Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Please? Please? Please? Can we get a dog?"

Is a pet in your family's future?  Pets can be wonderful additions to your family.  My niece was here last week, and she was so animated and happy as she shared photos of her two cats.  My college age children were so eager to reconnect with our family dogs as they spent their college break back at our home.  But pets are a big commitment and adding one to your household should be a carefully thought out decision.  I did not grow up in a house with any pets, and now we share our home with two dogs.  So I have lived on both sides of the fence (as a non pet family and a pet lover).  Here are a few tips to consider before you hit the pet store or animal shelter.

1.  Pets require time and attention.  Families must agree that the work of having a pet is a shared responsibility.  And responsibilities help children to learn and grow.  It is not always fun to walk the dog, or feed the cat, but it must be done.  And in life, this is a VALUABLE lesson.  It is not fair to take on a pet and then ignore it or make it suffer from lack of attention.  So only get a family pet if you all are committed to taking on the responsibilities that properly caring for a pet requires.

2.  Pets can help your children cope with outside stress.  Studies have shown that petting an animal can lower a person's blood pressure.  I have seen this as I have watched my kids cuddle with their dogs after school, or on a bad day.  Therapy dogs have a purpose and a family pet can have a similar purpose within your home.

3.  Pets can bond you with your children.  My husband always takes our dogs to play frisbee on Saturday morning, and my youngest daughter gets up almost every weekend to go with him.  These mornings have become a special time for both of them enjoy, which is rare for a dad and teenage daughter.  I never dreamed that this wonderful benefit would grow out of having a dog.

4.  Pets help children understand the cycle of life.  Pets die and life goes on.  It is a painful process, but also a learning and growing experience.  "Tis better to have loved and lost than have never loved at all" is a profoundly insightful quote from Shakespeare that brings this one home!

5.  Pets are expensive.  Do not adopt a pet if you are not financially able to care for it.  It will require food, equipment, vet visits, and care if you travel.  So don't make the mistake of getting a pet you cannot afford.  It will be extremely difficult to give up a pet once you bring it home.

6.  Pets should not be impulse purchases.  Adults must consider all the circumstances within a household before committing to a pet.  Getting a pet and then returning it because it didn't work out is not fair to the pet, or your children.

7.  Adopting a pet can be very fulfilling.  Many pets are looking for good homes.  Do your research on the internet if you are thinking about a certain breed or type of pet.  Maybe you can give a home to a pet that needs you as much as you want him/her.  This is a powerful message for your children.

8.  Pets need training.  Teaching or training a pet can help build a child's confidence.  You may discover you have a "dog whisperer" in your household.  This can prove to be a very positive experience for your child.  But whether it is you or your children training your pet, you all need to be consistent and know that a well trained pet is a pleasure, a poorly trained pet...well not so much.

So give it some thoughtful consideration, and if you decide to add an animal member to your household, I wish you the very best of luck--and keep a camera handy!

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