Dear Porky and Buddy,
We have 4 kids, ages 1, 5, 10 and 14, and the older ones are nagging us about getting a pet. We actually like animals and have extra time on our hands (not) but we want to make sure that a pet we choose will be the right one for our family. What do you think?
We think you are either a saint or a glutton for, not punishment exactly, more like endless college tuition bills. But, on a happier note, of course—children and pets belong together like summer and lawnmowers. The thing to remember when you add a pet to your family is that it is your pet, not the children’s, even if one or more of them think otherwise. While pets can be a great way for kids to learn both empathy and responsibility, it is your job to teach those lessons, not your pet’s job.
So let’s look at your individual kids. The baby obviously cannot handle or take care of pets. So, whatever pet you choose, you need to supervise them as they get to know each other. We assume you know that the notion that cats can somehow suck the breath out of a baby is a myth, but both of these small “animals” need time to get to know each other.
Young children are curious and will pull at an animal’s fur, limbs and ears as they try to make contact. Make sure that the pet you adopt can handle being touched in this way. As your pet and younger children spend time together (always under your supervision), take great care that they don’t hurt your new pet unintentionally. Also be sure that none of your children grab your pet’s food and water dishes, especially while they are eating, or play with your cat’s litterbox or its contents.
Your children can also help with responsibilities by filling the water and food dishes. This is a good time to develop good hygiene habits around pets with an emphasis on washing hands when they’re done playing.
Kids in their early teens naturally have a great interest in animals and the ability to learn more responsibility. They can handle feeding and walking the pet, cleaning the litter box or cleaning out a cage. But while kids in this age group can be reliable, you should always check that your new pet has adequate food and water and that the cage or litterbox is clean. It is still your pet! Kids at this age can also participate in dog training classes, which can be an excellent opportunity for them to learn about both animal and human behavior.
Above all, since your new pet is going to be your ultimate responsibility, make sure it is one that you will enjoy too. That way, when your kids grow up and leave the nest, it will never be really empty.
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County. Our office is located at 265 West First Street, Oswego, New York. Phone (315) 207-1070. Email:[email protected] Website: www.oswegohumane.org. Because People and Pets Are Good for Each Other!