My 11-year-old son has been badgering us for a dog. I’m not much of an animal person, but I believe pets are great for kids. I’ve been stopping their grandparents from getting a puppy. But now I’m running out of excuses. Should I just take the plunge and get a dog?
There is little doubt that pets are great for kids. It’s a unique bond, one that gives your child great pleasure and a sense of responsibility, helps develop respect for other living beings, enables experience of trust and communicating with an animal; the benefits are many.
And yet, so many impulsive pet purchases quickly disintegrate into unhappy and stressful situations—emotional and physical—for the family and for the pet, too. Once the initial enthusiasm is over, and the family begins to neglect an animal, the message that selfishness and callousness is okay, is clearly communicated to your child. When you neglect, abandon or give away a pet “because he’s too much of a nuisance”, you are giving out a message to your children too—that a living thing that can’t protest is a dispensable entity and can be made to simply ‘go away’ when it proves inconvenient.
Remember, a dog lives for 12 to 15 years, and only if you’re willing to account for this animal in your life for that span of time should you get one into the house.
Far too many people buy or bring in a dog with absolutely no planning for the future. They give only a cursory thought to whether the pet will blend in with their lifestyle, and whether they have the time, energy and money to look after, and enjoy, their pet over the next decade or so.
When is your child ready for a pet? The answer to that, really, is another question: Are you ready for a pet?
For those who’ve not kept pets before, there are a few points to consider:
1) Besides the cuddly stuff, the creature will have needs—feeding, play, training, grooming, medical attention and affection. Your child may be able to take on quite a few of these responsibilities, but finally it is you who will have to take on most of them.
2) In the case of dogs and cats, do you, your child or any other family member suffer from fur allergies?
3) Are you a particularly tidy and house-proud person? Pets do have their own distinctive odours and can also track in mud, shed fur, etc.
4)Do you have any friends or family, or any other household that will willingly take care of your pet when you are away for long periods?
Once these aspects are addressed, and you think you’re ready to bring in a pet, some dos and don’ts:
1)Get a pet that fits in with your lifestyle, in terms of temperament, space, money and time.
2)Avoid exotic creatures that need special environments and foods. Even a breed of dog that is not used to our climate is a bad idea.
3)Small doesn’t necessarily mean cute and friendly. Pomeranian dogs, for instance, are cute and toy-like but bad-tempered.
4)Once you bring in a pup, stop your children from petting their new pet constantly—like any of us, all creatures need to be left alone for a while.
5)Avoid severely restricted environments like bird cages—you can provide a certain area of the house for any pet—and restrict its entry into other areas.
Today, when people’s careers are fluid, jobs are transferable across countries and continents, anyone contemplating taking on a pet must think about where the pet will be in the scheme of things if the family has to move. Sadly, most people rarely think of this, and cross that bridge only when they come to it. Worse, their idea of crossing the bridge is to simply abandon the animal. Don’t become one of them.
Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org