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Animal interaction helps foster development

Course aims to teach young people empathy and social aptitude

Apr 25,2015
Students interact with cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs on April 11 at the Hoseo Animal-Assisted Therapy Center at the Seoul Hoseo Occupational Training College to learn how to get along with animals. Provided by the Seoul Hoseo Occupational Training College
Earlier this month at the Seoul Hoseo Occupational Training College in Gangseo District, western Seoul, a number of high school and college students gathered in a classroom containing a variety of dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs.

The young people gently called out the animals’ names - “Ato!” “Maru!” - continuing to express their affection for them as they were given instructions by an organizer.

“I was afraid of dogs before,” acknowledged Bae Seong-sin, a college student. “But now I feel like they are my friends. Seeing a happy dog made me feel less stressed.”

Over the years, the inclusion of animals in personality development programs has been used as a way to boost participants’ social aptitudes and foster empathy and character.

The Seoul Hoseo Occupational Training College has run a program at the Hoseo Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) Center since 2012 to provide an opportunity for people to interact with animals. Since its inception, which included the gathering on April 11, it has drawn positive reactions.

The center takes its classes to elementary, middle and high schools on weekdays, and runs weekend classes at its home base.

Kim Bok-taek, an animal care and management professor at the college, said that by getting along with animals, teenage students, who can tend to be selfish, learn how to respect others and cooperate.

“Parents are also participating in the program after seeing the changes in their children’s demeanor,” Kim added.

So far, the center has conducted about 500 classes at 50 institutions, including schools and social welfare facilities, and has received calls from prospective participants asking if the center could run the class as an after-school program.

Duckdo Elementary School in Yangju, Gyeonggi, opened the program with the center during the last winter break for first- and second-graders.

“I saw some students who are really quiet just transform while playing with the cats and dogs,” said Jeong Min-kyung, a teacher there.

The elementary school plans to open the class again this summer.

The AAT center also reaches out to people suffering from depression or bullying. Visiting hospitals, social welfare facilities and nursing homes, the center’s staff help the disabled and elderly open up their minds through animal interaction.

“Pets are not just cute friends, but also partners that are able to support psychological well-being,” said Jin Mi-ryeong, a center staff member.

Pet-related programs supported by the Seongnam City Government are also gaining in popularity. It currently runs a class to teach pet owners how to communicate with their animals.

“We established the class to help people recognize their pets as part of their family,” a city government official said.

BY JEON ICK-JIN [nam.yoonseo@joongang.co.kr]


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