Sheila Scullin, former Director of Exhibit Development and Design at Chicago Children’s Museum, explores what aspects your family should consider when deciding to adopt a pet.
I want a dog! Sound familiar? Many children will ask, even beg, for a pet, whether it’s a dog, cat, bird or goldfish. John Caruso, of Chicago’s Anti Cruelty Society, often hears from adults about how important pets were to them when they were growing up. “Children and pets can forge relationships that last a lifetime.” Pets provide companionship; they can make us feel loved and special. “Experiencing the connection with a pet,” Caruso points out, “can be a child’s first experience with friendship.” Animals teach us (not just kids!) about compassion, responsibility, nutrition, and patience. But a pet is more than a teaching tool and much more than a toy. It’s a commitment that will last for years. Before adopting an animal, Caruso advises parents to consider whether the whole family is ready for this life-changing decision.
Does your family spend enough time at home? Pets not only provide companionship, they need it themselves. Dogs are social animals and like to be with people. Some species of birds can become ill if left alone too long. Even cats get lonely. No animal should be alone for most of its waking hours. Pets require consistent love and attention throughout their lives.
Adopting a pet means changing your routines. Cats use a litter box, but it needs to be cleaned. As do bird cages and fish bowls. Who will let the dog outside when the whole family’s at work or school? Puppies, Caruso says, need constant supervision-someone at home at all times to train them.
A child who yearns for a pet will promise to feed, walk and clean up after it, not realizing how much work is involved. It’s unrealistic to ask young children to take full responsibility for a dog, cat or bird-regardless of promises. An animal’s well-being is an adult responsibility.
On the other hand, caring for a pet can be a wonderful, shared undertaking. Children are keen observers and will follow your lead. If you are patient and gentle with the animal, your child will learn from your example. Caruso emphasizes how important a step this is in a child’s development.
“By caring for another living being, children learn empathy. They learn that living things-including people-should be treated with kindness and respect.”
When preparing to adopt, it’s a good idea for adults to screen potential pets before children are brought into the selection process. Take your time, and do your research. Not all pets are good with kids. Some dogs are gentle with children, but some may play too roughly. Cats, too, have distinctive personalities and preferences-they don’t all like kids! A trained professional at a shelter, such as the Anti-Cruelty Society, can help you find a pet that’s just right for your family.
There are also financial issues to consider-and not just the cost of the animal. Anyone with a new kitten or puppy knows how expensive those early rounds of shots and vet visits can be. Costs do slow down, but you need to be prepared for vet bills throughout your pet’s life. Unless you plan to take your pet with you on vacation, there are also expenses for boarding the animal while you are gone. And don’t forget food, grooming, and training classes.
Of course, it’s not all fur balls, vet bills, and chewed up shoes. The hassles, expenses, and middle of the night surprises are a small price to pay for the joy of having an animal in your family. Pets give us love, no matter how we look or what happened at school today. They make us laugh and help us cope. Having a pet can reduce stress. If your pet is happy and well cared for, your entire family will benefit.
For information regarding pet care and pet adoption, visit www.anticruelty.org.