William Crain

The Emotional Lives of Animals & Children: Insights from a Farm Sanctuary

A psychologist helps create a sanctuary for rescued farm animals and discovers how the animals’ behavior casts light on children’s emotions . . . 

In 2008, Bill Crain, a professor of psychology at The City College of New York, and his wife Ellen, a recently retired pediatrician, 9781618520821opened Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag, New York. The sanctuary provides a permanent home to over 70 animals rescued from slaughter and abusive situations, including goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, ducks, partridges, and a mini-horse. It also has afforded Bill a tremendous opportunity to observe animals in all manner of emotional states and how their behavior casts light on the emotions of human children.

In The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children, Crain honors the work of John Bowlby a psychoanalyst who began his major writings in the 1950s. Bowlby drew on biologists’ observations of animals to provide a compelling account of children’s attachment to their caretakers. “Today, the study of attachment is extremely popular,” Crain writes, but “one would hardly know that the initial inspiration came from observations of non-human animals. Moreover, there has been little effort to extend Bowlby’s work – to see how the study of animals illuminates other aspects of child development.”

Crain suggests that the reluctance to follow Bowlby’s lead reflects the Western worldview that considers humans as different from and superior to other species. To think about children in the same category as animals seems to demean children. But Crain discovered that the farm animals’ emotional behaviors can help us understand those of human children.

The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children is divided into two parts. Part one discusses six emotional behaviors that are shared by animals and children: fear, play, freedom, care, spirituality, and resilience. Part two addresses the broader social theme of our Western culture’s disparagement of animals. Initially, children do not set themselves apart from nature, but experience it with an instinctive empathy. However, they are eventually taught by our society to detach themselves and to devalue animals.

Crain writes, “As people attempt to move beyond society’s dominant views of animals, they can also draw on a neglected idea that goes back to ancient times. This is the view that there is a special wisdom in the child’s ways of knowing. This view is found in the ancient Chinese Taoist statement, ‘wise souls are children.’” Indeed.

About Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary:
Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary is located in Poughquag, New York, about an hour and a half outside of New York City. Its focus is on the rescue of abused and neglected farm animals. In doing so, it hopes to raise awareness of the plight of animals raised for food and the benefits of a vegan diet for animals, human health, and the environment. Wherever possible, the sanctuary tries to implement environmentally sound practices such as solar heating and the use of reclaimed wood.

“In today’s world, it is easy for us to forget how important contact with nature is for children’s emotional and spiritual development. This profound and beautiful book not only reminds us, but also shows how contact with animals can evoke children’s creativity, stimulate their health, foster their compassion, and enlarge their humanity.” ─John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution and Diet for a New America

“When we pay close attention to who nonhuman animals really are we can learn valuable lessons from them about friendship, respect, empathy, trust, compassion, and love. In this wonderful and most important book shares with us stories and data that show many similarities between the emotional lives of rescued farm animals and human children. I came away with a new appreciation of human childhood and I highly recommend this easy to read and inspiring book to a broad audience.” ─Marc Bekoff, Prof. Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado and co-founder, with Jane Goodall, of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and author of Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence

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William Crain is a professor of psychology at The City College of New York. He is the author of the textbook Theories of Development, now in its 6th edition, and Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented Society. A social activist, Crain works to broaden access to higher education and to defend animals. He and his wife, Ellen, are founders of Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag, NY, and the East Hampton Group for Wildlife. Visit Bill, Ellen and their animals online at www.safehavenfarmsanctuary.org.

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