Furry Friends: Are Your Kids Ready for a Pet?

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Sep 18, 2012 in Rat News | Subscribe

It seems that not so long after you’ve welcomed a new addition to the family, that new addition begins begging for a new addition—a pet.

Animals can provide children unconditional love and companionship as well as teach important lessons on responsibility and relationships. Of course, adopting a pet into the family—be it puppy, kitten, hamster or pony—is also a lot of work.

What’s a parent to do?

Our local Moms Council weighs in.

Does your family tree include an animal? If so, how did you introduce it to your children? Does your child take any responsibility in the pet’s care? Why or why not?

Carol Yeh-Garner: We started small, with a hamster that a friend handed down to us. The kids loved having a pet, but the hamster wasn’t friendly so they mostly just looked at it. When it died, we waited to see if they would want another one and after a few days, they asked for one, so we found a hamster adoption group (weecompanions.com) and got a hamster that was friendly and liked to be held.

The kids made a promise to hold him and play with him every day, and they’ve really kept up with their promise. Seeing that they were responsible and that they did keep their promises, we decided it was time to think about adopting a dog. We just adopted a small dog from a rescue group a few weeks ago. We always knew we wanted a dog for our family but wanted to wait because our kids were very hesitant and cautious around dogs, especially big ones. Our daughter was the most scared, but she got some more exposure to dogs when her preschool adopted a small dog.

A few weeks after that, she started asking for a dog. We looked for a dog on petfinder.com and needed a dog that didn’t shed because we’re all allergic to pet dander. We found the perfect dog—a small, house-trained, nonshedding breed that doesn’t bark much.

Our kids feed the dog and accompany us when we walk our dog. They’re also involved in training him to do tricks. They really love him, and we really feel like they’re at a great age to have a dog.

Jennifer Zeglen: Our family has two pet rats, Cocoa and Oreo. We knew we wanted pets for the girls but without the level of commitment that a dog would be. 

When we first got them, people would tell us that our kids need to take a lot of the responsibility for feeding and cleaning up after them, but this seemed ridiculous to me. Our kids are 6 and 4—they can barely do that for themselves!  

Instead, their jobs are to say good morning to the “girls.” They need to play and snuggle with them every day. They also need to pay attention to the rats’ feelings and preferences.

I think having them pay attention to the emotional needs of a pet is more valuable for them at this age than the pet’s physical needs. I can’t tell you how many families I have known with neglected pets.  

Ray Pearson: Our youngest son always wanted a dog from the time he was in elementary school. We decided to work up to a dog and the responsibilities of caring for a dog. His first pet was a cricket, followed by fish. Each pet came with more responsibility for feeding and cleaning than the last.

By the time he got into high school with all his school and extracurricular activities, I was concerned about him having time for a dog. He committed to early morning and evening walks, which I was not going to do. We agreed and even let him pick out the breed after some research.

Here is where we would have done things differently. A key in picking a breed is a dog that fits the family’s lifestyle. As cute as puppies are, they grow up and fulfill the personality of their breed. In hindsight, we would have picked a more mellow breed.

Our son has been fulfilling his agreement except when he’s out of town, when the responsibility falls on his mother and me.   

Judy Halter: We have had our dog, Lucy, for nine years. Timing is everything when you decide to have a pet invited into your family. We learned the hard way by having to give two dogs away because it was too hard to manage four small children and a pet. So when our youngest was 4 and our oldest was 12, we invited Lucy into our family.  

The kids have helped in walking, bathing and feeding her. Now, the boys at home have the job of picking up her poop! They do this willingly because they appreciate that I walk and feed her. They love her and play with her, but their time is limited when it comes to her physical needs, so that is how they help take care of her.  

Pets can be wonderful additions to families, and as long as the parents love and respect them, the children will as well. Again, modeling behavior is the best tool for effective parenting.

Meet our moms (and dad):

Genevieve Suzuki has one 2-year-old daughter. In addition to having her own law practice, she writes feature stories for Encinitas Patch. She is also the author of “The Original Poi Cats on O’ahu,” a children’s book published in Hawaii.

Anastacia Grenda is mom to a 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter who never fail to make her laugh every day. She is a longtime writer and editor.

Jennifer Zeglen is a mom to two imaginative girls, ages 4 and 6.  She is also a local naturopathic doctor with a family medicine practice.

Ray Pearson is the father of three children, ages 26, 23 and 17. He lives with his wife in Carlsbad and devotes most of his nonwork time to young people and the Rotary Club.

Judy Adams Halter and Edie High Sanchez are certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) instructors with a combined 50 years of parenting experience. Halter is the mother of four children, ages 21, 19, 17 and 14. Sanchez has two grown daughters and three grandchildren; two girls, ages 1 and 5, and a boy, age 7. Both women live in La Jolla.

Do you have questions for our Moms Council?  Email them to the editor at Jennifer.Reed@patch.com.

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