Kids and pet ownership: chewing on the furry, fuzzy, 24/7 realities

In almost every parent’s life arrives the day when a child pleads with complete charm and conviction, “Can we puhleeze get a puppy (or kitten or rabbit or other). Please, pretty please?” often adding, “I’ll take good care of it. I’ll do all the work. Really, I will.”

James Herriot, British veterinary surgeon and author of the beautiful series of books that included All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and All Things Wise and Wonderful, once said, “I wish people would realize animals are totally dependent on us, helpless like children, a trust that is put upon us.”  

That’s precisely why kids tend to simply see the cuddle factor, while Mom and Dad see 6 a.m. rain-or-shine visits outside, scratched sofas, chewed slippers, and pricey kennels during vacations.

The Sacramento SPCA website page titled “Adopt” sums up both the desire and responsibility -- for both kids and adults -- perfectly: “If you are like most of us, falling in love with a pet is easy. Pets give us unconditional love and loyalty, and provide constant companionship. Adopting a pet, however, is a big decision.” The site continues by reminding that “Dogs, cats and small animals are living beings that require a considerable amount of time, money and commitment -- over 15 years’ worth in many cases. Pet ownership can be rewarding, but only if you think through your decision before you adopt.”

Their website offers excellent questions for consideration such as: Do you have time? Can you afford it? Can you have a pet where you live? How many times do you expect to move in the next 15 years? Are you prepared to handle accidents in the house, dirtied or torn furniture, and unexpected medical emergencies? The site also includes a table of lifetime expenses.

In “Kids and Pets: a Parent’s Dilemma,”the Multiple Mayhem Mamma (M3) blog offers additional thoughts to ponder before answering the question “Can I get a pet?” Host Sam recalls her own “heartfelt intention” as a once-upon-a-time 8-year-old to take full responsibility for a dog. From the perspective of adulthood and motherhood she notes that “All parents should be prepared to pick up the proverbial slack -- or worse -- if your child quickly decides that they’ve outgrown their burning desire for a pet.”

A Parents Magazine article by Bob Calandra, titled “Mommy, I Want a Puppy,” says, “Experts agree: Buying or adopting a pet should be a well-reasoned and unanimous family decision.” For both those contemplating pet ownership or already in a challenging pet situation and facing tough decisions, Wonder Puppy offers great suggestions for a wide range of practical concerns and behavioral challenges in “How Can We Help You Keep Your Pet?”

Kids can gain much, however, from pets. The What to Expect website, dedicated to pregnancy and parenting issues, highlights -- using research-based support -- some of the “Benefits of Pets for Kids.” They include teaching values such as kindness, compassion, and empathy; boosting self-esteem and confidence, possibly due to a sense of unconditional love; and being good for general health (other than in the case of allergies), including among other things, lowered stress. Though not addressed in the article, pet ownership can also quite literally teach life and death lessons, before most kids are called upon to face illness and loss among their beloved humans. How much easier to begin these tough conversations over a goldfish!

Whether now is the right time to bring a pet into your family or not, early readers will delight in having company in the charming book -- available in several print and e-formats -- I Want a Pet, a Level 1 offering from the Start to Read! series. With  beginning vocabulary, many basic sight words, and a short sentence or two on each page it’s a story about picking out a pet and how a little girl holds firm to what she wants and doesn’t want in a pet.

Also give kids “big dog” adventure, learning, and companionship, minus the ownership responsibility, with Charlie & Company. This preschool series led by Charlie, the golden retriever, Miss Ellie, his Anywhere Teacher, and all their critter friends, is available on Ameba TV or download the apps. Let Charlie become your child’s favorite pet!

Making tough, thoughtful decisions about pets offers large and loving lessons for the entire family!