Ensuring the family pet’s well-being
By Corrie-Lynne Player
Last time, I told you about what happened when I acquiesced to my almost grown daughter’s pleas for a dog. She insisted that she’d “always take care” of it. Her desire for a pet lasted exactly a week. I ended up feeding, watering and training the dog.
So, how do you handle getting stuck with a pet? I’m pretty sure that every kid who whines for one really thinks he knows what’s involved: the parakeet’s cage will be cleaned, the goldfish’s water changed and the bowl shined, the hamster’s wood shavings replaced, the litter box emptied, etc.
I’m also sure that most parents end up being the ones who clean cages, change water, replace wood-shavings and empty litter boxes. They’re also the ones who end up filling food dishes, ensuring sufficient exercise and making vet appointments.
So, discuss why your family wants this particular pet. Watching fish swim is relaxing, hamsters are soft and cute, cats don’t need to be walked, dogs are good protectors and so on. Then have your kids decide whether they want the pet enough to put up with the messes and the hassles. If everybody agrees on the need for a particular pet and his or her responsibility to share its care, make a chart that reflects what needs to be done and tracks who should do it.
Post the chart and remind your children to read it if you have to. Reminding was always the hardest part for me. I could define tasks and draw up charts, but once I taped them to the refrigerator door, nobody looked at what I’d written. And I was easily distracted, so I didn’t follow up enough.
But in order for pet care to teach accountability, you have to follow up and figure out consequences for “forgetting” to feed or walk the dog or clean out the cat’s litter box. Draw parallels between your child’s life and the animal’s.
A friend of mine “forgot” to give her thirteen-year old son dinner one night when the kid continually left his dog without food. She says he got the point.
There are so many virtual pets and animated toys that I think people tend to forget that real, living animals are a big responsibility. Some pets are pretty easy but they’ll die if deprived of minimal care.
Freshwater fish in a balanced aquarium don’t take a lot of time but still need to be fed appropriately. Turtles and snakes are in the same category. Mammals such as hamsters, guinea pigs and mice need more attention and qualify as “pets” because they generally like to be touched.
Next up the scale are cats. While cats tend to be attached to places more than people, they still need stroking and feeding.
Dogs, in my opinion, are the top of the “house pet” category. Pack animals, they require grooming, training and feeding. They can’t be fenced in the backyard and ignored. I believe nobody should have a dog it they don’t want to spend the necessary significant time to socialize the animal into the family. Dogs need a boss, the leader of the pack, someone who’s in charge and responsible.
Whatever pet you decide would fit your family, don’t forget that, as the parent, you are the one who’s in charge. Be sure you’re willing to feed and care for the goldfish, turtle, cat or dog. If you can’t or don’t want the responsibility, stand firm and don’t be talked into anything. Or come up with a suitable consequence that doesn’t involve bodily harm for an innocent creature.