My love of animals began early. Or perhaps I should say, my sincere awareness of them began early. People can "love" all kinds of things, can't they? I "love" enchiladas. But, that's not the same, is it? To me, part of loving something or someone is seeing them with as much compassion and clarity that you can at the time.

Seeing them. Seeing them.

I remember being at family functions as a kid, say Thanksgiving, for example. My grandma's house was a simple place. Somehow, throngs of aunts, uncles, and cousins would somehow all manage to fit into that sweet little house. It was nice. However, chaos--even of the happy variety--can become tiring to some of us. I needed to get outside.

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She lived in West Texas, back when horned frogs were still quite plentiful. I used to love to go and look for them, always hoping to befriend one. Inevitably, I'd find one and try and pick it up as gently, as possible. Once I'd managed to calm the fellow/fella, I loved to pet it and watch as it eyes blinked with every pass of my finger across the tiny head.

It's interesting: I noticed how different ones seemed to have different temperaments. Some were extra rambunctious and hard to catch. Others seemed to have embraced the zen mode of reptile life.

It seemed evident to me, even then, that animals can have quite different personalities from each other--even within the same species. I began to see them as more "individual" as opposed to just one more representative of a generalized species.

And with those dogs and cats, and other creatures we take into our homes--could this be even more true?

It wasn't long before I'd run across other kids who did NOT have this same feeling about animals. I remember hearing a couple of kids at school laughing about how they'd almost boiled a frog, flung rocks at a bird, or threw firecrackers at the neighbor's cat. I just could never understand how one could engage in cruelty or laugh at creatures who mean us no harm.

Perhaps because people have different personalities, too.

Perhaps these kids were receiving much different messages at home. Although my dad would sometimes say things like "it's just a dog, get it off the couch," etc, at the "heart-level" both of my parents taught my sister and I to be kind to animals. I gleaned early on from our conversations that cruelty to animals was a repugnant act.

The idea of gentleness, kindness, and even seeing animals as individual creatures left a deep mark on my heart that will never fade. Though, I still have much to learn. We are all learning more about them every day.

For some though, animals are only here for our purposes and they seem somewhat blinded to their inherent value. They take the idea of "dominion" to the point of entitlement--with little or no regard for the creatures themselves.

Yes of course, animals give us so, so much. So, shouldn't we be grateful? Shouldn't we do our best to create the best possible life scenarios for these creatures that live, breathe, show affection for their young, hunger, and so on?

There are even studies confirming that instances of cruelty to animals are often common when looking back on the history of criminals who have murdered people. There's a direct correlation.

Ah, I could continue, but--general takeaway:

Being kind to animals and loving animals is not just about how they make US feel. They are living beings, too. They crave love. They have unique personalities. They deserve our tenderness. How do people learn this? It starts at home. It starts at the heart-level.

See them. See Them.

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