Today is National Kids and Pets Day! We at AERC totally support children learning how to be responsible pet owners–but we feel kids should be monitored and supervised by an adult.
Who hasn’t heard a child say, “Can I have a dog (cat, bird, iguana, insert pet name here…)? I promise I’ll take care of it all by myself!” Tasking a child with the care of a pet is a fantastic way to teach him or her about responsibility, but it’s important to remember that children are busy being children! They forget, or they may lose interest in the day-to-day care of the animal. Children also may not recognize developing medical problems with the pet. A parent needs to understand that he or she has to be willing to either guide the child with a task or take over the duties to provide the best life possible for the pet.
When I was in fifth grade, I begged my parents to let me adopt one of my aunt’s kittens. My dad approved. My mom wasn’t convinced, however, because my older sister had neglected to take care of the cat she was given. I sat my mom down and told her I understood my job was to feed and water the kitten, clean out the litter box, clean up any messes, and dedicate time and attention to the kitten. She decided to give me a chance to prove I was responsible. The next day, my mom and I went to pick up the kitten. We ended up leaving with two!
I stayed true to my word and took care of both kittens. However, I wasn’t old enough to drive them to the vet nor could I afford any of their expenses due to my $10/week allowance. When I entered high school, I became busy with schoolwork and extra-curricular activities. When I went off to college, I wasn’t allowed to have any pets in my dorm or apartments. I’m grateful that my parents stepped up during those years to share the responsibility of taking care of my cats.
When a child pleads for a pet and accepts the responsibility, the parent must also be on board to take care of the pet as well. Even small pets like fish, hamsters, or guinea pigs require a parent’s involvement. Proper feeding of these pets and cleaning of their habitats is very important to their well-being. Remember—just because a pet is tiny doesn’t mean it’s low-maintenance.
To be a pet owner means to accept responsibilities like providing food, shelter, love and attention for your pet, having regular check-ups with a veterinarian, and pet-proofing your house. Depending on the type of pet, being a responsible pet owner can be really time-consuming! Whether it’s the parent or the child, someone has to accept every aspect of being a responsible pet owner. No pet deserves to be neglected, so parents must remember to be willing to care for the pet if (or when!) the child cannot.