Kids and Pets: A Winning Combination

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I grew up in what I call the “pretend country.” We lived on a couple of acres just outside the Tulsa city limits so my father could live his dream of being a farmer in the evenings and weekends. My father was an organic farmer before it was a cool thing to do, and we all benefited from a bounty of fruits and vegetables. There were many great joys for a child growing up in the country, and one of the biggest bonuses was having animals. We had horses, chickens, cows, and of course, dogs and cats.

I was a lucky kid to have so many animals, and as a mother, I was happy to add pets to our family. There are valuable lessons children learn by having animals in their lives. I realize not many kids are going to be able to have horses and cows as I did, but most families can at least work a goldfish into their children’s world. Here are my top seven reasons why pets and kids are a winning combination:

1. Responsibility

Having animals teaches responsibility. It was my job to go out to the barn and collect eggs every day. I felt important that I was making a valuable contribution to the family, and even on days I didn’t want to do it, I knew it had to be done, or we would have no eggs. From a young age, children can have a chore like feeding an animal or cleaning their habitat.

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Even a toddler can feed the cat.

2. Empathy

Children learn about caring for others through loving their pets. Last week my grandson’s cat had to go to the veterinarian for a dental cleaning, and Callister expressed great concern for the pain his cat might go through. He also worries about his dog every time there’s a storm because he knows she is frightened of thunder. It’s good to care about others.

3. Companionship

Dogs are a kid’s best friend, but if you aren’t “dog people,” there are many other choices. Cats were my daughters’ childhood companions, and we had a few that were loyal as any pet could be. We also had pet mice, a ferret, beta fish, and one summer, we hosted the classroom tarantula. Studies have shown that pets decrease blood pressure, (although the tarantula might have done the opposite for me), and even help kids with anxiety.

4. Allergies

Numerous studies have shown that children who grow up in homes with pets have less risk of developing common allergies and asthma.

5. Exercise

Dogs need to be walked, so there is built-in daily exercise. Besides a walk, there is usually lots of running around the backyard with the dogs. Plus, don’t forget someone has to pick up the mess in the yard, and that’s a perfect kid chore.

6. Family bond

Pets create a common bond for the family. Are you a dog family, a cat family, or maybe you love the reptiles? At the far end of the spectrum, it might even become part of your family identity like it was for our family. When my children were in elementary school, we began fostering cats for a rescue group and Tulsa Animal Welfare, eventually fostering a total of 82 cats and two dogs. Fostering gave our family a shared love and a mutual goal of helping animals find their forever homes.

7. Cycle of Life

This is a nice way to say children experience death through the loss of pets. Having a pet teaches children about the cycle of life from birth through death. Yes, it is heartbreaking to see your beloved pets die, but we learn that all creatures, including humans, eventually pass.

If you’re considering a pet, do some research to determine what pet fits your family lifestyle and personality the best. When deciding what pet is best for your family, consider these variables: the age and temperament of your kids, the size of your home and backyard, your financial situation, and your chaos/ mess tolerance. As much as I advocate for having pets, I also warn it’s a big commitment. Bringing a pet into your home is a big decision that requires thought and planning.

August is “Clear the shelters month,” so please consider adopting an animal rather than buying one. Check out the wonderful animals at the Tulsa SPCA looking for their forever homes. Find the right fit, and the animal will be lucky, and your child will reap great benefits also. Kids and pets are a winning combination!

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The cat we adopted when my daughters were preschoolers was still at home with us until the girls were sophomores in college!

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Categories: Grand Life