We've all witnessed a child's love for animals. It reveals itself in so many ways, from the stray dog that followed them home from school, to the begging and pleading for a family pet. It's hard not to appreciate how much a child's face brightens up when they encounter animals (especially small furry ones), and can you blame them? There is just something special about animals that strikes a positive cord in our emotions, and Be Kind to Animals Week is a good time to remember this.

In fact, researchers are becoming increasingly aware of the health benefits that animals give to us, from relieving stress and anxiety, especially in children affected by autism spectrum disorder, to strengthening our immune systems while helping to reduce our risk for allergies. Animals are also increasingly being used to provide comfort and emotional support to patients suffering from chronic conditions, including Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Pets can even save the lives of people with life-threatening conditions. Finally, animals are just enjoyable to be around, always accepting us for who we are and loving us unconditionally. Regardless of what role animals play in our lives, showing them kindness and respect should be a natural part of this relationship. 

1. Teach your kids to respect animals.

Teaching kids to respect animals is the first step in treating them humanely. Make sure they understand what is acceptable and what is inappropriate, and to understand how important animals are in our lives.

2. Adopt a pet.

Shelters and animal rescues have countless pets that are in need of a family, so why not stop by and see who is looking for a good home? The visit will cost you nothing, and could end up with a happy addition to your household.

3. Volunteer at an animal rescue.

Organizations that help homeless animals are always in need of assistance to get animals off the streets into safe living conditions. Your help can come in many forms, including a monetary donation or the gift of your time.

4. Visit a farm.

Small locally operated farms are wonderful places to see animals living in a comfortable and peaceful environment, and a good way to understand and appreciate where a lot of our food comes from.

5. Know where pets come from.

When choosing a pet, take the time to know where they were born and avoid inhumane sources like puppy mills. Ask the pet store where the animals came from, and if possible, choose a reputable breeder or someone you know and trust.

6. Help someone else adopt a pet.

Even if you don't want a pet or already have one, you can help find homes for sheltered animals by encouraging other families and friends to adopt a pet. For more information, contact your local animal shelter.

7. Choose animal friendly companies.

Support the welfare of animals by choosing companies that treat their animals humanely. Even if an animal is used for food, it doesn't mean they can't be treated with dignity and respect. For more information, visit the website Cruelty Free Consumer.

8. Support the Humane Society.

The mission of the Humane Society is to protect the rights of animals and they always welcome assistance. Contact your local chapter and see what you can do.

In the end, we live in a culture that has become increasingly disconnected from the natural world, and how we view and treat animals is a part of this. Animals are smart and sensitive creatures that deserve our respect, and in many instances, they are members of our family, so take the time to let them know how important they are to us.