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Lifestyle

September 6, 2013

Vet Connection: Helping children become responsible pet owners

Recently, we took our dogs Daisy and Otis up to Portsmouth for a Saturday afternoon walk and browse around town. We sat for a while in the center of town, teeming with tourists, to watch the world go by. Soon, a spritely little girl named Brianna stopped with her grandparents to worship the dogs. She liked Daisy our Springer spaniel best because she was lying down and easy to approach. Brianna gained enough courage to stroke Otis’ ears and realize they felt like velvet. Brianna focused her abundant 4-year-old energy on the dogs as she asked how old they were and what was my name and were they hungry and updated me on a recent “Ninja Turtle” show she had watched.

The human-animal bond is there to some degree in most people. Children seem to be fascinated with animals. In some, that bond increases as they grow, and they may seek a profession where they can maintain the bond. They may become forest rangers, environmental researchers or veterinarians. The challenge is how do we keep children fascinated with the caretaking of their own pets once the novelty has worn off.

When I was growing up, I begged for a dog or a cat. My folks begged out, saying they were allergic. According to my folks, when I was 4, I was lobbying our landlady to convince them that “I really needed a cat.” They were completely unmoved, citing allergies and cleanliness as good reasons to avoid pet ownership. My father had a dog when he was 10 and remembers the bull terrier latching onto his leg for fun and not letting go. I was allowed to have turtles, and that was it. I ended up doing quite a bit of pet caretaking for the neighborhood dogs and cats.

So, what to do when your offspring put the arm on you for a pet? First, assess your comfort level. If you are not sure if you want a pet, you can always dip your toe in by fostering a pet for a rescue group. See how your family does welcoming a pet that needs a home into your routine. Encourage the kids to do research on the pet to learn about how the breed behaves, lifespan, space, and diet and exercise requirements. Talk to people who own a cat or dog and see what their challenges are. The whole family will have respect for the pet and integrate the work of the pet’s care into the day if everyone understands the work involved.

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