The new DAD is open to anyone who has something cool to share, it’s “our” community to build together. With that in mind, DAD reached out to Tatiana Garrett for tips on pets: dogs, cats, how to pick em’, how to love em’ , how to take care of em’ and the many things we can learn from our pets. Tatiana is the Director of Communications for The Anti-Cruelty Society. She has worked at animal-related nonprofits since 1995 and currently writes Tatiana’s Tails for ChicagoNow, hosts Chicago Tails on Watch312.com, and writes for Tails Inc.. Here’s Tatiana’s Point on Pets for Parents.
So parents – you’ve changed mounds of diapers, kissed countless boo-boos, and invested your heart and soul in your kids. When those sweet faces start to beg for a furry or feathered friend, it’s natural to hesitate. Sure, the kids say they’ll take care of it, but you have premonitions of walking a dog in the snow and taking on sole kitty litter scooping duties. Well, just like with the kids – all the work that comes with pet parenting can be worthwhile. Read on to find ten reasons why every parent should seriously consider adopting a furry playmate for the kids.
1. Good Germs – If the thought of slobbery dog kisses grosses you out – know that there are benefits. Studies have shown that children who grow up in households with pets are less likely to have allergies and catch colds. Making mud pies and cuddling with a kitty can help kids build up some resiliencies.
2. Annual Exam Examples – Animals can’t tell us when they’re not feeling well and while point #1 is true – not all germs are good. Kids usually squirm at the thought of their own medical check-up, but responsible pet owners make an annual veterinarian visit and the example can be used to encourage kids to be brave for the own exams. It may even spark a child’s interest to consider a future veterinary career.
3. Responsibility – Caring for a pet is a great way for kids to learn about responsibility. Before the family takes an animal in, there should be a household discussion about who will be responsible for what tasks and back-up plans should be discussed. If a child promises to come home and take the dog out every day, are they prepared to forfeit after school activities? Who will watch the kitty during the family vacation?
4. Play – Pets and kids alike, learn through play. Not all play is equal though. Parents work to limit exposure to violent video games and instead find activities that foster brain and motor skill development. Pet parents know that a bored animal may make a game of eating the couch! Kids can play a role in structured daily play and exercise for the pets – it’s good for the kids and the animals.
5. Respect and Safety – Anything with a mouth can bite. Having a pet means learning to respect another being and that is a great lesson for any child. Cats and dogs are soft, fluffy, and attractive to kids, but children need to be taught never to pull on tails and ears and how to know when it’s time to leave an animal alone. These lessons help a child begin to read body language and understand boundaries. Practicing safety with pets at home can help prevent injuries when kids encounter other animals. Learn about preventing cat and dog bites here.
6. Stay Positive – Peaceful households need consistency and many pets (such as cats and dogs) need some level of training. There are other training methods out there, but the best method for families is to train with positive reinforcement (using rewards for good behavior). This method reinforces bonds and kids can participate in training sessions too. Training that focuses on punishment and dominance teaches fear and punishment avoidance. Most families prefer positive environments over wanting their house to resemble a wild wolf pack. See tip #8 for more training help.
7. Be in the Moment – Pets give us unconditional love. After a tough day at work or school, every member of the family can benefit from just being in the moment with a pet. Studies show that petting a furry family member can lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Studies in Sweden and South Africa found that the “happy chemical” oxytocin is released in the brain of dogs and their owners during interactions.
8. Patience – Pets are great for teaching us patience. Cats love climbing and dogs may chew shoes and other items that hold our scent. It’s up to the humans of the house to figure out why pets do the things they do, train them to do the things we like, and to be sure all family members are being consistent with training. For free training help, contact The Anti-Cruelty Society’s Behavior Hotline.
9. Empathy – Building off the elements of point #5, kids can go beyond being gentle to avoid getting bitten and learn to put themselves in the shoes (or in this case, paws) of another. The pet needs access to fresh clean drinking water, the cat needs to be brushed because matts in her fur don’t feel good, and the lizard’s tank should be kept warm and clean so he stays healthy. Children can develop deep bonds with their pets. Dr. Alan Beck of Purdue University’s Center for the Human-Animal Bond found that 70% of kids will confide in a pet. A self-conscious reader can even read Fluffy a bedtime story without fear of judgment and can thereby strengthen reading skills.
10. Parental Support – You’ve read through all the benefits that a child could receive and are still thinking that in the end, you’ll end up taking care of the pet. Yes, ultimately the legal adults of a household always assume responsibility, but that can also be a good thing for kids. Families are a support network. Children can learn responsibility and many other things from a pet, but when they go off to college and you step up to care for their beloved animal – you strengthen one of the most important relationships of every household… the relationship of a parent’s limitless love and support for their child.
If your family is ready to take in a pet, Animal Planet provides a fun and interactive online Pet Picker to help you match your household’s activity levels and habits with the best type of animal. When the family has selected the type of animal, remember to set a positive example for the kids by making adoption the first option and not supporting a puppy mill or irresponsible pet breeder.