When she first became a parent, Barbara J. King — a professor who’s spent years studying animal emotions — saw firsthand how animals can help kids connect to the world. Her daughter, Sarah, is 25 years old, but as a toddler she was very headstrong and determined. That intensity led to tears and confusion, King said, when Sarah would realize she was too little to do what she wanted or say what she needed to say.
But Sarah had a very special relationship with Swirl, the family’s beloved gray and white cat — and Swirl worked wonders in helping Sarah understand the big world around her. “[H]aving Swirl nearby helped Sarah moderate her moods,” King writes. “Being with a nonverbal (meowing!) creature may induce in a child a watchfulness, an ability to pick up on body-language cues, and a growing recognition that we human beings have a responsibility beyond just ourselves.”