Pet ownership – the good, the bad and the ugly
Imagine getting up Christmas morning and seeing a little golden retriever puppy under the tree. It’s like a real-life commercial as your kids squeal with joy. So much excitement and cuteness – too fun!!
Now picture yourself standing at the end of a leash in the rain ten years later as you wait for someone to “finish their business” before heading back inside to wipe the mud splatters off the walls for the six-millionth time.
Ah, the yin-yang of pet ownership.
To be clear, I adore my dog. She’s the sweetest, smartest four-legged love-sponge I know. In fact, there’s hardly anyone or anything I’d rather spend time with. But she, like all pets, is also a commitment – time, money, energy, Scooby snacks.
Of course, I knew that going in and have no regrets. (Well, actually, I DO regret throwing her that small ball that she swallowed whole and having to spend a couple thousand bucks to have it surgically removed…sigh.)
However, for some parents, the thought of getting a pet is too much – the mess, the cost, the disruption! Yup, there’s that. Then again, there’s also the love, the loyalty, the learning.
Sure, having a pet takes effort, especially on the part of parents. But when you look at the life lessons they offer, even if I wasn’t a sucker for puppy breath, I’d say “Sign me up!” every time.
The good – responsibility, empathy, companionship
Depending on the age of your kids, there is a sense of responsibility that comes with pet ownership. From feeding, exercise, affection, grooming and biological functions, certain things need to be dealt with every day. Seeing that needs are met consistently teaches responsibility and compassion.
Pets also teach children how to respect others as they learn to touch them gently, tend to their needs and not to disturb them when they’re eating or sleeping. Getting a new pet gives kids a sense of patience and empathy as they learn about how to make their new companion comfortable, establish a relationship and form a bond.
And once that bond is established, the pet offers its loyalty, attachment and companionship. Self-esteem is boosted because of getting that unconditional love and from the satisfaction of taking the responsibility to care for a pet’s needs.
Not only that, research shows that kids who have pets tend to be more active, do better at school and are generally happier.
The bad – money, time and the inevitable
There’s no way around it: pets cost money, sometimes a lot.
From initial purchase to food, grooming, boarding and vet bills, it all adds up. Typically, the bigger the animal, the bigger the bills – so maybe a budgie might be the way to go rather than the husky-cross. Nonetheless, it’s good for kids to see and understand what goes into making this sort of a commitment.
Money isn’t the only investment, time is another big one. Fact is, no matter how much your kids promise to take care of Whiskers and do all the chores, most of the time parents end up doing much of the heavy lifting. So make sure you and/or your partner are up for the challenge, because it could carry on for years after your kids head off to university.
But the worst, inescapable part of the whole process is that the darn things end up breaking your heart.
Realistically speaking, unless you’re getting a giant tortoise or a parrot, your beloved pet will die before you do. It sucks and there’s not one thing you can do about it.
When a pet passes, the whole family will feel the pain of that loss. It can be a very sad event, but that loss does offer the chance to learn how to cope with death and bereavement. It’s an opportunity for meaningful discussion about the cycle of life and learning the concept of mortality.
But it will still suck.
The ugly – vomit, hairballs and poop, oh my!
It happens – often where and when it’s not supposed to – get used to it.
Critters can be messy. Between the various biological processes, owning a pet can be a humbling experience. Frankly, we all learn a little bit more abut ourselves as we scoop to pick up poop.
A loyal companion, a trusted friend to confide in, a warm pal to snuggle with – pets make kids happy.
But you know what else makes kids happy? Happy parents.
So, even though it’s mostly great, unless the whole family is ready to get on board with the responsibility of owning a pet, it shouldn’t be done. You know your family and you know your limitations. Sometimes it’s okay to say no. Sorry, Rex.
And now we’re all learning.