Why Teens Need Fur Therapy

"Get away from that animal!" my father called out. "He'll bite!"

Dogs wandered the streets in the city of my birth, Kolkata, India. They were wild, skinny, cowering, and sometimes rabid, and my thoroughly non-westernized parents taught us to fear them. When we moved to a country where some people seemed to revere dogs more than they did their aged relatives, I just didn't get the great American pet fixation.

But then I became a Mom. Reluctantly, in response to the begging and wheedling of two four-year-olds (and my husband), I agreed to acquire Strider. Over the years, I moved from keeping a distance to letting him follow me around the house with adoring eyes. And then I actually found myself becoming thankful for his presence. Immensely so, because when our boys got older and became more taciturn, still the conversations, stories, and jokes about Strider continued. They jettisoned stuffed animals and squirmed away from kisses, but affection for and cherishing of their dog intensified every year. Basically, he kept their hearts soft and open, and I became a firm believer in the power of dog therapy, expecially when it comes to teenagers.

Humans, Judeo-Christian or otherwise, were made to be stewards. My own parents, while never warming up to animals, brought their villagers' love of gardening with them to America and grew flowers galore. That's why, if your teen is going through a rough patch, why not provide him a way to interact with God's creation? God's command to rule over the living creatures on the earth (Genesis 1:28b) is actually given as a blessing:

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV).
As a vulnerable creature looks to him for food, water, companionship, exercise, and protection, or a small garden relies on his tending and watering, your son will glimpse a bit of God’s joyous, nurturing heart. You don't have to buy him a pet -- volunteer at an animal shelter together, take a weekly walk through the city zoo to check in on some favorite residents, or even pay him extra pocket money to grow vegetables in pots.

For our boys, with Strider's days sadly numbered, we brought Zipper home yesterday. I write this with a puppy's body nestled against my feet, realizing that my own tenderness towards this dog might be symptomatic of the leap I've taken across cultures. Of course, I still have high expectations when it comes to the younger generation respecting and caring for ancient relatives -- which Strider thinks is a most excellent cultural practice.

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