My favourite comment from parents coming in to our vet hospital is, “We got the dog for the kids…… to teach them to be responsible!” Well I’ve got news for you! Good luck getting your kids to walk the dog or feed the cat. Do we think that just because they are soft and cuddly, it would be easier to get our kids to look after them, easier than say cleaning their rooms or doing their homework?
Growing up, at various points in my childhood, we had chickens, geese, rabbits, goats, pigs, horses, a frog, fish, gerbils, hamsters and a salamander. And of course we had dogs (my father was deathly allergic to cats, so by the time I was 4 or 5 there were no cats in our house!). My sister and I learned to love all these creatures. We cried (and screamed) when the poor frog jumped into the hot water as we were trying to clean out the aquarium. Even my mom grew attached to the pigs. I remember quite well, even at 4 years of age, that she was very sad when they took the pigs away. Sure, my mom would lose her patience with our dogs when they would do silly things and get into mischief. My parents were worried that our big 130 lb Newfoundland dog would bowl over our friends when they would visit or scratch their faces by accident as she “gave us her paw” for a cookie. When our Newfie had puppies, and one of them was actually “puppy-napped”, I saw how hard my parents fought to get him back and how happy they were when the police finally found him. They wouldn’t give up.
My parents let me stay home the day after I watched my best little doggie die right in front of me when he was hit by a car. They allowed me to feel the pain. They allowed me to mourn, as they were mourning. They did not belittle my pain simply because it was a “pet”. When we moved continents, my parents even transported our 11 year old Newfie and our 3 year old Jack Russell all the way to Zimbabwe. They could not face leaving them behind and ultimately knew that they were PART of our family.
Our children have watched my husband and me clean up vomit when our dogs and cats were sick, gently lift our old dying dog up so she could stand without falling and making home-cooked meals for her when she was unable to eat her dog food. They have watched us love, care for, and cry for our furry family members. They have seen us lose patience with the dogs and cats just like we sometimes lose patience with them. They have seen the good and the bad. We are human after all.
It’s about learning to love something other than yourself. It’s about compassion, about respect. I look at my own kids and how they are with the cats and dog. They may not give them the kind of attention my husband and I would like sometimes – like feeding them, walking them, etc. But when I catch my son gently rubbing his cat Hero in his lap, I know he is learning to love.
Our pets can offer comfort when we and our children need it most. How many times have you had long and difficult conversations with your cat, telling him your deepest secrets or simply talking out a problem that you don’t want or aren’t ready for anyone else to hear? Our children do the same. No one is judging them. For children going through serious family transitions (such as divorce, illness, etc), pets can offer a source of consistency, routine and unconditional love.
Through our treatment of our pets, our children will see they need to follow through on commitments. They will understand that we are not giving up on our pet (even if he does something “wrong” or gets sick). So they will hopefully think “We are NOT GIVING UP ON YOU!”
I hope I am able to provide the same lessons to my children as my parents taught me. They have helped me be who I am today and I am forever grateful.