The Joy of Pets: How Kids Learn About Life, Love and Responsibility

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If you ask my husband about my love for animals, he would say the caveat to our marriage was that we had to have at least one animal in our home. Ever since I can remember, I have always been in a house with pets; cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, hermit crabs–you name it, and we probably had it! For me, growing up with pets was not only fun, but it was also an important lesson in life and its responsibilities. Being an animal person, it’s easy for me to say that I wanted my own kids to grow up with having pets. However, I also understand that taking in a pet is another responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly and definitely isn’t for someone who’s not fully onboard with the idea!

Years ago my mom wanted a Chihuahua. I spotted one at our local pet store. I told my mom about the find after hanging out with the beige cutie a few times. She agreed to get the dog and we named her, “Parker.” She’s now 14 years old and has been a wonderful little addition to our family.  Parker was the first dog that I really took responsibility over. She slept with me at night, and I invested a lot of time in training her, as well as showing her love and affection. Having a pet prepared me for what it would be like to be tied down, and to worry about something other than myself. For those of you who teeter on the idea of bringing an additional member to your family, here are some important ways a pet can teach your kids about responsibility and safety that will last for a lifetime.

Sharing yourself with others: Having a pet requires us to put something other than our needs first. While we may be in a hurry to get out the door to visit friends or go out to eat, when it comes to get a pet (especially a puppy), you must be sure they’re taken of care before you leave. Having a pet is definitely more than just cuddling with something adorable!

They will learn that animals also have their own personalities: This is one that I still must remind myself upon meeting a new animal. Pets have as many different personalities as us humans do. While one may jump on us at our arrival, others may bark or scurry away. Teaching your kids that not every animal is the same can be instrumental in how they approach ones that are not their own. This can help avoid situations where an animal may act out in defense, and unintentionally hurt your child in the process.

When you are out in public, going to veterinarian visits, or at the park, explain to your kids that it is not safe to run up and pet an animal that they do not know. Some animals, like some humans, also get uncomfortable with new people and may not react well to a new person’s attention. However, if the animal comes over with their tail wagging, then ask the owner if it’s okay to pet them. If they give verbal agreement that it’s okay, then be gentle and not too overwhelming with affection. Like any relationship, certain things take time, and that includes showing affection to an animal in a way that everyone is comfortable with.

Teaches about unconditional love and forgiveness: Sometimes the best love is a wet kiss after a bad day. I remember after a break up I had with a boyfriend in ninth grade, I was crying on the couch. As I was sitting there sobbing, our family dog at the time, grabbed a balloon a friend bought me to feel better, and brought it over to me. I have never forgotten that act of kindness, and it was what I needed to help perk me up.

Animals are keenly aware of our emotions. They know when we are sick, tired, angry, sad, happy and overjoyed. Their awareness can be so important when we are going through both the good and the bad times. For some kids, they become their best friend and they depend on each other in ways that other humans could not fulfill. Animals love us through all of our emotions, and they are quick to forgive and to never hold a grudge against us for it.

Pets are a lifetime commitment: As we know with having kids, once you make that commitment there is no going back.  The same holds true for an animal, even if they seem expendable to some households. In the beginning, it’s easy to be enamored with a new puppy or kitten. We drop everything we’re doing to attend to their needs or to make time to play with them. As time goes on, and the bigger the animals get, the novelty begins to wear off for some people even though the responsibilities do not.

Teach your kids that a pet is a not toy that can be discarded once they are bored or moved on to something else. Pets are a lifetime commitment. They need to be shown love as often as they are given food and water. They are now a part of your family, and each nuzzle and rub hopefully communicates that they will always be treated as such!

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