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Breakthru Centre organised an outing for the children to Animal Garden Serdang on 19th August.

Most children love animals. That is what we adults usually think. However, today’s children especially those who live in the city do not get the chance to interact with animals, even common domestic animals like dogs and cats, on a regular basis. Just a generation ago the children then especially those who grew up in the rural and semi-rural areas got the opportunity to live quite closely with dogs, cats, chickens, even larger animals like cows and goats. So today’s children mostly are not familiar with animals except for what they see on TV and read in books and get to know their names, and for many children particularly those with special needs they don’t even know the names of the less common animals.

And depending on their backgrounds they may view animals in different ways. They probably learn about animals from their parents. If their parents want to discourage them from touching animals or playing with them they probably learned from their parents and believe that animals are dirty or even dangerous. All these inputs from the parents of course do not paint a fully accurate picture about animals. Some children probably saw that animals are cute, but they might have been traumatised by bad or negative encounters with animals. My son Tristan, when he was younger, used to like to touch little dogs and especially cats that we saw on the street. But there was one time a dog turned aggressive against him and probably attempted to bite him. Ever since that experience he became very afraid to get near to dogs and even cats.

So I was happy to see that, during the trip to the animal garden in Serdang Tristan attempted to and did touch some of the animals especially the rabbits and enjoying himself being near other animals rather than being very guarded against them. I hope this outing brought a breakthrough to Tristan and other children who had a traumatised experience with animals in the past in their ways of relating to animals in the future.

I could see that all the children are enjoying the experience of getting to see the animals very closely and I believe it benefited them very much. At the very least they got to know, hopefully, the names of various uncommon animals or to identify them like the capybaras (the rat lookalike animal from Amazon jungle) and prairie dogs (which are not dogs at all but actually are rodents). Or that they learned to differentiate porcupines from hedgehogs from guinea pigs something which even we adults are struggling to do.

The younger children are mostly like Tristan being excited and eager but at the same time reluctant to touch the animals even though some braver ones did it and even fed the birds with seeds and the sheep with bread. The older children generally have less problems touching some of the tame animals like the rabbits, the huge parrots, or even the goats and the ponies.

I personally believe that exposing the children to various kinds of animals is important in increasing their knowledge about life. Of course, they need to be reminded that some animals are indeed dangerous in different ways and it would be wise to not get too near to them. But there are also animals which are tame and friendly and I learned that animals are used to provide therapies to some people, both adults and children, with special needs. And I will never forget an interesting advice given by a stranger to me some years back when Tristan was still small but we were already worried about him not speaking at all. I was sharing our concern in a particular gathering and after the gathering an elderly man came up to me and said, if you want your son to start speaking, easy, just get a puppy for him and he will start talking to the puppy. The old man then left and I never saw him again but I have always been remembering his words and wondering if he was being serious with what he said and whether it would have worked or not.

Due to logistical problems for my family like having to move from one location to another especially during the pandemic we never got the chance to act on that particular advice and never found out what would have happened if we had bought a puppy for Tristan. But there must be something special about some domesticated animals in their ability to help people who are under stress or having special needs.

I think it was also helpful that during the visit to the animal garden every child was being closely accompanied and guided by an adult or a much older student. This must have given confidence to the children to get closer to and learn about the physical build up and the behaviour of the animals. Again, the dedicated teachers and staff of Breakthru were very focused in ensuring that the children had a safe and fun experience with the animals. Hopefully, at the very least, the children have learned and changed their outlook on animals in general, that not all animals are dangerous but that some of them can be very cute, friendly and playful.

Timonthy Wong – Tristan dad

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