I had a lovely few days visiting with family in Florida. Our seaside accommodations were fabulous and the strip of white sand beach stretching for several miles was soothing to look at. From our balcony we could look down and see pods of dolphins fishing off shore. In the morning I joined the walkers along the tideline. As the sunbathers filtered onto the beach I noticed a striking similarity between the way the beach chairs lined up facing the sun, and the flocks of terns and skimmers doing the same.
I enjoyed watching the future engineers of America building sand castles with systems of canals and moats, and the ‘seeking’ behavior of the shell gatherers along with those with sophisticated metal detectors sweeping the beach. I did however find myself furrowing my brow as the young children raced into the flocks of birds, sending them into flight. It was in fun, and the patterns the black & white skimmers with their red banded bills made as they circled, had me marveling at their grace and the artistry of their flight and there was no denying the joy in the children’s faces. Yet it bothered me. Parents or guardians sat nearby oblivious or watched on with amusement.
I was pleased that our guide during a nature walk (we saw a box turtle!) brought this up and explained why unnecessary disturbance either wasted calories or prohibited the birds from foraging to get their daily allotment. I knew I wasn’t alone in my feelings of frustration watching a new generation show no respect or consideration for the needs of another species, realizing that it was too much to expect from young children, it was their parents who allowed a teachable moment to go by.
Animals help us learn about empathy and how to care for and about the needs of others. Most of the children I’ve met want to understand what animals are trying to tell us. Dogs provide us with some of the best opportunities to be amateur ethologists and professionally compassionate human beings. Who hasn’t envied Dr. Dolittle, even just a little? When it comes to understanding animals perhaps the first message we should be clear about is the one asking to be left alone, whether it’s whispered or shouted.