Companion Animal CarePets Canít Teach Kids Responsibility. Thatís Your Job.
A Companion Animal Care Article from All-Creatures.org

This Companion Animal Care article is being presented to help people seeking reliable resources, tips, and information for companion animals.

FROM

The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
August 2014

The most obvious consequence happens when an adult obtains an animal with the intentions of having a ďfamily pet,Ē but the animal becomes a constant topic of conflict when other family members donít have the time or inclination to help with daily care. In this case, if a parent or other adult does not assume total care of the animal, the animal may be relegated to life on a chain or even abandoned. Many are taken to shelters. When this happens, the children have just witnessed that problems can easily be ďdealt withĒ by passing them on to others.

One spring day, a couple walked into an animal shelter to surrender their young female shepherd. The dog was friendly and there hadnít been a divorce, relocation, or other major event in the family that often precedes the surrender of a pet. The man had intended to teach his daughter responsibility by giving her a dog. When the 10-year-old girl didnít care for the dog, the parents realized they didnít want to assume that responsibility either. The shepherd, now past her ďpuppy stage,Ē consequently found herself without a home. This true story illustrates one way acquiring a pet to teach your children responsibility can backfire.

Pets can have a profound social impact on the young. The experiences children have with their pets are different from the experiences they have with their toys. While both toys and pets are enjoyable to children, a toyís purpose is to be used according the whims of children. When toys become tiresome, they can simply be put away. Children must be guided by adults to understand that living things arenít made that way. Even the simple action of pausing a video game to walk the dog demonstrates a mature ability to prioritize the needs of another. This, however, is not something that happens without prior and continuing parental guidance.

Before acquiring a pet, families with children must decide if the children will have any pet-related duties. If so, the children should first and foremost know what will be expected of them in terms of pet care. Secondly, the children must have already consistently demonstrated the ability to satisfy those duties. For example, the children might care for a nearby relativeís pet for a period of time. If this isnít possible, children can practice regular care of a living thing by growing a plant to fruition. Even a humble tomato plant requires regular attention.

Through these kinds of activities, parents are offering an opportunity for their kids to practice daily diligence. Parents can also observe how their children meet these duties and gauge their childrenís current level of responsibility. If a pet is brought into the home before the children are ready, parents risk facing several unpleasant consequences. The most obvious consequence happens when an adult obtains an animal with the intentions of having a ďfamily pet,Ē but the animal becomes a constant topic of conflict when other family members donít have the time or inclination to help with daily care. In this case, if a parent or other adult does not assume total care of the animal, the animal may be relegated to life on a chain or even abandoned. Many are taken to shelters. When this happens, the children have just witnessed that problems can easily be ďdealt withĒ by passing them on to others.

Although pets can help children practice responsibility, this virtue is not something an animal will teach. Thatís the parentsí job.


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