The Doggie in the Window by Kristen White

Little One (17/366)
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Have your kids been begging for a pet? Christmas is an exciting time to bless our children, and you may be thinking about finally giving in to their request. Here are some things to consider before adopting a new pet:

  • Timing. If you want to travel during the holidays—or if you travel frequently—think about the expense and complication of boarding a pet. Do you have a reliable pet care center in town? Are your children old and responsible enough to help with day-to-day pet-care chores? Are you considering another baby, a move, or a decision that would affect the long-term care of your pet? It is better not to get a pet and give him up later than to have one for just a little while.
  • Type. If your kids long for a pet, and a dog or cat is out of the question due to allergies, lifestyle, or other reasons, consider some kind of small, inexpensive friend, such as a hamster, guinea pig, or fish. If a dog or cat is on your horizon, consider not only the cost of the pet, but also the cost of shots, food, tick and flea medication, hygiene items, and other incidentals. Be aware that specialty pets, such as ferrets, rabbits, and de-scented skunks, can require a higher level of care and expense than cats and dogs. Read, ask questions, and be informed before you choose your pet.
  • Training. If you’ve narrowed down a special breed of dog or cat, ask for references of breeders, shelters, trainers, and vets.

Pets are one of the greatest sources of companionship and joy in life, but it is important to be informed before making a decision.

 

Kristen White enjoys writing, being in the kitchen, and teaching sixth graders at First Baptist Church Shelbyville, Kentucky.

Why Pets Pull Our Heartstrings

I grew up on a dairy farm. We had cows, cows, and more cows. All Jersey. All brown. Except for a couple Black Angus we were told not to get too attached to! Cows do a lot of fun tricks or anything so I moved my affections toward the smaller creatures. We also had chickens and dogs and cats. The chickens were scary, especially after I had to pluck one once after seeing him beheaded. Yikes! The dogs were our pets, our real friends. The cats basically hung around to drink milk. They weren’t pets. They did their own thing. I probably would have told you as a kid I was a dog person. Who needed cats?

Then about a year into married life a little black cat walked into our lives, Samantha. Talk about changing our thoughts about cats! We even smuggled her into seminary housing … she was our little renegade cat. Seventeen years later I will tell you that I was always a cat person and just didn’t know it. Not that I don’t like dogs, but our cats have really been part of our family, and the kids have loved them.

Unfortunately we have had our share of pet losses too. Samantha died as mature 15-year-old of cancer. This week our young Orange Tabby, Charlie, died of an apparent heart attack 4 months after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. The boys were so sad. I really spent a long time digging in the dry ground, thinking about what to say at our funeral service. My prayer at the end of the service went something like this:

"Dear God, we are sad today because of the loss of our dear pet, Charlie. After everything you created, you said that your creation was good. We know that you thought Charlie was good. He was such a good and faithful pet to us. We know that you knew all about Charlie because you know even when a sparrow falls from the sky. Even though it makes us sad, it reminds us of how much you love us to send your only Son to die for us. We are reminded of how precious life is. Thank You for your goodness to us even on a day like this. We love you. Amen."

Our pets are members of our family, and it does hurt when they die. Children need to be allowed to grieve and celebrate the life and memory of a pet. It does teach valuable lessons about life and death and think about the things that are most important in life. There is no one size fits all plan to talk to a child about death and loss, but you know best how to communicate in a way your child can understand. 

How have you dealt with the death of a pet in your family? What are some tips you would offer to parents in helping children deal with the loss of a pet?

The Perfect First Pet

default-dog-health.jpgAs kids gear up for summer vacation, parents might notice an increased interest in pets, specifically adding or adopting a new one into the home.

“Non-traditional animals which range from fish to guinea pigs and lizards, make fantastic pets because they teach children how to care, love and appreciate their new family member,” says PetSmart’s Specialty Pets Expert John Gerstenberger.

Selecting the best pet depends on each individual family, and considerations should include the age and personality of the children, as well as the family’s lifestyle and schedule. Parents who have children ages 10 and under can consider small animals because they are easier for kids to care for and interact with.

PetSmart created a list of good first pets and some of their fun features. They include:
 

  • Bearded Dragon: They get their name from the spiny skin found under their throat which when puffed-up looks like a beard. Bearded dragons are active and gentle by nature; children will love watching them climb all over rocks and branches in their terrarium.
  • Betta Fish: These tropical fish come in a variety of beautiful colors and may greet you by pressing their “faces” against the tank.
  • Guinea Pig: They are naturally social creatures and enjoy the companionship of other Guinea Pigs as well as interaction with pet parents.  Guinea pigs are diurnal which means they sleep at night and are active during the day, so children have ample time to play and engage with them. 
  • Leopard Gecko: These lizards are clean, docile and easy to hold, but they require careful handling, making them better pets for children 10 and older. Leopard geckos like to chase their food (live insects), which is fun to watch.
  • Parakeet: They are social, active birds who love to play with toys and interact with their pet parents. Children will enjoy teaching their parakeet tricks such as such as how to “step up” and “step down” from one’s hand.
  • Aquatic Turtle: These creatures are highly entertaining pets because they like to swim, as well as hang out on land.  Kids will get a kick out of seeing turtles go back and forth between the two environments.

Parents can go to www.petsmart.com to learn more about these small animals, their characteristics, habitat and nutrition needs, as well as why they are good first pets for children. 

Put Safety First

All animals have special handling and maintenance needs that are important to maintain for both the health of pets and children. Since pets can be sensitive to dirt and chemicals found on human skin, PetSmart recommends pet parents wash their hands and arms before and after holding or touching the animal to lower the risk of transferring bacteria. Parents should supervise every pet care activity and interaction between their children and pets to ensure the proper care and attention is given.

DId you get a new pet this summer?

Pet Allergies

Thinking about adopting a pet? If so, be sure not to miss Christi McGuire’s article "Can We Keep Him?" in the January 2010 issue of ParentLife. However, approximately 10 percent of people are allergic to animals. If someone in your family suffers from allergies, be cautious when choosing a pet. Consider the following tips.

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  • Choose pets that do not have hair, fur, or dander.
  • Know that large fish aquariums can add humidity to your home, causing molds and dust mites to increase.
  • Be aware that turtles can spread salmonella (a highly contagious bacterial disease).
  • Keep animals outside or at least out of the bedroom of the allergic child.
  • Do not hug, kiss, bathe, or pet animals if you are allergic.
  • Restrict indoor pets to only a few rooms.
  • Use a central air cleaner to remove large amounts of pet allergens from your home.
  • Vacuum carpets and rugs often.
  • Wash the pet with water often.
  • Contact your child’s pediatrician if you suspect your child developing an allergy to animals.

Do you have a child who suffers from pet allergies? What kind of pets do you have? Do you have any tips for families looking to adopt a pet?

Thinking About a Pet?

We had a tough last year with our pets. Our youngest pet, Tobey, was killed by a wild animal in a neighbor’s yard. Our oldest cat, Samantha, had to be put to sleep because of mouth cancer. Aside from dealing with the loss of these dear pets and talking with our kids about their deaths, we soon found that we really wanted another pet. After 5 months, we finally decided on a cat, Charlie. He is a frisky tabby that we dearly love!

After talking with a rep from the ASCPA about a ParentLife article, we found that many families adopt pets at Christmastime. Our monthly Real Life Solutions writer, Dr. LInda Mintle, has some good advice for families considering getting a pet.

Q: Our 10-year-old daughter is begging us for a pet. I have two younger children and adding a pet to the mix feels overwhelming. However, my daughter desperately wants a pet and I am an animal lover. I am not sure about the added responsibility right now. What should we consider in making this decision?

92_pet-adoption.jpgA: Most children will beg you for a pet some time in their young lives. The main issues to consider are the child’s developmental stage and your expectations for taking care of a pet. Obviously a cat or dog would require care and attention — feeding, grooming, exercise, clean up, and more. Other pets, such as fish and guinea pigs, are less time and care intensive and good choices for younger children. They offer you an opportunity to see how committed to taking care of a pet your child really is and how long interest will be sustained. Go to the library and get a book about pet care. As a family, talk about the needs of a pet, what type of pet you may consider, and what the expectations would be. For example, certain dog breeds are more kid-friendly than others. Goldfish or hermit crab requires very little upkeep and expense. Visit a pet store and talk with a friend who has the kind of pet you are interested in to get a better idea of time and care issues.

Know that your child could lose interest in the pet after several weeks and you may end up with the responsibility. Schedule playdates with a friend who has a pet and see if the interest in the pet sustains over time. Decide what you can handle right now and do not be swayed by the begging.

Finally, consider the cost of owning a pet, family stability in terms of moves and housing, the demand of time and energy, and the possibility of the pet becoming a source of family conflict if people slack off on their responsibilities. The benefits of pet owning should be considered as well. Pets help teach a child structure, empathy, compassion, nurturing, loyalty, trust, and responsibility and provide companionship. Pets are also sources of unconditional love and dependability. Pets can improve mood and blood pressure, increase family exercise, and even reduce stress.

For more information on adopting a pet, visit aspca.org. Visit Dr. Linda Mintle at drlindahelps.com.

Do you have a pet? Tell us what kind of pet you have and why!