placed near the floor she will scoot over and lick it before going back to sleep.
In several cities across the United States there are programs for troubled youth that incorporate caring for pets into their programs. Teachers Pet, AAT and many other programs provide animals for teens to interact with in order to learn responsibility. In these programs you will find cats, dogs and even horses. Animal shelters are always looking for volunteers and amazingly, those lazy teenagers who don’t ever want to do anything but listen to music and hang with their friends have proven to be the most dedicated and loving of shelter volunteers. Many troubled teens go on to be dedicated to animals in their adult lives as well, continuing to volunteer and do things to make the world a better place for their animal friends.
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