So, those who know me in my messy van, chaotic house, crazy busy ‘real’ life may have just spit their coffee out when they realized that I’m putting up a blog post on pet ownership.
Their shock is understandable.
Because…my abilities to manage a large family and work and navigate all kinds of projects do not extend to my dogs.
My dogs are naughty, yappy, obnoxious, incontinent escape artists. I am one dog fail of a pet mama. Our pups, Katie and George, are hyper, darling, half long-haired miniature dachshund/half Pomeranian puff balls. Adorable…and ornery. I’m sure there are other families who might have had more luck with the training and the barking and the shedding and the bladder accidents. So I’m not going to be a lot of help when it comes to conquering those issues.
But in the two and a half decades I’ve been parenting, we’ve had some very precious pets as part of our family. There have been great lessons learned through caring for our pets, both the victories and the not-so-victories.
1. Take some time to research various pet breeds.
We can all get caught up in the cute level of a particular animal and not know that there are potential challenges ahead. As adorable as our Katie and George are, I didn’t realize that dachshunds have something of a difficult reputation when it comes to potty training. Some animals aren’t as social or some don’t do well in busy family environments. Some require more expensive treatments or foods. Don’t let your crush on something cute and cuddly or scaly and exotic override a possible poor fit for your family culture and budget.
2. Make your local shelter your first stop.
There are so many great animals out there that need a great home. It can be a powerful lesson for your kids to see the ramifications for animals that have been abandoned by visiting your local shelter. And if you have your heart set on a particular breed, be open to the possibility of a rescue dog. Our neighbors adopted the most amazing dog from a pug rescue group. They were able to accomplish getting both the breed they wanted while taking in an abandoned animal.
3. Keep in mind that you’re teaching your child about commitment.
Though Katie and George have been quite the challenge at times, we felt it was important for our kids that we stay true to the commitment we made when we adopted them. If a family gets in the habit of bailing out of multiple pet adoptions, citing inconvenience, dislike of the pet, loss of fascination or only liking the puppy or kitten phase of ownership, that lesson will run deeper than just the pet experience. Kids can pick up the message that it’s okay to dump out of anything challenging or uncomfortable. And that’s not a great message. There are situations in which a pet may need to be re-homed, but if you’ve re-homed two or more pets, it’s time to really reconsider if your family is cut out for the realities of pet ownership.
4. Your child’s safety is the top priority.
Friends of ours had a gorgeous large breed dog that was impeccably trained. They had owned the dog since their early marriage and when their first child came along a few years later, the dog seemed to handle the addition with ease. But when the child started to toddle, he accidentally startled the dog out of a deep sleep and the dog bit him. As much as it broke their hearts, our friends re-homed their dog to a family without little ones. And they did it immediately. Don’t wait around to see if an aggressive incident repeats itself. Don’t philosophically defend a breed at the expense of your child’s safety. As much as our pets may feel like part of the family, your child’s safety is far more important. Period.
5. Seriously consider the season of life you are in as a family and if a commitment to a pet makes sense at this time.
Growing up, I always had pets. My mom is quite the animal lover and from the time I was in preschool, we always had a cat or two and a dog. Hamsters and goldfish were also part of the family menagerie. Because I’d always had pets, when Mike and I got married, it seemed like the expected thing to do to add some furry friends to our newlywed life. In quick order, there was Callie the Cat and Fang the Dog. But our reality at that time was that I was both hosting an early morning radio show and then going immediately to the television station for a workday that went late into the night. Mike was finishing up classes at the university and putting in a lot of hours working for a state representative. Our pets spent much of their time alone at our silent apartment, a situation that wasn’t really fair to them. We got our current puppies, Katie and George, right after we found out we were pregnant with Baby #7…which turned out to be Babies #7 & 8. It certainly compromised the level of training and attention we could give the dogs. Adding pets to the family when life is a little calmer and focus can be placed on training and a smooth transition can set up the experience to be far more fun and to be met with greater success.
Adding a pet to your family can be a fantastic learning experience for your children. Taking care of a pet involves responsibility, commitment, patience and a lot of fun. With the right guidance and timing, our pet friends, furry, scaly and be-winged, can add tremendously to family life.