Forget what you see in movies, on TV, what a veterinarian or trainer or rescue or even a breeder tells you, there is no perfect pet for a child. I cringe when I hear people getting a pet for a child simply because someone said the animal would be perfect. Over the years my children have had gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, fish and a chinchilla – along with our dogs and cats. They were all acquired after serious research and knowing what we were getting into. A child who does not know how to safely interact with an animal is more likely to become injured and possibly injure the pet. When a pet, often because he feels threatened, injures little Annie, what happens? The pet goes. The lucky ones are placed in homes that can care for them. The unlucky ones, especially if the damage to the victim is severe and the behaviors developed in the animal are not ones that will easily resolve, may pay with their lives.
I have walked through shelters and seen under the reason for surrender line on small animal cages “Child Lost Interest.” Several of our small pets over the years were obtained because a parent gave in to pleas of a child and the child lost interest in a few months (or less).
When you let your child get a pet, you are the one responsible for the life of the animal. I raised my children with a sense of how much responsibility pets are. They have even saved their own money for months and even years to buy a pet we decided upon. My daughter, who has spent years working with dogs, saved for 1/3 the cost of a show potential puppy. It took her over a year but she did extra jobs around the house, assisted me with clients and saved her allowance. She also paid for half the pup’s first training classes.
Children need to know all the responsibilities from initial cost, ongoing costs, physical care, behavioral needs and even when it is time to cross the Rainbow Bridge. At 16 1/2, my son has said, aside from his fish, does not want any more small pets in his room. He does not want the responsibility along with everything else he has going on with school, etc. However, he is still helpful with the family pets. He takes out the cat litter, cleans boxes if asked, feeds the dogs and knows how to medicate anyone needing it. It is nice to know that I can be out at an event and if Dad has to work, there is someone fully capable at home watching the other critters. He even helps with dog food runs should we be running low. Without being reminded, he sets out water for his fish tank and is able to change filters.
Before you add in a pet, ask yourself if you are ready and able to do all the training of pet and child in order to create some level of harmony. Are you willing to change cages, walk dogs, play with kittens, scoop litter boxes, change tank water, etc when your child loses interest?
The best pet for a child is the one the parents research carefully and make the best match possible for their home. Sometimes the best pet is no pet. Do not give in to cries and whines from your child. Pull up your britches and say “No” if you truly do not want a pet. I would rather a child scream “I hate you!” than deal with many of the situations many of us in training and rescue see on a daily basis.
The life of that animal and even the safety of your child depend on the choices you make.
Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, a published author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.