Animal Care

Kids and Pets - Are they good for each other?

Most parents at some stage during their child’s early years will be asked the question, “Mum, can I pleeese have a dog? I promise I’ll look after him, walk him, feed him and clean up his poo.” Yeah, right, hands up how many of us have fallen or that one?

I know I have!

Our eldest dog Sophie was adopted from a shelter when she was 6 weeks old. We got her for our youngest child who was then 3. Sophie is now going on 16 and the child, now an adult, has shown lots of interest over the years by loving, cuddling, nurturing and socialising with the animal, but has she ever once walked her, er, No; fed her, again No, and has the thought of picking up a piece of poo ever seared my child’s brain stem? Again, No, Never!!!

If you get a pet for your child, it’s very likely you, the mum will end up being the primary carer; and, when your child heads off to travel the world with his/her mates, chances are, you’ll be left with the dog. That’s life.

However, I still believe kids and pets go hand in hand together, especially kids and dogs. I think most of you reading this will agree that kids who have pets make for better, more humane adults. Having a pet teaches the child to have responsibility for another living creature and creates a bond between them and the animal. In addition to this a pet will also create empathy and raise the child’s self esteem.

Why?

Because a pet gives unconditional love to a child; a pet will stabilize an unstable world for a child because no matter what else is going on, a dog still needs walking, feeding and grooming; it’s part of his day to day routine.

Routine is important to a child; it makes them feel safe and pets force us to maintain a routine, helping the entire family structure to be more balanced. It doesn’t have to be a dog. A goldfish swimming around in a tank can teach children the responsibility of feeding, cleaning and caring. However, the key to enjoying the most satisfying relationship with your pet is choosing one that suits your lifestyle.

It’s very easy for your child to fall in love with a cutie pie puppy or a fluffy kitten but the realities are that different sets of responsibilities fall with different types of pets.

In order to help you make the right choice of pet for your child, we’ve set out a few points for you to consider:

• Families with small children or an elderly relative living with them should consider the size and energy levels of the pet. If it’s a puppy or a kitten, it will be very active; however, it will also be delicate and needs to be handled with extreme care. On the other hand a large and energetic dog can accidentally harm a small child or an adult who is unsteady on their feet by knocking them over.

• If the home environment is one of total neatness; then you need to expect muddy footprints as well as accidents and hairs, from a free roaming animal. Therefore a long haired dog may not be your best choice. Maybe your best bet is a pet which is confined to quarters such as fish, birds, or a turtle.

• With certain pets, your garden will suffer. Dogs will dig holes, urinate and poo.

• If you’re a bit of a home bird and spend most of your time at home, consider a pet that is happy with such an environment. What about a cat, a rabbit or a bird.

• However, if you’re an active type of family who enjoys daily walks or loves to jog, then a dog could be your best friend. Also, there is a social element to doggie walking. It encourages interaction with others.

• You need to decide just how much time you have to give to a pet. Keep in mind you are making a commitment that will last for at least 12 to 20 years if you get a cat or a dog. If you get something like a parrot, well, they live up to 70 years, sometimes 80!

Now, let’s talk about different types of dogs.

• A sporty type of dog: Retriever, Labrador, Spaniel. Very active, alert and require daily exercise. Likes to be around people so they’re social animals.

• Terriers: Jack Russell, Wheaton, Fox. Tenacious and brave little lads and very determined. My ladies love to dig, dig and dig again. They also love nothing better than hunting down and killing rodents. They are quite determined and feisty and this makes them difficult to train. However, they are extremely loyal dogs but can be a bit intolerant of boisterous children.

• Working dogs: Doberman, Newfoundland, Akita, Boxer. These dogs may not generally be good as family pets because they’re strong willed, independent and physically overpowering and small children and the elderly must be aware of this and take extra precautions when around them. They must be kept under strict control and exercised regularly.

• Toy dogs: Chihuahua, Yorkie. These are companion, lapdogs but still need to be exercised. They are fragile and can easily get crushed under people’s feet; so take care when having them around a toddler. They’re loyal and intelligent and love learning tricks.

 

© Miriam Kerins. Education Officer, DSPCA. Email: miriam.kerins@dspca.ie

 

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