Animals play an important part in the lives of children and certainly no Children’s Home should be without them.

The number of privately owned animals must however depend on whether there is a member of staff willing to take responsibility for them. It is an onerous charge.

The majority of children will at some time want to own mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, pigeons, hamsters etc, but it is the exceptional child who shows a real sense of responsibility towards them and maintains his interest.

Ownership of an animal should be a privilege, though it would appear reasonable to let every child at some time have his chance. When his enthusiasm has waned and he has become erratic over feeding and general care, he is generally pleased to be relieved of his burden, but he should not be allowed to experiment with another kind of pet. Dogs, cats and ponies provide a greater problem as it is obviously impossible for every child to possess his own. It is, however, a great advantage to have them ‘on the strength’. Nervous children can gain confidence through learning to ride a quiet pony. Dogs also have great therapeutic value. Disturbed anti-social children will often make contact with a dog when they are incapable of human contact. Their tensions are released and the animal becomes the means by which they are enabled to accept human friendship.

I remember in the summer of 1939 when working with refugee children, the help we received from a golden retriever who became the inseparable companion of a Czech child whose language we could not speak. The dog understood her.

Animals in a Children’s Home are always to some extent at risk not only because of possible neglect but also because of the abnormal tendencies of certain deeply disturbed children. This is not only a another reason for close supervision of the animals by one person but also for a general awareness of the problem by all the adults.

A boy came to St Christopher’s with a report from a child guidance clinic which suggested that he had committed acts of gross cruelty. He did not appear interested in our animals but when he talked in his sleep during periodic nightmares the refrain was always the same: “They’re not dead, they’re not dead, they’re quacking.”.

The only occasion on which we agreed to a privately owned dog at St Christopher’s was some months after we had admitted a particularly large family. They all settled easily but after their first holiday at home one of them, a girl of nine, returned distressed and miserable. The trouble proved to be ‘Rover’ a large wall-eyed mongrel who had not unnaturally fretted after the sudden disappearance of so many children.

At the end of the holiday the situation had been made worse by him escaping after the children had left for the station. There had been a distressing scene when Railway officials had pulled him out of the carriage. The child described how Rover had to be shut up all day while her father was at work and when he was eventually released the children in the street were in the habit of throwing bricks at him and shouting “Boss-eye”. This was the final insult. She burst into tears saying “I don’t like him being called Boss-eye. I don’t like it.”

Rover came to us on probation and by his discreet behaviour and devotion to his owner endeared himself to everyone. Five years later he returned from his holidays with distemper and died. His owner was inconsolable. When a well meaning school teacher suggested that the girl be allowed another dog she replied through her tears “But I don’t want another dog. I want Rover.”

The story had a happy sequel. When she left school and went to work in kennels she acquired another lonely dog ‘Kim’ who had been left behind when his owners went abroad. No mother cold have shown greater concern for her offspring or father worked harder for his support. She is now married and Kim has a stable home.