A perennial question for parents -- “can I have a pet?”
“The reality is that regardless of whether a child initiated the effort to obtain the pet, parents are always the people primarily responsible for the care of that animal.”— Adam Goldfarb, Humane Society of Great Britain
While parents are likely to field requests from their children for a pet during any time of the year, animal welfare advocates claim that parents seem more likely to consider the idea of adding a pet to the family during the spring and summer. A pet will be with you for all seasons, so here are some things to think about before you bring home Fluffy. “Spring is a prime time when families start thinking about getting a pet. There is so much new life all around -- chicks are hatching, there are baby bunnies and then there is ‘kitten season,’ so it is understandable that this is when parents consider saying yes to a family pet,” said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “We find that most families with children actually adopt a pet in the summer, believing that their children will have more time to adjust to a pet when they are out of school. But, regardless of the season, we encourage parents to stop and really think before they adopt a family pet.” Adam Goldfarb, the director of the Pets at Risk Program for the Humane Society of America, concurs with these sentiments. “In the warmer months, it is easier to entertain the idea of walking a dog. People can have idyllic thoughts about what it is like to have a pet. What is most important is to really evaluate and examine what having a pet will mean for your family.”
The real question
Both Goldfarb and Bernstein suggest that parents should guide the discussion of whether to get a pet by reframing the question from “Can I have a pet?” to “Is our family ready for a pet?”
“The reality is that regardless of whether a child initiated the effort to obtain the pet, parents are always the people primarily responsible for the care of that animal,” Goldfarb said. “So, it is important to start the process by examining whether the family has the time, space and resources necessary to care for a pet.”
This sets up the family for a more practical conversation about what bringing a pet into the home will mean for everyone.
“Ultimately, parents must guide the discussions by being realistic and getting specific,” Bernstein added. “’What will this mean for our family?’ ‘What role will each of us have in taking responsibility for it?’ ‘How much are we willing to invest in training our pet?’ ‘Who will take care of the pet if we go on holiday?’”
Research & getting specific
Once you’ve decided a family pet is a possibility, research what type of animals you are interested in and find out what it means to take care of those animals.
“You can start by getting a book on what it means to take of a pet," Bernstein said. "Also, talk about the lifestyle of your family and explore with your children what type of pet could best fit with your family.”
According to the Humane Society, nearly one-third of American households have a cat or a dog. Given the general love for pets, advocates explain that there is a great deal of information available on almost any animal that captures your family’s fancy.
“It is important to find out what types of animals are age-appropriate for the kids in your family,” Bernstein said. “An adorable spring chick might not be the best pick for a 2-year-old.”
Goldfarb points out that while most parents are focused on dogs or cats, it is a good idea to be open to other animals. He encourages parents to include a variety of animals, and examine the traits of different breeds.
Consider adoption & adoption counselors
If you think your family is ready, animal advocates urge potential pet owners to consider adopting or rescuing an animal from an organisation in their community.
“At the Humane Society, we strongly encourage people to explore adoption of a pet from a local shelter or animal rescue organization as their first option in getting a pet,” Goldfarb continued. “Many people working at shelters and rescue groups can help make good matches between animals and people.”
In addition to their ethical concerns about animal breeding, organizations such as Adopt-A-Pet.com emphasise that there more than 100,000 pets in need of homes all across the country.
Bernstein emphasised adoption from a local animal shelter as well.
“Animal shelters and rescue organisations tend to know the pets in their care a little better. They can usually provide more information on the animal,” she explained. “Many shelters also have adoption counselors on hand that can help families find a pet that is a good fit for them. A family may come in thinking about a dog and a counselor might help them find the perfect guinea pig.”
Before you choose
Before you choose your new pet, experts point out that the whole family should to go to the shelter or adoption center before you adopt. Make sure that the animal and everyone in the family is comfortable with this important choice.
“It maybe tempting to surprise your children with a cute new pet, but it is not usually a good idea,” Bernstein said. “Some small children are terrified of certain pets, and some animals have a reaction to certain children that is hard to get over.”
Lastly, remember when you bring home that special pet you are making a commitment to care for it for its entire lifetime. Some dogs, cats and rabbits can live 10 to 20 years -- and some special birds might even live to be 100.
Even though that can seem like daunting responsibility to already busy parents, Goldfarb points out that it does teach children something significant.
“Having a pet allows parents to show children directly how to take care and be responsible for a family pet that they really care for,” he said.
For your kids, that is the real gift of the family pet.
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