Kids and Pets: What to Consider
The lives of families are usually intertwined with animals. It might be because the young couple got an animal after settling down or simply because the kids want one. With the PracticalDad household now the residence of yet another cat and a purchased-but-not-yet-brought-home snake, the questions remain, what are the issues regarding pets and when is it too much?
What to consider with kids and pets
The first and simplest question is, can your family actually handle having a pet? All parents talk with the kids, once they're a little older, about their need to take some responsibility in caring for the animals. Preschoolers can certainly be taught to parcel out the dog and cat food, or sprinkle a little bit into the fishtank, but the reality is that actually remembering to do it is going to probably devolve upon the parent. The corollary to this is that if the kids are already involved in some other activity and the animal needs to be fed, then consider how you'll react when you're reminder is met with either inaction - requiring another, more pointed reminder - or the roll of the eyes. If your schedule is full enough that a small activity such as even feeding, let alone walking and fecal duties, creates a mood-altering imposition, then reconsider it again.
Will the pet continue to stay small and cute, or is it going to grow into some else entirely? Kittens and puppies are cute enough for many that it makes up for the actual work that's involved with very young animals. But these grow up to be adult animals with their own personalities and quirks and the ongoing care will no longer be outweighed by the cuteness factor.
Does the animal even make sense? About a year ago, Eldest showed up at the backdoor with a friend that she wanted me to meet - that's a danger signal by itself - and the box that the friend had brought along. After the introduction, during which my eyes periodically wandered to the magic wonder box, she divulged that the inhabitant was a duckling for whom her friend was trying to find a home. Why? Because her friend had thought that a duck would be a wonderful addition to the family and her own father had laid it at her doorstep. Not only are we not taking in a damned duckling, but you're going to find it a decent home. We were probably the fourth stop on the duckling's home adoption tour and when the girls couldn't even identify what it would do in the coming wintertime - I think that it'll head south... - her mother and I agreed to foster the duckling until we found a decent farm on which it could live. Dogs and cats make sense, even hamsters and snakes, but to consider taking in a duck solely because we have a small fishpond is lunacy.
What's the cost of the animal? Well cared for animals typically have their own particular foods and diets and that's a cost. Cats additionally require litter and when you factor in the vet bills, having pets can be expensive. Wander through the local humane league and you'll probably find any number of sad animals who've been given up their owners because they couldn't handle the cost.
When is it too much?
Apart from clear factors such as cost and sheer generated workload, this is a highly subjective question. In our household, the kids who want to bring in additional pets had better be able to answer certain questions and get their information straight for the verbal quiz. While Eldest campaigned for years for a reptile or snake, she could never quite get the information straight and her answers led to other questions. So this thing doesn't eat mice, but just crickets? Do they have to be alive or dead crickets and must I concerned about crickets escaping into the house? What about the noise that these crickets are going to make through the night? Youngest however, was watching this and through the years, prepared himself so that when we talked about it, he was clear on what was involved in caring for a reptile or snake. For his part, he's willing to feed it a mouse each week and is very clear that the day that I have to stun a live mouse and feed the snake is probably the snake's last day in this household.
The upshot is that he purchased a snake with his own money this weekend and we covered the habitat for his Christmas. When we assembled the various parts of the habitat last night, he didn't grumble when I made him read the instructions aloud to me and he even commented that this item or that was something he didn't realize.
The other aspect to whether it's too much is the question of time. Eldest still campaigns for yet another pet in her room but we've told her no since with less than a year until college, she wouldn't be around to care for whatever it was she wanted and the uncertainty as to college dorm regulations made it impracticable. It's one thing to take in a family pet with run of the household, but another entirely to take in a creature which has appeal to only one person, who's only there for a certain time longer.
So as it stands now, we're up to one dog, four cats and in the next day, a corn snake. That's enough for me.
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