Kids and Pets: A Parent’s Dilemma

by Samantha on March 19, 2012


There comes a time in every parent’s life that the dreaded phrase is uttered:

“Mom, can I get a pet?’

Your kids want a pet, you don’t.

What’s a mother to do?

This dilemma is not limited to mothers, just in case you were wondering. Dads have their fair share of anxiety about creatures and critters that threaten to enter the sanctity of the not-so-perfect home. That being said, I’m a mom, so I’ll address this situation from my perspective.

Having a pet is one thing; taking care of it is another, as any parent who’s been through the drill can tell you. Depending on the age and the level of responsibility that your child or children can handle, there’s a very strong possibility that you, dear parent, will be the one emptying that overflowing litter box or taking Fido out for a walk. 

Are you prepared?

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I remember my own desire as a child for having a pet. After badgering my parents for what was probably a lot longer than it should have been, my father came home with the cutest little Beagle/Shepherd mix puppy. We named him “Ruffy.”

Of course, it was my heartfelt intention as an eight-year-old girl to take care of the dog as much as he required. Yet, the eventual reality was that the dog was a puppy that was not yet house-trained and I….well, I was a kid. I’m sure you know where this is going.


Yes, my parents and older brother ended up (literally) picking up much of the slack in my inability to take care of my pet, and we all learned a valuable lesson: there’s only so much a kid can handle.


Now, this is not to say that it’s impossible for children to properly care for pets, and we all know of many instances where children are the best friends and caregivers to their furry critter pals. It’s just that when it doesn’t work out this way, it really doesn’t work out.

But back to my original point: 

There may be many great intentions behind the decision to get a pet for your child, however, all parents should be prepared to pick up the proverbial slack – or worse – if your child quickly decides that they’ve outgrown their burning desire for a pet. We’ve all heard stories of children recoiling with the stark reality that they may indeed be the ones who will have to “stoop and scoop” or worse. And following this realization, it’s mom or dad who ends up wielding the plastic bag.

There are other options beyond the much loved canine and feline standards that are often chosen. Furry friends of the rodent variety, such as gerbils, guinea pigs and hamsters have long been seen as an easier solution to the “can I have a pet” question than larger mammals. Even so, there is a requirement that these little furballs receive a certain standard of care beyond food and water. Cages need to be cleaned, and, if you’re squeamish at the idea of picking up droppings from mice-like creatures, perhaps this isn’t the solution. 

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Fish are often categorized as pets that offer the most bang for your buck in terms of responsibility or lack thereof. After all – you just need to feed them and change the water every so often, right? 

Wrong.

How many of you have gone down this path, only to learn that the frequency of tank and/or aquarium cleaning is much more than you bargained for? And don’t we all have stories about coming home to find your child’s fishy friends floating at the top of the tank? The fact of the matter is that all pets – from the smallest minnow up to the largest Great Dane require a committed and dedicated family that will take care of them well. If the pet is a gift for a child or children, parents need to be aware and prepared to do a large part of the care and interaction with the animal. After all, it’s only fair.

With these facts in mind, here are some things consider when making the decision about getting a pet for your child:

  • How much time can you realistically devote to the care and maintenance of the pet?
  • What would the daily responsibilities for this particular pet entail?
  • Who in the family would be designated as the primary and secondary caregivers for the pet?
  • As the parent, are you willing to take over complete responsibility for the care and concern of the animal, in the event that your child loses interest?

A pet can bring great joy to a family but only when all members are realistic about its care and well-being. Sometimes the family members are not old enough to make a realistic and informed decision about their abilities which leaves you, mom or dad in the driver’s seat. Are you ready?

Did you get a family pet at the urging of your child? If so, does your child take care of it adequately? If you don’t have a pet and have chosen to not get one for your child, how and why did you arrive at this decision?

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