By Mary Teresa Bitti
Jim and Sandy Miller were outnumbered. Their three children, then 10, eight and six, all wanted a dog – desperately. “The kids were used to being around dogs and loved them,” says Miller. “My parents had one, Jim’s sister and mother had dogs and we would dog-sit for friends. This really revved up their desire for one of their own.”
“This is the prime age kids ask for a pet. Everywhere they turn there’s some cute, furry creature,” says Paula Neu-man, humane education supervisor with the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Vancouver. “All the books and movies are focused on animals. They see them and want them.” (Thank you, Disney.)
Dog lovers themselves, the Winnipeg couple knew that no matter what the kids promised, Mom and Dad would be responsible for the well-being of the family pet – and they were right. “Our kids love Truffles and will be heartbroken when she dies, but Jim and I are her caretakers – and she knows that, too,” says Miller. “Parents need to realize that right off the bat!” After all, would you let your seven-year-old take Duke for his 6 a.m. walk by herself? Not likely. Still game?
Here are a few questions to ask your aspiring animal lovers.
Who exactly is going to take arthritic Tinkerbell with them to college?
A pet is not a toy. You can’t love them for a week and then ignore them. (Can anyone say Tamagotchi?) In fact, rabbits can live up to 10 years, dogs as long as 16, and a cat’s nine lives can amount to two decades. Even small animals like guinea pigs can live seven years. Everyone in the family should be ready to make a long-term commitment.
Are you prepared to deal with the stinkier aspects of life with a pet?
When it comes to dogs and cats, training is a big part of keeping a happy home. Marian McCabe of Oakville, Ont., made a point of taking her three children along to obedience class with their new puppy, Blaze. “They got to see what was involved and it ensured that we were all giving him the same commands.” Everyone in the McCabe household is responsible for helping clean up accidents – a point Mom stressed before they got Blaze.
Do you realize that your trusty sidekick can’t just fix himself a sandwich?
“Food is something the kids can definitely take responsibility for,” says Miller. Dogs eat twice a day; cats do the same or free-feed. And the water bowl should always be full. Make it clear from the get-go that these duties are part of each family member’s regular roster of chores – and that falling down on the job will have consequences.
Who’s going to be Rover’s personal trainer?
As Janeane Garofalo’s character, Abby, said in The Truth About Cats & Dogs, it’s not like you leave and your pet says, “Great. Time to finish writing my novel!” A dog needs to run or walk at least 30 minutes a day, twice a day, and that doesn’t include playtime with the family. “Staying in the backyard is not an option,” says Neuman. That means taking the dog for several walks and a lot of time simply hanging out together. “When you become a dog owner you become part of their pack, and they depend on you for attention and love,” says Neuman. A cat needs 30 to 60 minutes a day to bat around toys with you and to chill out while you pet and scratch her.
Word to the wise: try giving pet ownership a test drive before you commit. Pet-sit for a friend. That way you and your kids will see exactly what’s involved. Plus, you’ll find out right away if anyone has allergies that might put an end to the pleading!
Want more info?
Go to pets.yahoo.com or check out the advice from Canadian veterinarians at animalhealthcare.ca