Animals Get More Support Than Kids. Even Animals Agree That's Wrong.

Nala, the Toledo Therapy Dog

When abused children come to the Children's Advocacy Center in Toledo, Ohio, gentle Nala comforts them as they disclose the unspeakable things that have happened to them, as they cry, and as they heal. Today, the 100 pounds of cream-colored fur, ungainly paws and floppy ears is a trained therapy dog at the center. But before that, she wandered the streets of Toledo's inner city alone. Nala needed someone to protect her once. So did Danielle. When Danielle was 13, she came to the center in Toledo. Her stepfather, Brent, had been raping her for more than a year, and had threatened her into silence. But she bravely told her story, and Brent went to prison for a very long time. They also helped counsel Danielle through the trauma. So did Nala, who Danielle asked to be with her during counseling. That counseling helped her heal, to realize the abuse was not her fault, and to learn the coping skills to again become the happy person she once was.

For many children, the love of an animal is a key part of what it means to get their childhoods back after abuse. Both are routinely abused in appalling ways, and good people are stirred to protect both from harm. Americans now donate more than $2 billion every year to charities that protect animal welfare. Yet we donate less than a quarter as much to charities that prevent child abuse and help abused children reclaim their lives. Every day, children like Danielle either lack access to the safety, intervention, and treatment they need, or are turned away for lack of resources to handle the overwhelming need.

Four dollars. That's how much we give to protect and heal our nation's animals each year for every dollar we give to protect and heal our children. Do we really care four times as much about animals as we care about children?

Of course not. So why, then, are we compelled to support organizations that help animals to an extent far greater than those that serve our children? Is it because we believe animals are more vulnerable than kids? That certainly isn't true; any power an abusive adult has over a defenseless animal, he or she has over a trusting child. Is it because we feel it's only a parent's responsibility to protect his or her children? That hardly matters when fully 91 percent of child victims of abuse and neglect were abused by a parent or caregiver. Or is it simply harder to put yourself in the place of an abused child, because the suffering is too real and painful to confront?

Those aren't the real reasons why we donate less to right the wrong of child abuse. I believe the biggest reason is hopelessness. We feel hopeful that we can help animals: we can adopt, foster, or donate and that animal will have a loving, happy home. But humans are more complicated. It's an issue within families, schools, and churches. Nearly 680,000 children are abused in America each year by parents, family members, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, and even friends. They're abused in a variety of ways, and it's not a subject most feel comfortable talking about. Many in America know a lot about the trauma abused children endure, but little about interventions that help them heal. Many Americans have heard that anywhere from 20 percent to 63 percent of all abused children have PTSD symptoms. But how many know that with effective treatment, those symptoms can be reduced or eliminated so that children can grow up healthy and well?

The good news is that there are evidence-based mental health treatments that help give kids their childhoods back. But, for these treatments to have meaning, children must first be safe. Since 1988 in this country, comprehensive care -- ensuring children are protected, children receive the care needed to heal, and offenders are held accountable -- has been coordinated through our country's nearly 800 Children's Advocacy Centers (CACs). Some studies show cases carried through CACs like the one in Toledo have up to a 94 percent conviction rate. Justice and healing are at the heart of their work. This model helps heal more than 315,000 kids each year.

Not all kids who need one have access to a CAC. More than 136,000 children are abused every year in rural and resource-poor areas or on tribal lands without CAC access. Existing centers need more staff to help with a huge caseload, and more resources to keep the lights on. We estimate our communities need an additional $327 million every year to address the unmet need, and we believe Americans are generous enough to provide it on top of the crucial support we already enjoy.

I'm not trying to pit our four-legged friends against the needs of abused children -- to ask you to choose between Danielle and Nala. Rather, I urge you, in this season of giving, to support the institutions that protect children and help them heal after abuse at least as much as you support the ones that help animals.

Animals and children tug at the heartstrings, stirring both our tenderest emotions and our most ferocious protective impulses. It is precisely because both animals and children are vulnerable -- because they are innocent and humans are dangerous -- that we desire to protect them.

Heed that urge this year and every year. Give to charities that protect the vulnerable, on two legs and four legs alike.