Is your child ready for the responsibility of a furry friend


Dear Adele,

I’m just about worn down by the pleading of my child for a pet. While the puppy he has in mind is adorable, I toss and turn in my bed at night thinking about shedding hair, morning and evening walks and little wet mistakes on the living room carpet. My wife and I just do not know when is the right time to get a pet for our child. If truth be told, we do not even know whether we should get a pet for him! Can you help?

Almost Worn Down


Dear Almost Worn Down,

You are being worn down by the pleading of your child for a pet, Almost Worn Down, because you are a loving parent and you want to provide an excellent growing up experience for him. However, you also know animals are a lot of work and that you will possibly be doing much of it if you take on the puppy. Hence your conundrum!

You are also being worn down because the images of those cute little puppies and fluffy little kittens are absolutely adorable and it is hard for anyone who likes animals to resist. You also know that caring for pets helps children learn many things. They learn to be responsible for dependent creatures. They grow in empathy, compassion and respect for other species. As well, companion animals can reduce stress on children and help build their self-esteem.

On top of this may be your memories of a favourite pet that you enjoyed while growing up. It is hard to erase the emotional warmth of those kinds of reveries. On the other hand, if you were denied the ownership of a pet when you were a child for some reason, you may somehow feel you want your child to have that opportunity which you did not.

You are wise to be thinking carefully about this move and to spend some time researching the type of pet your child wants, the signs that he is ready to have such a pet, and the impact on your total family including finances, lifestyle, and the long-term commitment. Owning a pet is a bit romanticized in our culture and the reality of it may not match up with the fantasy that you or your family imagine.

Veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker wrote an interesting article entitled “Is your child ready for a pet?”. She suggests you wait until your children are aged five or older. They should be old enough to carry the responsibility of caring for the pet consistently and permanently. She thinks it important to wait until the children show consistent interest and eagerness, that they should not be surprised with the pet or need to be convinced that a pet is the right addition to the family.

A parent should evaluate their children’s maturity as that is a far more important variable than a child’s age. They should be able to take directions well, have common sense, be responsible and empathetic. If children tend to regularly be forgetful, careless, or self-absorbed they are definitely not ready. Dr. Becker stresses that the adults should be prepared to take over if the child or children fail in their responsibilities to look after the family pet.

It is wise to start with something small like a goldfish, a turtle or a hamster perhaps. This way you can see how it goes. Such pets are easy to care for relative to a cat or dog and their life span is shorter. Cost and commitment are low.

 It is sensible to research the kinds of pets that are available, what they cost, the time involved, the living situation required and the demands for care. You might want to consider a shelter animal as there are some wonderful pets just waiting for a home, whose families could no longer care for them.

Kristin Cara wrote an interesting article entitled, “How to tell when your child is ready for a pet.” Kristin suggests you check out allergies in the family, the upfront cost, the long-term costs and the potential for vacation sitting. The family should examine who will be responsible for the pet and whether they, as a group, can provide a safe, healthy, loving environment, long term for the animal.

Dogs are a common choice of pet for a family because they are cute, interactive, great exercise partners, good snuggle buddies, and playful. However, dogs can be messy, require a lot of interaction, must be exercised, require training, need ongoing grooming and veterinary care, and necessitate care at vacation time.

Cats are a good choice and are more independent. They are fun and funny, highly interactive and playful. Cats require less maintenance than dogs. The biggest con of the cat as a pet is the litter box smell, hairballs and scratched furniture. Some cats also bite on occasion.

Pediatrician Hannah King, of Mott Children’s Hospital wrote an article called “Is your child ready for a pet? Six questions to ask.” Dr. King says that “a pet can be a wonderful part of childhood, teach important skills and bring families great joy and companionship. However, parents need to weigh the decision carefully to make sure a new pet is the right decision for their family.”

Dr. King suggests parents consider whether their child has a genuine interest in having a pet. She asks whether the expectations for pet care been reviewed and whether or not they are they realistic? She suggests the family consider which pet might be right for them given their living situation. She reminds parents to go over the safety issues which include allergies, biting potential and the age of the children. It is prudent that getting a pet not be an impulsive decision but one that is well thought out over time. Finally, judicious parents must be willing to pick up the slack when their children fail to carry out their responsibilities in caring for the animal.

So, what are the markers that your child and family is ready for a fur baby? I will give you a few signposts to guide you:

1: Does your child have an easy, calm, deferential attitude around dogs and cats or the type of pet your family is planning to adopt?

2: Does your child currently carry out his/her self-care and responsibilities around the house without prompting?

3: Will the pet and its care, fit into your family circumstances, residence, financial capabilities and lifestyle?

4: Is the whole family excited and committed to the idea of having the pet for the duration of its’ life?

5: Has the family borrowed a pet for a period of time to test out readiness for the demands of care of an animal and felt satisfied it was ready for a pet of its own?

6: Are the adults cognizant of the fact that they will likely bear the lion’s share of the care of the pet some or most of the time?

I hope these ideas have been helpful to you Almost Worn Down. Do let your head rule over your heart on this one. I will finish with a few quotations about pets:

The best therapist has fur and four legs.” — Golden Star CC

A house is never really lonely where a loving dog waits.”  —

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” —  Anatole France

Sincerely, Adele

Photo: Alicia Jones, Unsplash