The Problem: We’ve decided to get a family pet and I want my children to understand the responsibility that goes along with caring for another living being. What is reasonable to expect my children to do to help take care of a pet?
The Expert: Maia Brusseau, public relations manager, Dumb Friends League
The Solution: Living with pets can be beneficial to children. The experience can enhance their self-esteem, teach them responsibility, and help them learn empathy. But it is unrealistic to expect a child, regardless of age, to have sole responsibility of caring for a pet.
Let’s take dogs for example: they need basic care like food, water, and shelter, but they also need play, exercise, and training on a consistent basis. While responsible teenagers may be up to the task, they may not be willing to spend an adequate amount of time with the dog, as their desire to be with their friends typically takes over at this age.
If you’re adopting a pet “for the kids,” you must be prepared and willing to be the pet’s primary caretaker. Children can help take care of the pet as long as the responsibilities you give them are realistic for their ages and maturity levels. You should also discuss why the specific task is important in providing care to that animal.
Here are some realistic ways children can help care for the family pet:
- Put away pet toys
- Put food and water in dishes (young children should be supervised)
- Clean and put away pet dishes
- Clean cages or bedding
- Brush or groom
- Scoop poop from a litter box or pick it up in the backyard
- Exercise the pet through play or walks
- Teach tricks or commands to the pet (cats can learn tricks too!)
While it’s tempting to make a puppy or kitten a gift for the holidays, we don’t advise giving pets as gifts. Not only can it be an unsettling, noisy, and extra busy time to bring a new, furry friend into the home, there are other considerations. Half the fun of adopting is coming to the shelter together and selecting the perfect pet who will be a good match for the temperament and lifestyle of the family. Being able to meet different animals and find the right fit for the pet and the right fit for the family is important, for the sake of everyone.
When it’s time to welcome a pet into your family, consider adoption from the Dumb Friends League or another reputable animal welfare organization. There are many fantastic family pets waiting for loving homes.