1. Let’s Get a Pet!

    Getting a first pet is a monumental occasion in any child’s life. From the moment you bring that animal through the door, your kids will love it. Most parents eventually find themselves enamored with the family pet as well. All too often, however, families choose pets that they can’t handle, and those pets get sent back to the stores or shelters from which they came. It’s a sad event for both the pet and the family. How can you ensure your family chooses a pet that will be with you for a long time to come?

    The first thing you need to do is research. What kind of pet best fits your family’s lifestyle? Do you have the time and energy to devote to a dog? Are you home enough for a cat? How much responsibility will the parents shoulder? What about the kids? These are all things you need to figure out and discuss before you make any trip to a shelter or pet store.

    Dogs are the most popular American pet. Most dog owners view their pet as part of the family. If choosing a dog, make sure to factor in age, breed, and disposition. Does your family have the time and space necessary for a big, high-energy puppy? Maybe you would be more comfortable with a smaller dog that needs less exercise? Keep in mind you will need to take the time to train any dog so it can adjust to life with your family.

    Cats are the second most popular American pet. Many people assume that if they get a cat and put out a litter box and food bowl, the rest will take care of itself. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Although cats require less effort than dogs, they still need play and attention every day. Also, a family that travels a lot needs to make sure someone can take care of their cat when they are gone.

    If you aren’t ready to jump headlong into pet ownership, consider a starter pet, something that doesn’t require too much attention. Good examples include hamsters, goldfish, mice, and finches. These pets are a good way to make sure your family has the time to clean, feed, and care for an animal. If things work out, you’ll know your family is ready for a long term commitment.


  2. When Children & Pets Collide

    Your daughter is obsessed with her best friend’s Jack Russell terrier, who gives new meaning to the word “adorable.” Your toddler squeals with delight every time they see another Animal Planet special on fluffy kitties. The signs are all there – they want a pet. And while you have fond memories of Misty, your childhood cat, it can be expensive and time-consuming to add another member to your family. Having a pet can teach children valuable lessons in responsibility, compassion, and respect, but don’t take the decision lightly. Is your family ready?

    Your family dynamic, as well as your children’s ages, temperaments, and personalities, will go a long way in deciding if and when your family is ready for a pet. A busy family may not have the time to give an energetic puppy the training he needs. And while tiny kitties are undeniably cute, young children may mistake them for stuffed toys and play too rough. Everyone has a unique relationship with animals, so take your cues from your kids. And don’t assume just because you loved pets as a kid, your family will too.

    Adding a pet to the family is like adding another child. And like most children, animals do well in structured, routine environments. Having a set time to walk Zero or feed Champ makes it easy for children to get involved, and may even become something they look forward to. Younger kids can help pick a new toy for Izzy to use during playtime, while older ones can take turns cleaning cages or litterboxes. Caring for an animal gives children a sense of well-earned satisfaction and is an excellent way for them to see how their actions affect others.

    But what if your son promises you the moon for a dog, then decides feeding Wagsy isn’t that much fun? This is a perfect opportunity for you to have a talk with him about taking responsibility. Cooking after a long day at work isn’t always fun for you, but how would your child feel if you decided not to do it? We do all kinds things we may not particularly want to do for the people and animals we love, and realizing that is an important milestone for a child. While it’s ultimately up to you to make sure Wagsy doesn’t go hungry, it’s important for your child to realize that feeding Wagsy is an essential step to the privilege of having Wagsy around. And if you want to make feeding a pet more than a chore, try a friendly competition: have your kids take turns calling her to dinner, and see whose voice she responds to first. The good feeling that comes from knowing she recognizes the sound of their call will be its own sweet reward.

    Pets are a great source of companionship and love, and caring for them from newborn to full-grown adult can instill fundamental values like commitment, respect, and consideration in children. But knowing when your family is ready to take the big step, and preparing ahead for the challenges of pet ownership, will make you that much appreciative of the good times you’ll share with your animal companion.