pet or not pet

To Pet or Not to Pet? How to Know When Your Child is Ready

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It’s the stuff of sappy movies. A boy and his horse. A girl and her pup. Sweet children, romping about with their four-legged playmates. 

Unfortunately, it’s not reality. It’s far from reality. While a pet may seem like a good idea for your child, is he or she truly ready to accept the responsibility? The truth of the matter is that it may very well be you taking that puppy out for her midnight pit stop, or you feeding the forgotten cat for the fifteenth time in as many days. 

Think your child is ready to take on the responsibility of a pet? Of course, you know your child best. But there are a few ways you can determine whether a fuzzy critter is in your household’s best interest. 

1. First and foremost, it’s an animal.

You and your child both need to talk about what this means. Your pet is a living, breathing animal. Whether it’s a horse or a guppy, your pet has needs. Tanks need to be cleaned, stalls need to be mucked and puppies need to be housetrained. 

Forgetting that the furry friend is an actual being isn’t just going to make pet ownership miserable for everyone, it’s also neglectful to the animal. Your child should think long and hard about how he really feels about coming right home from school every day to walk the dog. 

On your part, think about what will happen if your child grows bored with the pet-sized novelty. Will you rehome the animal? Will you assume responsibility for the pet? This should be clearly established beforehand. 

Now, on to whether your kid is ready. Here are a few ways you can make that determination. 

2. Your child does his chores.

Let’s face it. There are some kids who would rather forgo their allowance than take out the trash. Playing with friends is just more fun. 

There are other kids who love to help, even if there’s no reward for it. They’re genuinely interested in assuming responsibilities, even if those responsibilities are just their studies. 

Not sure which category your child falls into? Find out! Establish a basic list of household responsibilities, beginning with the daunting task of keeping his room clean. Include others, like washing dishes or even helping with yardwork. 

Then, sit back and observe. Does your child pitch in without complaints? Does he lose interest in helping after just a few days? Use your child’s reaction to make the first determination about his ability to care for a pet. 

3. She’s actually interested. 

My three year old daughter has told be about a hundred billion times that she wants a horse. I usually respond that I want a unicorn, to which she replies, “yesssss!”

Your child has probably expressed interest in pets in the past. For some reason, every American girl wants a horse, and about 83% of the little boy population of the country wants some type of furry or scaly thing. 

Listen to your child. Is this something that she’s just mentioned in passing, or is there true interest? Does the pet of the month change, or is your daughter really determined she wants a parakeet? Of course, you’ll use this information to determine whether your child is ready for a pet or if it’s just an idea she’ll forget in a week’s time. 

4. Your whole family is comfortable. 

To make any person/pet relationship work, the whole family has to be comfortable with the decision. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in the family wants to get a dog, but it does mean that everyone’s feelings should be taken into consideration. 

Dogs are pretty easy to agree on, once you get past the breed. However, there are some pets that may make individual family members a little squirmy. Spiders (you know, like pet tarantulas) may not be on everyone’s top ten. Snakes are another, as are lizards. For me? It’s birds. I don’t like birds and there will never be one in my home, no matter how much my kids beg. 

Allergies, of course, are another consideration. If Dad is allergic to cats, there obviously won’t be any cats. You get the idea. The pet doesn’t have to be everyone’s responsibility, but it certainly has to be a critter that everyone can tolerate. 

5. You’ve fostered a pet successfully. 

Why not try a trial run on a pet? That sounds weird, but it’s totally possible. There are a couple ways you could facilitate this. 

Offer to pet sit for a friend who’s taking a vacation. The pet can stay in your home, and your child ill be primarily responsible for caring for the animal. Of course, you’ll want the actual pet owner to agree with this decision, and offer your full assurances that you’ll pick up any slack. 

Some pet fostering agencies and animal shelters will allow you to take an animal home for a trial run, too. Be sure you speak with the shelter about the adoption process, be sure that, if all goes well, you’re actually prepared to adopt the animal at the end of the trial!

6. Your child is comfortable with animals. 

This is sort of a no brainer. However, mistakes could happen. Let say your kid, like mine, tells you daily she wants a dog. She’s seen doggies on television and the neighbors have a friendly little pup she likes to watch out her bedroom window. Her friends talk about their own pets, and she’s genuinely interested. 

You decide that – sure – she’s been doing her best to pitch in around the house, and she’s a gentle, kind little soul. A dog would be a good companion for her to play with, even though you know you’ll be taking on some of the responsibility for care. 

Everything is all ready to go, until your daughter actually meets a dog and she’s terrified. Frankly put, sometimes you just don’t know until you know. 

Again, you know your child best and only you can make the final judgment call. Above all, make it a family decision and it’ll be a happy one for everyone!

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