Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Pets for kids?


Almost every parent will have to make the decision at some point whether to let their kids have a pet or not. Some families may already be "pet people" and have a house overflowing with animals before babies ever come along, the pets just as integral a part of the family as the children. For some, a dog or a cat is a warm-up to kids, the next step of commitment after home ownership and before starting a family. But for many families the first notion of having a pet comes when their six-year-old comes home from school one day and begs for a puppy.


There are a lot of things to consider before getting a pet for your kids. First of all - are you as the parent prepared to take on the care of another little creature? Realistically, little kids are not going to be able to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet even if it's technically "theirs." Older kids might be able to take on more responsibility for feeding, walking, and grooming, but the bottom line is that as the adult, like everything else in the house and the family, it will always still come down to you to make sure those responsibilities are being met. Are you prepared to add yet another item to that endless list of things to keep track of and take care of?

In our family, there wasn't really a request or a decision. When my boys and I moved in with my husband his six-month-old kitten Cleric automatically became a part of our household as well. My boys, two and four years old at the time, had never asked for a pet at that point in their lives but were ecstatic over the idea of having a cat.

Our cat has become a part of our family and all three of our kids absolutely adore him - and show him constantly with exuberant squishy hugs (he's a very patient cat.)

I am not a cat person - I like dogs. I had a dog growing up. I don't get cats. But at this point in our lives, if we're going to have a pet, I am glad it's a cat rather than a dog. Cats are low-maintenance. Cats don't need to be walked or taken outside to pee. Cats don't require constant entertainment but spend most of their days curled up in a corner, ignoring the family. With the endless insanity of raising three young children, a pet who requires nothing more than a bowl of food and water and a daily litter box scoop is my kind of pet.

I do think that pets are a great idea for kids, if they show an interest. Children are fascinated by all things living and growing and it gives them a sense of independence to be responsible for another little creature. But a cat or a dog is a big commitment, and if our cat hadn't been a part of a package deal with my husband, I'm not sure we would have made that commitment. In my humble opinion, a fish is a wonderful, low-maintenance, low-commitment option for a kids' pet. Each of our older boys got a goldfish in a tank with all the trimmings for a kindergarten graduation present. Now that they're older (and the goldfish have gone on to fishy heaven) they have some slightly fancier Beta fighting fish.

And a pet should never be an impulsive, impromptu gift for a child. A puppy under the Christmas tree or a bunny next to the Easter basket is an adorable idea - but a pet is a living thing, not a toy. A pet is a commitment, a responsibility, an investment. That Christmas puppy will grow up into a great big slobbery tail-wagging, furniture-jumping dog that will be a part of your family for years and have to be walked every day, fed every day, groomed every day, taken to the vet when he's ill and kenneled when you go on vacation. Pets are a big commitment - which is why, given the choice, my personal preference for a kids' pet falls more along the lines of self-contained, low-maintenance fish.


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