My mom has always been fond of animals and as far back as I can remember, there has always been at least one furry family member in my life. Looking back, I’m really glad that pets were a presence during my childhood, and for many reasons. I know several parents who are against allowing their kids to have pets and I think this is the wrong mindset. I want to share my experience growing up with pets and why I think they are beneficial to a child’s development.
From birth, I was lucky enough to have two cats to keep me company and be my ‘guardians’ as I grew. One of our cats always needed to be near me and looking back, she is present in almost all of my at home baby pictures. She even used to let me ride on her (until I got too big and out-weighed her at the age of 2 that is). That was where I learned my first lesson from a pet: know his/her limits and be prepared to face the consequences if you cross them. I ended up with a long-term scar near my eye from that lesson, but I learned to respect an animal’s space and recognize when s/he want to be left alone!
At the age of about 4, I got some of those goldfish from the carnival; you know, the ones you get in a bag that die the next day. Well, I had two of them – one did die the next day, but the other lived for over 3 years! And that was because I learned how to take care of it – to feed it every day and change the water. Of course, a four year old needs some help with these tasks, but I began to learn lesson #2: how to take responsibility for living things/things that are important to you. A simple fish can start to instill responsibility in a young child, which helps him/her learn basic tasks that lead to a more responsible individual the future. I went on to own a gerbil, iguana, a few more cats, and even a blue crab!
I had been begging my mom for a dog for years prior to my 11th birthday, and during my birthday month we went to a few shelters and picked one out! She wasn’t a puppy and she wasn’t the best-looking dog there (she was actually quite thin and scared) – she was mature dog (5 years old), already ‘trained’ and was not a barker, and she would turn out to be the best dog we could have asked for. Having a dog taught me a lot of things: it reinforced the idea of responsibility and looking after my own dog (most of the time anyways – my mom helped), the importance of time management and planning ahead (walks, feeding times, vet visits, etc.), understanding what doing the ‘dirty work’ entails (scooping poop, dog baths, vacuuming hair, all the unpleasant tasks of owning a pet), learning to be patient and work with an animal to develop trust (she came from an abusive family), and how to be a problem solver (what do you do when the dogs gets away, bites you, has an accident, etc.), among other things. And as she grew into a senior dog of 11 and it was time for a final visit to the vet, I also had to experience going through the process of grief and loss. My mom had always gone alone when our cats got older, so this was (and still remains) one of the most difficult experiences for me as a pet owner. But again, I’m grateful for all of these experiences because they are all applicable to events that happen in daily life and have helped me to better understand/prepare/respond to these events as they happen.
So, in conclusion, having a pet (or more than one pet) is great for a growing child. Pets can provide comfort to an upset or sick child (and will listen when they want to talk, even though they can’t talk back), show loyalty and affection to their family, and teach us how to be aware of and respond to different animal behaviors (which arguably are displayed similarly in human emotions and behaviour). Children learn many life lessons through owning a pet that help to better prepare them for adulthood.
Even now, as an adult, my pet bunnies are helping me learn new things (a new level of patience and even taking up new hobbies to enhance their living quarters). Don’t deprive your child of having a pet – there are so many more pros than cons to allowing pets in your home!
I'm a 20-something woman working my way through life in Canada, traveling when I can afford it and seeking out my passions one day at a time.