Having a pet can teach a child a lot of great things – responsibility, maturity, self-control, how to care for something, and lessons in health, life, and death. But having a pet is also a big responsibility that is not to be taken lightly.
When you are thinking about getting a family pet and assessing whether your family is ready for one, these are 2 really important things you need to determine:
1. Is your child’s interest in having a pet a fad or is it a committed interest?
Does your child want a pony one day, a dog the next, and a cat the day after that? This may indicate that your child is more enamored of the idea of a pet, rather than understanding (and being ready for) the actual reality and practicalities of having one. Or has he said that he would really like a dog consistently, for the past few weeks or months? If so, he may be ready to have one.
When your child starts expressing interest in having a pet, start doing things with them like researching the practicalities and discussing the nitty-gritty of keeping and caring for animals. Chart out exactly what it would look like and the chores it would entail for your child and the whole family (it’s not just about feeding and walking or playing with a dog, but picking up dog poop, grooming, cleaning up messes, proper training, etc…). See if they’re interested and willing to do that kind of research with you and have those discussions. See if they stay engaged and seem to understand what it would really entail, and whether they are still as interested.
If they stay invested in the idea over the course of several weeks or months of planning for it, it’s a good indication they’re really ready for the commitment of having a pet.
2. Are YOU and the whole family prepared for the responsibility of pet ownership?
No matter how responsible or committed your child may actually be, it’s unrealistic to expect or allow a young child to be the true main caretaker of a pet. They may be able to follow through on feeding and exercising it, but proper animal training will and should most likely fall to the adults of the house.
The best way to look at it is as though you are getting a family pet, and that your kids will participate in its care. No matter how much they “SWEAR they’ll take care of it and you won’t have to do anything!”, you must be prepared to take full responsibility for the pet if your child does tire of taking care of it.
Pets aren’t toys that can be passed off or donated or thrown away and discarded when children tire of them or can’t handle the responsibility they swore they would. If your family is going to get a pet, the whole family must be prepared to pitch in to help with it.
Even if your kids show all the signs that they’re truly ready for a pet – if you’re not willing or prepared to have to take on full responsibility for it, then it’s not the right time to get one.