When Should You Get a Pet for Your Child?

Kathleen GansterChildwise logoChildwise: A column for parents of children from birth to 21

By Kathleen Ganster

What child hasn’t begged his parents for a dog?

One of my favorite stories is that of a friend of mine who told of pleading with his parents for a dog. His father wisely told Rick that the novelty would wear off and he wasn’t about to walk Rick’s dog. Finally, the dad relented, Rick got his dog and quickly, the novelty wore off. When he would whine about taking care of the dog, his dad would reply, “Excuses don’t walk the dog.”

How can you avoid excuses? When do you know if your child is ready for a pet?

Childwise went to Gilda Arroyo, Humane and Environmental Educator for the Animal Rescue Shelter and Wildlife Center (www.animalrescue.org) for advice for parents.

“I look at the maturity level of the child, not the age. What level of responsibility is the child ready for?” she said.

Gilda Arroyo
Gilda Arroyo

Doing your research before you get a pet can save a lot of tears and frustration for both the pet and the owners. Arroyo said she always presents three questions to folks hoping to get a new pet – questions relevant to families:

1) Do you have time? “You need to have time to teach your pet to socialize along with all of the other things such as feeding, walking and playing with it,” said Arroyo.

2) Do you have the space? “You can’t keep five St. Bernard’s in a studio apartment. You need to make sure you have the appropriate space,” she said.

3) Do you have the money? “Sooner or later, the animal needs to go to the vet and get shots and other things and those things are not free. Do you have the money to take care of a pet?”

If you feel like you have all of the above, then you need to decide what kind of pet. Arroyo suggested after the reality check, decide what level of responsibility your child will have with the pet.

“If you have a younger child, a good role might be to have them be responsible for keeping the water bowl full. But a small child can’t take a 150- pound bull mastiff for a walk every day,” she said.

Choosing the type of pet depends on some of those answers as well. If you work from home, a puppy who requires a lot of time and walks may work, but if you have an eight-hour work day with an hour commute, perhaps you want to adopt an older pet that wouldn’t require so many walks.

“Or maybe you would want a cat,” said Arroyo.

Starting with a smaller pet may be a smart move, but you still need to choose wisely.

“A lot of people will get a hermit crab which is easy to take care of but it isn’t cute and cuddly so after a week or so, they become lax in the care,’ she said.

Adoption counselors at the Animal Rescue League work hard in helping families find the right pet.

“There is a perfect pet for everyone, but we don’t want someone to take on more than they are comfortable with,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo suggests fostering a pet for those unsure of the time commitment. Fostering, she explained, is taking care of an animal that may be too young or can’t be placed in the shelter for other reasons.

“Foster parents are badly needed right now for kittens. Serving as a foster family allows short-term commitment for families thinking about pet adoption,” Arroyo said.

Parents may also research various pets and pet ownership via the Internet and other resources including www.humansociety.org or www.spsa.org.

“You don’t want to be a family who has to surrender a pet,” she said.

Have a topic you want covered in Childwise? Email me at kganster@verizon.net.




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