Expert advice on bringing an animal into the fold
“Mommy, I want a puppy!” This is something most parents tend to hear from their school-age kids from time to time. We often read about the benefits of owning a pet, but do refrain from running to your nearest pet shop or animal shelter just yet! We spoke with pet expert Jennifer Ego, Program Director at Pawsitively Pets, about the responsibilities that come with owning a pet, as well as whether your child is ready for one.
At what age should a family pet be introduced to a child?
“It depends on the pet and the family,” says Ego. For example, she explains that a lot of women think that the greatest time to get a pet is while they are on maternity leave. “But you’ll have enough work with a new baby, and a puppy is like a new baby, as well.” Training a pet is important, and if a family is too busy to devote time to this important task, it is best to wait.
Ego shares that an ideal age to introduce a pet to a child is at approximately five years old. “Children can follow direction and understand better at this age,” she explains. “They will be able to give [the pet] commands, and do so confidently.”
When a child asks for a pet, how should parents react to this request?
“Kids will ask for every pet they like: they’ll see a dog, and they’ll want a dog,” warns Ego. “And they’ll keep asking.” She says that that one thing she always tells parents is that it will always be their pet: “99% of the time, the pet will be your responsibility.” So parents need to be aware of what they are getting themselves into.
If your child continues to ask, Ego suggests having them babysit a friend or family member’s pet. “It will give them a feel for what it’s like to be a pet owner, acting as a good testing ground, and this will help parents decide whether it is the right time for a pet.
“It’s best to figure out beforehand [on what life with a pet is like],” she continues. “Talk to other people, ask questions, seek advice.” Most importantly of all, Ego reminds us, is research, even for a pet as small and unobtrusive as a hamster. Different animals have different needs: it was a surprise to us when Ego stated that birds, for example, are actually very demanding pets, requiring plenty of attention and social interaction!
Ego says that families often don’t spend enough time researching, and that pets are more often than not an impulse buy. “Families should take the time, about six to 12 months, to think, research and discuss,” she says. After all, a pet will be with you for its entire life!
Is it best to teach pet responsibility first through a low-maintenance pet, such as a fish?
Ego shares that a pet fish is a good starting point, but that reptiles are actually even more low maintenance. (We know, we know...) But despite a parent not wanting a snake in the home, Ego supplies that they only need to be fed once a week.
As for hamsters, despite popular belief, they actually aren’t child-friendly pets. “Kids tend to squeeze pets tightly, and hamsters don’t like that,” Ego advises. “Therefore, it should stay in a cage, but that doesn’t exactly send a good message to your child on how a pet should be treated.”
Should a parent bear some responsibility in taking care of the pet?
With any pet, a parent should always supervise: no pet, however big or small, is exempt from this. “Don’t let kids walk the dog until they are 12 or so,” recommends the expert. “If something happens, such as if the dog escapes, your child might not be able to handle it. They’ll panic and won’t know what to do.” Ego says walking should be a parental responsibility, or something a family does together—never a task a child does on his or her own.
What are the advantages for a child to have a pet?
“Even though kids contribute a small portion of pet nurturing, it does teach them responsibility,” says Ego. Having a pet also teaches children empathy and compassion, as well as offer lifelong friendship.
|find out more about the Vileda ViROBi Robot Sweeper!|
|Win a CLARISONIC REVOLUTIONARY SPA EXPERIENCE for you and 3 of your friends, valued at $2,000!|