Dear Dog Mom,
I think adding a pet to our family would be beneficial for our young child. Both my partner and I had dogs and cats growing up. Should we stick with these because that’s what we know or perhaps consider another kind of pet…?
Wonderful! Pets can teach children a great many things. However, there are a few things to keep in mind in reaching your decision:
1. How old is your child? A child’s age should play an important part of determining the appropriate pet for your household. Small children, for instance, may or may not be able to ascertain the difference between a live pet and a stuffed animal (I call it the “pulling the tail” scenario and the potential response from said animal). Slightly older children may fall in love with the idea of a pet but may not remember that a pet needs daily care. In that case, are you, the adult, willing to assume the responsibility?
2. Would you be willing to explore potential pets which don’t demand as much care as others?
3. If your answer to #2 is yes, are you willing to do research on which type of pet would be suited to your household?
Your answers should factor into your decision. The rule of thumb: The younger the child, the more responsibility the adult(s) will have to assume in the care of the pet. Are you and/or your partner willing to take on that responsibility? If not, perhaps this is not the right time to consider adopting a pet.
Dear Dog Mom,
What do you think about “pocket pets” for young children? I’ve read that pet rats or guinea pigs or hamsters are perfect pets because they don’t need much care and they don’t wander around like a cat or dog. My child would love a hedgehog and I think it’d be a good idea because we live in an apartment.
Potential Pocket Pet Parent
Dear Potential Pocket Pet Parent,
It depends on the pocket pet. Some, like hamsters, are relatively easy to care for except for their nocturnal escapades on the proverbial “hamster wheel” (it’s their primary form of exercise). Guinea pigs are easy to care for, quiet, and like to be held. Fancy rats are bred specifically as pets. They’re inquisitive, intelligent, and can be taught tricks as well as to “ride along” with a human. Chinchillas and hedgehogs may have the “Ooh, COOL!” factor, but they both have very specific care requirements. Ditto lizards, geckos, and snakes – with the latter, does your child realize that snakes eat live mice?
The thing about pocket pets, though, is their size. Can you entrust your child to be able to hold a pocket pet without dropping it or letting it wriggle free from his or her hands? What if the pocket pet escapes from its cage? Many of them can hide in the smallest of crevices in and around your home.
What about humble goldfish? They are the easier to maintain than tropical fish. True, there will be an outlay of money for an aquarium (a simple 5-gallon one would be ideal for your first foray), filter, light, “interior decorating”, cleaning equipment, and food. A quiet corner away from direct sunlight would be the ideal location for the aquarium. An added bonus: Watching them is very soothing for the psyche.
Dear Dog Mom,
We went to our local shelter the other day and our child fell in love with a particular dog. The personnel could only tell us the barest of detail of the dog’s history. We’re definitely interested but we’re not 100% sure. Any advice?
On The Fence
Dear On The Fence,
All of our dogs have been rescues, and other than general neuroses arising from their being in a shelter, we have been very blessed. That said, arriving at a decision, I think, is half gut feeling, half of what the shelter personnel knows about the dog. If you have a child, for instance, the shelter’s behaviorist (most shelters have one or have access to one – if they don’t, consider that a red flag) should be able to tell you if the dog is child-friendly. Is the dog aggressive/dominant? How does it get along with other dogs, possibly cats? Was the dog a stray or was it surrendered, and if so, what were the circumstances? Spend some time with the dog – most shelters have a place away from the general mayhem where you can do just that, perhaps take the dog for a short walk, play with it, introduce it to your child. You should be able to glean a lot about the dog’s demeanor.
Some personnel, eager to have a dog adopted, may gloss over these questions and may balk at your meeting/greeting/playing, but be persistent! There’s nothing worse than having to surrender a dog which you’ve just rescued. It’s not fair to your family and certainly not fair to the dog.
Do you have any questions, insights, or just want to talk about pets? The Dog Lady would be very happy to chat with you. Tune in next month for another edition.
** Note: The Dog Mom is not a veterinarian nor an animal behaviorist. She does, however, have considerable personal experience with the human/animal connection, and hopes that her observations may help those who are contemplating adding nonhuman members to their family or who may have a question regarding these particular members of their family.