The balancing act: Keeping them safe

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As a parent, I know that delicate balance between letting kids explore and keeping them safe. It can be a dangerous world. A responsible parent can’t disregard the hazards, even as we gradually expand kids’ boundaries.

Playing in nature definitely presents a list of potential hazards, from sunburn to tick-borne illnesses (a particularly knotty problem this year!), animal bites, falls . . . a worried parent could go mad. I believe it’s important to remember that our primary job as parents is to render ourselves unnecessary–to rear independent persons who are as healthy and well-adjusted as possible, equipped with the skills and judgment needed to succeed as fully-functioning adults.

But achieving that goal requires that they stay alive long enough to become adults.

So, where do we draw the line? And how do we adjust appropriately–because that line always keeps changing! Developmental stages flash by so fast, we have to work, to stay on top of “what’s developmentally appropriate today?” I managed (with a lot of help) to shepherd two reasonably-functional human beings into adulthood, and for me the key always seemed to be information.

I have yet to meet the child who responds positively to “because I say so!” And they’re RIGHT. That’s an extremely unhelpful answer.

As appropriate for the developmental level, I always tried to take the time to explain to the child why certain restrictions had to apply, if I possibly could. Granted, sometimes there’s no time. But that meant we needed a follow-up conversation. I discovered even the youngest child has the capability to be a rational human being (to the extent that someone can be, at any given stage of development). If we want them to grow into that capability as adults, we must treat them accordingly when they’re kids.

As appropriate for their age, that means teaching kids how to prevent their own bad outcomes (wear sunscreen and bug repellent; know basic safety principles about approaching animals or walking on rotten branches or uneven terrain). They may ignore it, but at least they’ll know why it happened, if they do.

It helps to remember the favorite saying of a friend of mine: “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” Giving them wide enough boundaries to explore and “push their envelope” means sometimes there’ll be unfortunate results. That’s why it’s just as important to teach them what do do if something does happen. There’s no emergency situation that can’t be made worse by the victim’s panic! The goal is not to terrify them, but to empower them.

It isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Citypages (Minneapolis, MN) for this image! (no info available, on who’s the photographer).

4 Powerful benefits from a simple nature walk

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Some folks will look at this photo and see nothing but weeds, potential sunburn, probable bug bites, an annoying tick-check later, and dirty feet in the making. Grab the sunscreen and the bug repellent! They’ve let the kids loose in the the woods again!

Others will realize that these kids are receiving many more benefits than they are facing potential hazards. What are the benefits of taking a walk in nature? Let me count out a few for you!

1. Walking in nature improves emotional well-being. Children today suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety than past generations–yet walking in nature has been shown to counter “morbid rumination” (brooding on anxious or negative thoughts).

2. Walking anywhere promotes better fitness, but walking in nature is intrinsically satisfying. This makes it a more attractive activity than, say, walking on a treadmill or a track. The variations in terrain also can help foster greater agility.

3. The endless variety and movement in nature provokes a child’s natural curiosity. Some experts suggest it may help foster greater focus and improve kids’ attention span, while other folks have pointed out it can help improve listening and other cognitive skills. It’s also true that things a child personally experiences in nature can make academic studies of topics such as biology, ecology and other sciences more relevant and understandable.

4. Exposure to nature can also improve the body’s ability to function. While overexposure to the sun is a hazard, sunlight is essential to the production of Vitamin D in the body–a vital component for robust immune health. And speaking of the immune system, did you actually know that a little dirt is actually a good thing? A too-sanitized environment for children can actually backfire if the child’s body has no chance to build up natural immunities. It’s the same principle that applies to the immune-system benefits of household pets. Finally, being in nature can even improve kids’ eyesight, if they spend sufficient time outdoors!

Nature walks provide so many powerful benefits, it’s hard to overstate their value. So what are you waiting for? Grab the kids and get out there!

IMAGE: Many thanks to the writer/blogger Angela Amman for permission to use her photo “Walking in the Woods,” posted on her Playing With Words blog.

Laying sound groundwork

The Artdog Quote of the week 

Last month’s Quotes of the Week centered on climate change and the denial thereof. This month’s Quotes turn to the related topic of teaching children (and their parents) the important things that the natural world can tell us. As today’s quote points out, we won’t save what we don’t value. Summer beckons. Let us make the most of it!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Dona Matthews and her wonderful blog post essay about the value of taking kids outdoors to learn.

A place for kids “gleefully doing their worst”

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Welcome to Imagination Grove in McLean, IL, a place where more unsupervised play is allowed.

What if kids were allowed to pick flowers, build forts, break off branches, and carry away rocks from public parks? To make extra trails through the undergrowth, to dig holes? What’s the worst that could happen?

If you’re like a lot of grownups, you’re probably envisioning hard-compacted soil, hillsides denuded of flowers, and desolation. In some settings, particularly the more fragile, endangered areas, you’d be right.

But a lot of the current kid-generation’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have memories of being at large and creatively free, in wild or semi-wild places, where they did all of those things and came back from largely-undamaged natural places with a new and deeper appreciation for the natural world we live in.

Matthew Browning, a former Park Ranger, sought out an area in Sweden where he cold study natural play zones where kids were bound by very few rules. And no, these places did not escape unmarked. But Browning found that “after millions of kid-hours of use by children gleefully doing their worst, these play zones remain functioning natural areas. The damage wrought by kids was comparable to that from hiking or camping.”

Grownups being grownups, they’ve now created an acronym for areas reserved in public parks for such use: NPAs, or Natural Play Areas. But it’s a positive movement all the same. As Katherine Martinko of Treehugger writes, “It’s time we let the children play, let them cultivate relationships on their own terms with the beautiful forests around us.”

We won’t save what we don’t value. A few beaten paths and play-forts are surely worth the fate of the planet, wouldn’t you say?

IMAGE: Many thanks to Slate’s article Let Kids Run Wild in the Woods, by Emma Marris, for the photo from Sugar Grove Nature Center in McLean, Illinois

One-of-a-kind Rosa Bonheur

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Portrait of Rosa Bonheur, 1860, photo by André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri

This has been my week to just miss anniversaries. Earlier this week I missed K9 Veterans Day. This time it’s the anniversary of my subject’s birth: Rosa Bonheur (born Marie-Rosalie Bonheur) was born March 16, 1822.

In the course of her 77 years, Bonheur became the most famous woman painter of her century, won a long list of honors for her artwork including the Legion of Honor, and shocked a great many sensibilities with her highly original lifestyle.

She was literally born a rule-breaker. Her family, inspired by her father, were Saint-Simonians, followers of a radical-for-that-period socialist political philosophy that held, among other things, that men and women should be considered equals, and all class distinctions should be abolished (of course the group soon split, with one faction unable to accept the idea of female equality). 

Ploughing in the Nivernais, 1849, was Rosa’s first “big breakout” painting. She had exhibited at the Salon before, but this one was a commission by the state, after she’d won her first gold medal at the Salon.

Rosa never formally studied art (the École des Beaux-Arts didn’t even accept women at that time). Luckily for Rosa and the world, her father Oscar-Raymond Bonheur was an artist. He taught all four of his children to be artists, in the tradition of the family workshop. They helped him with some of his commissions, and later helped each other as well. 

Rosa’s brother Isidore was a noted sculptor; Rosa exhibited sculpture when she was young, but according to her Art History Archive biography she “did not want to overshadow” Isidore. Apparently she had no such compunctions about overshadowing her other siblings Auguste and Juliette; like her, they were primarily known as animal-painters, or animalières

The Horse Fair, 1852-55, is Rosa’s most famous painting. It is an enormous canvas, with a complex composition (she called it her own Parthenon Freize). It secured her reputation as a master of her genre and of painting in general. It now hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rosa may not have studied art in a traditional school, but she definitely studied animal anatomy at schools for veterinarians, and at slaughterhouses in Paris, despite the fact that those were not a “suitable” place for a woman. She even got special permission from the police to wear a smock and trousers when she went there. 

Lion at Rest, 1880, is one of several lion paintings by Rosa Bonheur. The subject is likely of one of her pet lions.

In her lifetime she owned many animals, including several lions, an otter, and of course horses. She received many commissions, including from the French Empress Eugénie (who visited her at her home near Fontainebleu to give her the Legion of Honor). 

Highland Raid, 1860, is one of Rosa’s better-known pieces that stemmed from a trip she took to Scotland (she also met Queen Victoria on that trip). The title does not mean the shepherds are stealing these animals–it uses the old Scottish word “raid” meaning “road.”

Rosa never married, although she established her studio in Paris with her companion Nathalie Micas, and later in life she toured the United States and lived in France with a younger artist named Anna Klumpke from Boston, who painted her portrait the year before she died, wrote a definitive biography of her, and to whom she left her entire estate.

The Monarch of the Herd, 1867, was one of the paintings sold by her estate after her death. She may have studied red deer at her home near Fontainebleu.

By all accounts, Rosa lived life on her own terms. As in the story about the Paris police and the dress code of the day, she was not afraid to adjust the rules to suit her own needs; while feminism was not a major theme in her artwork, it most definitely was, in the way she lived her life

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia for the photo by Disdéri, and the images of Ploughing in the Nivernais, and The Monarch of the Herd. I am indebted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the image of The Horse Fair, to Art History Archive for Lion at Rest, and to the National Museum of Women in the Arts for Highland Raid. 

Never too late to thank K9 veterans!

Well, darn it–I missed it this year. K9 Veterans Day was Monday, on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the US Army K9 Corps. A couple days off or not, however, it seems reasonable to honor the bravery and sacrifices of the magnificent animals who help keep our nation, and its human defenders, safe.

Dogs have been going to war with their humans for millennia, of course. Sergeant Stubby, of World War I fame, was very far from the first, although his story is pretty cool.

So is the story of Rin Tin Tin, arguably the most famous war dog of World War I, thanks to his subsequent acting career.

Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd Dog–still one of the most popular breeds for Military Working Dogs.

Dogs for Defense was an American Kennel Club-associated World War II program that slightly predated the Army K9 Corps, and helped supply its need for dogs. They accepted a wider variety of breeds than we commonly see today–including Alaskan Malamutes and Collies.

Today, most Military Working Dogs and law enforcement canines are German Shepherd Dogs, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois, chosen for their intelligence, aggressive natures, versatility, and athleticism.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s interesting that all three breeds were originally developed to herd and protect sheep.

Meet Cairo, the Belgian Malinois who helped Seal Team Six kill Osama bin Laden

The famous Seal Team Six dog Cairo, who helped in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, was a Belgian Malinois. These dogs, which are slightly smaller and lighter-weight than, say, a German Shepherd, are often favored by Special Forces.

Liaka, shown here on the job in Baghdad, is a Dutch Shepherd.

What’s a Dutch shepherd? They almost didn’t make it through World War II, but now they’re one of the three top MWD and law enforcement breeds.

Like most MWDs who are retrievers, Cobo the chocolate lab is a tactical explosives detector.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the many retriever breeds (especially Labrador Retrievers, as well as Golden Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers), which are especially prized for explosives detection. Occasionally other breeds also show up, from Springer Spaniels to Pit Bulls. The onetime favorite breed of the USMC, the Doberman Pinscher, is far less often found on the front lines today.

Whatever their breed, however, we owe them a debt of gratitude! We can make our thanks more tangible by supporting organizations such as Save A Vet, which make sure that once their military service is finished, these magnificent dogs can enjoy their retirement in a good home.

IMAGES: Many thanks to QuotesGram for the “Veterans” image. I am indebted to Wikipedia for the photo of Sergeant Stubby and the poster featuring Rin Tin Tin. I am deeply appreciative to Josh Tannehill for the “I am the Sheepdog” image.

Many thanks to the Fedhealth blog for the photo of Cairo. Many thanks to Gizmodo’s cool photo essay on Military Working Dogs for the photos of Liaka, the Dutch Shepherd and Cobo the chocolate Labrador. 

And finally, many thanks to Rebloggy’s “Top Tumblr Posts” for the photo of the German Shepherd MWD with an awesome superpower.

Yet more evidence that dogs are wonderful

The other day I came upon what I think is a wonderful story from the Denver, Colorado area. I’ve shared stories about a variety of service dogs on this blog, but this is the first “facility dog” I’ve encountered. 

This is one way that Pella helps comfort child witnesses, out of sight of the jury.

This program in Colorado was born of the persistent vision and efforts of criminal investigator Amber Urban, who got the idea from the Courthouse Dogs program in Seattle, WA. Over time, the Arapahoe County Courthouse has become one of several courthouses and child-services facilties where Pella and others like her are now accepted.

Pella helps children feel more empowered during what can be an extremely stressful interview or turn on the witness stand. The interviewers make a point of letting the child decide if Pella should be there or not (giving him or her a bit of control, in what is almost guaranteed to be a frightening, out-of-control experience).

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Denver Post’s excellent 8/18/2016 article about Pella and the “facility dogs” program in Colorado, by John Wenzel, from which some of the background material for this post was drawn, for the photo of Pella in “stealth mode” on the witness stand, and to YouTube, OakwoodNS, and KUSA for the 2012 video clip about Pella.