Featured Image taken a decade after this conversation: My niece and her beloved Lucia.
"My parents should get me a dog.” My six-year-old niece was holding my beagle’s leash as we walked. “I’ve been asking for one, but Daddy says, ‘No way!’.”
“Daddy’s very smart.”
“But Aunt Aileen! You got your kids a dog.”
“Nope. I got myself a dog.”
It’s true. You see, the youngest of my three children had just started kindergarten and this stay-at-home mom needed someone to stay at home with. After much thought, research and a great deal of prayer, I bought a dog: Charlie, my beagle.
Sure, I let my children play with Charlie and help me take care of him. We all laugh when he’s funny and we’re all sad when he’s sick. We all love Charlie. But Charlie is my beagle—he always has been.
My advice: never get a pet for your children. Get a pet; but don’t get a pet just because your children ask for one. You’ll be wasting a perfectly good pet.
I know, I know. Your child makes a great case. It goes something like this:
“Please, please Mommy, can I have a goldfish?”
“Honey, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time to take care of a pet.”
“No, Mommy, I’ll take care of it.”
“Do you know what is involved in caring for an animal?”
“Oh yeah! I’ve read The Complete Guide to Goldfish Care. It explains everything.”
”What about the bowl? Are you going to clean out the bowl?”
“The book shows how to do that too. All you have to do is. . .” She describes the process precisely.
We’ve all been there. Our child pleads, promises, and then pretty pleases with a cherry on top. And we want to bless them. We do. We want them to have the desires of their hearts. Guilt sets in. Every boy needs a puppy, right?
So we start asking other parents for advice and sure enough, our friends are happy to weigh in on the issue.
“Oh, do it! Pets add so much joy to our lives. Besides, it will be good for your child—teach him some responsibility.” (Just so you know, these dear friends aren’t going to clean up the fresh piles of responsibility on your new carpet.)
Give the child chores—not gerbils—to teach responsibility. And as for needing a puppy, children don’t need puppies. Children need love, shelter, food and water. Beyond that, raise them up in the faith, get them a good education, and help them learn to get along with other people. Really, a child doesn’t need a puppy. Or a kitty. Or a komodo dragon.
The truth is most children don’t take care of animals in the long run, parents do. Kids usually tire of the daily grind of pet care. Then parents get frustrated with their children for neglecting the pet that the parents never wanted in the first place. Inevitably, parents are stuck with a goldfish floating upside down in a dirty bowl, or even worse—looking for a new home for a living, breathing potbellied pig.
When we were potty training my beagle, we learned that puppies make messes when their people mess up. But we worked together; I never saw it as my kids’ total responsibility to train Charlie. When it’s cold and rainy and Charlie needs to go outside, I don’t like it, but I bundle up and take my beagle for a walk. When Charlie makes mistakes and tears things up, it annoys me, but I don’t get mad at my kids for letting their animal tear up my things. After all, he’s my dog.
But let’s say you have a radically responsible youngster who is devoted to the pet plan. Your child is the exception to the rule and she really will take excellent care of your new family member. Great. Is she also devoted to the financial responsibility of a pet? It adds up quickly: food, boarding costs, routine veterinary care, and fun things like toys and treats. Plus most pets require some type of enclosure—reptiles and rodents require cages, puppies and piggies need yards with boundaries, and even kittens need carrying crates. And what about veterinary emergencies? Most childhood allowances won’t cover the cost of vet surgery.
When we travel and Charlie can’t go along, I pay the boarder to keep him safe. Each year, and sometimes more often, I pay for vaccinations. When Charlie gets sick, I take him to the vet and pay the bill. And I don’t mind these expenses. After all, I wanted a beagle, and these costs are part of having Charlie in my life.
Indeed, my kids benefit from having a pet in their lives. It teaches them lots of things like cooperation and compassion. But the thing is I wanted the beagle. Hey, I needed the beagle. And because I have Charlie, my children get to reap the benefits of living with a pet.
But forget the guilt trip; your kids don’t really need a pet. If a pet is not right for you, it’s not right for your children. So get a pet for yourself if you need one, or if you want one. But do be sure to share. Your kids will love it!
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.
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