Sunday, January 20, 2008

Children and Pets!


A few days ago I posted about how I was going to be "foster parenting" a dog named Jules, for a few days until she hopefully got adopted. Well, the story has changed a little now! I am going to be the one adopting Jules! And her name is Trixie now. (She doesn't mind that we changed her name... she was only called Jules for a few days, and she never seemed to respond to it! Strangely, she does respond to the name Trixie!)
Anyway, in light of this newest change in my life, I thought I'd write about children and pets.
Pets can be so, so, so wonderful for children to have! According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, pets can benefit children in many ways, including:
" * They can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts--children often talk to their pets, like they do their stuffed animals.
* They provide lessons about life; reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement.
* They can help develop responsible behavior in the children who care for them.
* They provide a connection to nature.
* They can teach respect for other living things."

But in order for both child and pet to get the most out of each other, the adults in the house need to make sure of a few things.

- Before you consider getting a pet, you might want to have your children (and yourself!) allergy tested, or spend time around the pets of friends and family members to see if anyone has allergic reactions. It would be heartbreaking for your children and your pet if you get a pet, only to have to return or give away the pet a few weeks later because someone has allergies!
- Think carefully about what kind of pet you want to get. If your children are still very young, a new puppy might be too much for them. New puppies have a lot of energy and aren't very disciplined when they first show up, and they might overwhelm toddlers and infants by nipping at them or knocking them over. And if you are very busy caring for your own small children, it might be overwhelming for you to have to start caring for yet another baby... even a four-legged one!
- Who is going to be responsible for caring for the pet? Many people want to get pets to help teach children responsibility, and pets are wonderful for that purpose! But school-aged children are probably not ready to handle all of the responsibility for a pet. Unless your child is a budding veterinarian with an unusual talent for caring for animals, the child is going to need a lot of help. So choose a pet that you will be able to provide most of the care for, and give the children each one or two pet-related chores that they'll be in charge of. You'll probably still have to supervise. For instance, if you give your ten-year-old the job of giving Buster fresh food and water each morning, you should take responsibility for making sure that job gets done each day, so Buster doesn't go hungry whenever your kiddo forgets!
- Children need to be taught to have respect for animals and to be gentle with them. Your four-year-old might think its fun to put your puppy on a leash and drag him around the house, but the dog may not like it. And your eight-year-old may think its really cool to play catch with the hamster, but its probably traumatizing the hamster! Toddlers are especially notorious for yanking on ears, tails and fur... they don't mean to hurt their pets, but they instinctively yank on anything they're curious about! Even the smallest children can be taught to use gentle touches. Older kids may need to be taught that pets are not toys, and that if a pet gets upset he might run away or even bite or scratch. You might want to tell toddlers and preschoolers that they are not allowed to pick up cats or small dogs, until they've learned how to carry them properly and safely. Explain that if the kids want their pet to like them, they have to be kind to their pet. Help your kids find games they can play that both they and their pet will safely enjoy! (Scroll down to the end of this post for some resources on games and tricks kids can do with pets!)
- Think about the commitment you are willing to make to a pet. Dogs can live up to sixteen years, and cats tend to live even longer! Some birds can even live about fifty years! Are you willing to make a pet a part of your family for that long?
If the thought of that type of commitment makes you queasy, you might want to start out with something like a hamster, which only lives two or three years. Also, if you get a pet, are you willing to stick with it through thick or thin? What if you get divorce, move to a new area, have another baby, experience a death in the family, etc. Are you going to be willing to keep your pet, no matter what?
- If you are not a child's parent or guardian, never surprise a child with a pet before first talking it out with the adults the child lives with. I heard one story about a divorced father who had his son stay with him for a summer, and bought the boy a puppy during that time, with the expectation that the boy would bring his new dog back to live with him at his mother's house during the school year. The father didn't ask the boy's mother, though, and the mother was not a fan of pets. The mother ended up locking the dog in the basement while she went on vacation. The dog would have starved to death, if concerned neighbors hadn't called the police. This is an extreme example, but the point is, if the adults the child lives with don't want a pet in the house, giving the child a pet anyway is never a good idea!
- This quiz can help you decide if your family is ready for a pet, and what kind of pet would work best for you! Pet Universe also has a quiz to help you find the ideal type of pet, and if you've already decided on a cat or dog, you can take quizzes to find your ideal breed!
- If you end up deciding you're definitely ready for a pet, and you know what kind you're going to get, please consider adopting a homeless pet instead of going to a pet store or a breeder! There are so many pets of every kind that are waiting in pounds and shelters right now. Petfinder.com is an excellent resource to match you up with the perfect pet! You can enter your zipcode and specify the type and breed of animal you want, and the age, size and gender of your ideal pet. They'll give you a list of pets that meet your requirements and need homes! You can see a photo of each animal, and read a little bit about them. The site also shows you which animals will not do well around small children, or other pets.
- Think about adopting an older animal instead of a baby! Older dogs often make great pets. Many have already been housebroken and trained by their former owners, and may already be used to children or other pets.

Games Pets Play!
If you're getting a dog, you might want to check out the book 50 Games To Play With Your Dog. Or visit this website!
For a cat, check out the book 50 Games To Play With Your Cat.
For hamster or gerbil fun, visit this site, or go here to learn how to make toys for your little critter!
Here and here are some good sites about how to play with a pet bunny!
This site helps you learn to play with a pet bird!

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