Classroom Resources

Animals are...

intrinsically interesting to children and capture their imagination and emotions. Pet ownership statistics from 2020 indicate that 58% of Canadian households have at least one dog or cat,1 and this statistic doesn’t account for household that include other pets, like small mammals, reptiles or fish. Many children consider their pets as one of their most important relationships, even more so than siblings in some cases.2 Even if children do not grow up with pets, they are surrounded by animals in some form from an early age. They often see animals in their stuffed toys, mobiles above the crib, pictures in books, characters in cartoons or movies and even imprinted on their clothing.3

Animals also connect us to the natural world, and our interactions with animals have a profound effect on our natural world.  Beyond companion animals, we are interconnected through agriculture/food, medical and other animal-based research, entertainment, and through interactions with wildlife. Most all animals have been shown to be sentient4 which strengthens our obligation to ensure that future generations understand their needs and inherent value.  

Most young people are intrinsically motivated to treat animals well. Using these natural feelings can be a catalyst for fostering empathy and compassion in young people and provide a base for their ongoing social and emotional development. Humane education programs focused on animals have improved prosocial behaviours6 and reduced violent and aggressive behaviours in students.7 Furthermore, research suggests that children who have been exposed to animal neglect or abuse may benefit from humane education programming, as it can provide an opportunity to interrupt the cycle of violence.8,9


  1. Canadian Animal Health Institute (2021). 2020 Canadian Pet Population Figures Released. Available at:
  2. University of Cambridge (n.d.) Pets are a child’s best friend, not their siblings. Available at:
  3. Arkow, Phil. (2010). Animal-assisted interventions and humane education: Opportunities for a more targeted focus. In Aubrey (Ed), Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy. New York: Academic Press.
  4. Proctor, H., Carder, G., & Cornish, A. (2014). Searching for animal sentience: A systematic review of the scientific literature. Retrieved from:
  5. Hawkins R., Williams, J. and Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (2017). Assessing the effectiveness of a nonhuman animal welfare education program for primary school children. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 20(3), pp. 240-256.
  6. Samuels, W. E. (2018). Nurturing kindness naturally: A humane education program’s effect on the prosocial behavior of first and second graders across China. International Journal of Educational Research, 91(July), 49–64. Retrieved from:
  7. Sprinkle, J. E. (2008). Animals, empathy, and violence: Can animals be used to convey principles of prosocial behavior to children? Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 6(1), 47–58. Retrieved from:
  8. Komorosky D. & O’Neal K.K. (2015). The development of empathy and prosocial behavior through humane education, restorative justice and animal-assisted programs. Contemporary Justice Review 18(4) pp:395-406.
  9. Faver, C. A. (2010). School-based humane education as a strategy to prevent violence: Review and recommendations. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(3), 365–370.

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