If you’ve visited the Youth Department lately, you probably noticed that we have been crazy for animals! Pet-themed learning stations, a vet station in the play area, and making cat/dog toys for a local animal shelter at home could have prompted your child to desperately plea, “Can we get a pet, please?” If you don’t already own a pet, you may wonder if your child is ready. How do you know if they are up for the challenge?
Is your child comfortable around animals? How do they interact with other people’s pets? If your child is calm and respectful, they may be ready for a pet. However, if you sense a great deal of hesitation or anxiety, it may be a good idea to wait until they are more comfortable. Consider providing more interaction with other people’s pets and teaching them that animals are living breathing creatures (not stuffed animals) who should be respected before deciding to adopt your own.
Is your child ready to take on more chores? Taking care of a pet is a big responsibility. If your child can handle age appropriate chores with reliability, they may be ready to take on a pet-related chore. Taking it a step further, explore the volunteer opportunities at a local animal shelter. Shelter chores may include kennel or cattery cleaning and animal socialization. If your child looks forward to helping out at the shelter (and doesn’t shy away from having to pick up “messes”), they may be ready to take care of their own pet.
Is this a real desire for a pet or a passing trend? Gauge your child’s interest in getting a pet over several weeks or months. Are they requesting a specific pet time after time? If they are checking out books about pets, researching the specifics of different dog breeds and constantly looking up animals to adopt at a local animal shelter, their interest may be sincere. Conversely, if they bounce from desperately wanting the latest thing on their wish list to the next without any lasting interest, it may be wise to hold off.
Start small. If you are still unsure of the commitment on your child’s part, you can always start off with a low-maintenance pet like a fish. Teaching your child to change the water and feeding fish will teach them how to take care of an animal on a much smaller scale. Another option may be to adopt an older adult pet (one that has moved through the rambunctious puppy stage) and acts as a more calming presence in your house.
Having a pet is a big deal, but once you have done the research and decided that your child is prepared to take care of one, you will be ready to welcome a new member of the family.