It's not a dog-eat-dog world after all

The founder of an animal and child welfare charity that has helped hundreds of children in care is ready to roll out her workshops across Scotland.

Tuesday, 24th July 2018, 7:00 am

Lesley Winton runs educational workshops for looked-after children by teaching them to show compassion for animals.

Tranent based Fostering Compassion started with a group of six children. Since Lesley set up the charity in 2016 she has worked with more than 250 kids.

Through workshops and activities, the charity share the stories of rescued domestic and wild animals – this helps children draw parallels between their own circumstances and those of the animals.

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One of the workshops, called Hollydays, is inspired by a rescue dog who weighed just 10 stone when Lesley took her in.

Lesley, from Edinburgh, said, “Lots of good charities intervene to help animals after they have already suffered cruelty. I wanted to help stop it before it happens.”

The 53 year old has a Diploma in Life Coaching, and in 2014 completed a Course on the Clinical Psychology of Children and Young People. She published her first book in 2013 on the importance of the human-animal bond.

Lesley said: “We have to be careful not to label children but there’s evidence that shows if a child has witnessed abuse or been the victim of abuse they could go on to start mirroring that abuse.”

“Bringing together animals and children helps the children see animals as sentient beings who can share similar emotions to them. Through sharing the stories of the animals, the children get a greater understanding of their own circumstances, and this often provides a platform for the children to open up about their own problems. Children who have had difficult and traumatic starts in life may struggle to express their emotions, and this may manifest itself as indifference towards animals as a ‘pecking order’ develops. We hope to help reverse this negative cycle.”

Research points out that the way adolescents care for pets may transfer to the way they will care for their children as adults.

Lesley, who won the Ceva Animal Welfare Award for Charity Professional of the Year in 2017, developed a passion for animal welfare in her 25 years’ working in the Voluntary Sector as regional coordinator for an animal protection charity, and as a volunteer. She left her early career in legal accounting to pursue her passion. Lesley hopes to expand workshops across Scotland to work with seniors as well as vulnerable adults, including victims of domestic abuse. She also aims to take the workshops into schools: “Piloting the workshops with other groups is definitely on the cards.”

The charity is now also working with young people affected by the Chernobyl disaster.