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Children’s Book on Kindness: “Before You Were Mine”

We’ve been talking about adopting an animal for many, many months.

It came about gradually.  It started with our acts of kindness for animals.

  • We have visited an animal shelter more times than I can count to help with animals and donate supplies.
  • We have talked with others about their pets and even picked up poop for our neighbors.
  • We have watched other families’ pets while on vacation.
  • We established a Backyard Wildlife Habitat and have discussed extensively what animals need and our part in helping them.

After several months, my boys were excited to welcome a pet to our home.

I wanted to take advantage of books on adopting pets before we jumped into the adoption.  Before You Were Mine is written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by David Walker.  It is the story of a boy pondering about the life of his new dog before the dog was adopted.  It includes a variety of scenarios as to why an animal would end up at a shelter.  (all the scenarios are appropriate for kids to read, no pictures of anyone beating an animal, that kind of thing)  And, in the end, the story gives a general feeling of gratitude and peace to have adopted such a good doggy friend.

As it happened, we found our furr-ever friend, a cat named Summer, just before the book arrived at our house.  We rescued her from a shelter.  The boys are EXTREMELY responsive to her needs:  cleaning her litter box, making sure she has water, feeding her (maybe they do this a little too much), and just trying to love her.  I think that it really helped that we had focused so many of our service acts on animals, how we treat animals, and what they need to be happy.

Recently, we read the book and talked about the adoption of our own Summer. We tried to imagine what her life was like before she came to our family.  We talked about how fun she is and how she is worth the effort to take care of her.  We shared funny stories (this cat loves a particular monkey doll and will empty out our bag of stuffed animals until she finds it and carries it away with her through the house, and, yeah, I blamed the boys for making the mess until I caught her in the middle of the mess making activity), and we took some very blurry pictures with her.

Then, my 6 year old said:  What would have happened to her if we didn’t adopt her?

We adopted Summer from a a place that rescues cat from a kill shelter.  He didn’t know that.  He didn’t know what a kill shelter was–that animals there are only given a certain amount of time to be adopted.  If the animal isn’t adopted during that time period, the animal is put to sleep.

I let my kids ask questions and guide the depth when it comes to the serious side of serving others.  They have great capacity to understand; yet, they drive the discussion.

I explained to him that because there are so many strays that need homes that some organizations give each animal a certain amount of time to be adopted and then they move on.

My 6 year old:  Where do they move to?

Obviously, I wasn’t going to be able to avoid this.

Me:  They are given a special medicine that puts them to sleep forever.

My 6 year old:  (very quietly)  They kill them.

Me:  (quietly)  Yes.

My 6 year old:  Summer would have died if we didn’t adopt her.

Me:  If no one else adopted her in time, yes.

Then, he turned his head away from me.  This is what he does when he cries.  It is his way of having a private moment when he is overwhelmed.

Me: Are you sad?

My 6 year old: (no comment)

Me:  Do you want to talk about it?

My 6 year old:  (no comment)

Me:  Can you look at me?

My 6 year old:  (he didn’t move a bit)

long pause

Me:  Would you like some quiet time?

I see the back of his head nod, and, with a hanging head, he went upstairs and laid in his bed.  Little Brother was not affected in this way.  We put our activity on pause, and Little Brother went about his business of superhero play.

A few minutes later, I went upstairs and checked on my 6 year old.  His pillow had a large wet circle under his cheek.

Me:  You okay?

My 6 year old:  (shook his head NO)

Me:  Do you want to talk about it?

My 6 year old:  Why do they have to do it?

Me:  Do you want to figure out a way to help?

My 6 year old:  Yes.

Me:  Then let’s go downstairs and talk about it.  Your brother may have some ideas.

My 6 year old:  It just is not RIGHT to do what they do.

We went downstairs and decided to finish our project.  We took some paper and talked about what Summer’s life was before her adoption and after her adoption.  I asked the boys to draw pictures of what they thought it was like before she was with us.

After completing the pictures, we talked about how we can help animals that need homes.  We discussed many options:  fostering animals, raising money for shelters, teaching others about cat adoptions, doing a donation drive for supplies to give to the shelter . . . in the end:

My 6 year old:  I need to talk to Dad about my plan.

Me:  Okay, what is your plan.

My 6 year old:  I want to adopt 5 more animals.

Me:  Yes, you do need to talk to your dad.

We have had many more conversations since this experience in learning to understand the problem, what we can do to help, and having the courage to help.  Dad isn’t too keen on adopting 5 more animals right now.  At the same time, we are making plans to help in ways we can.

To find more books that we like to use:
Children's Books on Kindness Service Compassion