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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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

CGBABIC March 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm

We have a pet.. actually we have 4 – 2 dogs and 2 birds. The first dog was our idea since our child is an only. The first bird was a birthday gift for our daughter.. the second of each animals was .. well.. my doing… and yes, I do most if not all the work. But I still think that having pets teaches responsibility even IF you, parent, are doing most of the work… it also teaches compassion. Our oldest and first dog recently had a toe removed, as it had a tumour growing. This taught our daughter to appreciate this dog more, as there was a moment where we all thought it was cancer and the beginning of the end. The birds teach patience, as one bird is a rescue bird and has obviously seen worse days… and is not as friendly as the first bird.

Our house is chaotic and full and very, very noisy.. but I would not have it any other way…

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Samantha March 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Thanks so much for your insightful comment. You’re right – having a pet does teach a child compassion and patience, both valuable lessons for little ones. It sure does sound like your home is busy with your many pets, but I’m sure they add a wonderful environment for your kids. No doubt noisy, as you’ve noted!

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Karen March 26, 2012 at 11:25 pm

We bought a pair of African dwarf aquatic frogs for my son’s 5th bday – a little more fun to watch than fish and very easy to take care of (feed them 2x a week and replace the water every 3 months). So far so good!

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Samantha March 27, 2012 at 1:41 am

Frogs! Now that’s a pet that I hadn’t thought of. And they probably are not as time-consuming as some of the bigger animals. I may have to consider this if the “pet pressure” increases ;) Thanks for the tip, Karen!

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Kathy March 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm

We, too, have been involved with the pet debate, as fish were not cuddly enough. In the end we are volunteers with the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Manotick, Ontario. We have fostered 2 puppies from 10 weeks of age until 14 months of age, at which time the puppies leave us and enter into their advanced training process at the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. We have also boarded a number of other puppies and dogs for different periods of time (from 2 days to 1 month). It gives our 3 children the exposure to animals, without us having a permanent pet.

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Samantha March 27, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Kathy, thanks so much for your reply. What you’re doing is really honourable, and definitely something that teaches children a number of lessons. First, they learn about compassion. Next, it’s responsibility and training. Finally, I’m sure there’s a lesson there about loving and having to let go – sometimes a difficult thing to do, especially for a child, but a reality of life. You’ve managed to give your children all of the above and more. A great lesson for all of us. Thanks for sharing.

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Michele October 28, 2012 at 8:34 pm

That is a though topic. Yes, pets (dogs or cats) are a big responsibility. On the other hand, they can mean so much more. It really depends on your family and circumstances. For us, having a dog has been so very life giving. I also get that it might not work for other families. Great discussion to start.

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Samantha October 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Thanks, Michele!

I do agree that pets can bring so much to a family. I personally love dogs and would love to have one if we had the room. Unfortunately our home is much to small, and I really feel that having a pet should include having the space for them as well as being committed to their care (e.g. walking the dog, feeding, etc.). It would be great if all of these pieces were in place in most instances; unfortunately they’re not, and what results is the parents often taking care of the pet, or the pet being ignored. Either option is not ideal, especially if we’re trying to teach our kids about responsibility.
Thanks for your comment :)
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