Say Yes to the Pet

by Jessica Brita-Segyde

If your kids haven’t asked for a puppy it’s due to one of four reasons:

  1. They haven’t thought of it yet.
  2. You already got them a puppy.
  3. They did ask in but their own way (see the dog drawings on the fridge)
  4. They’re amphibian-lovers. Some people are.

At some point in the parenting adventure, you’re likely to get the pet ask. Dogs are the stereotypical family friend but they’re not the only fur in the game. Following are some of the best reasons to bring on a new family member by saying “yes” to the pet:

Pets Help You Teach Responsibility

Emphasis here is on the “you” part. Pets don’t teach responsibility, but they do offer a great lesson plan. Pets want and need and take a LOT of time and attention. But they do all this in exchange for love and cuteness. The buck still stops with mom or dad, but since you’re already in for 18 or more years of teaching responsibility why not adopt a cute little friend to make the job more fun?

Pets Can Help with Transitions

Moving to a new school or a new city can be tough on a kid. Consider adopting a pet shortly before or after the transition. Pets can offer a sense of continuity and give idle hands something to do in a new environment. Plus, they’re great friends and expert listeners. Animals don’t get emotional the way humans do and they keep secrets better than a diary.

Families Can Bond over Pet Care

Families who keep pets must communicate and work together. Pets need food, sleep, exercise, bathroom breaks, cleanup, etc. Whether you have a dog, cat, hamster, or snake your little buddy will be at his best if kept on a schedule. This level of attention requires daily communication and the buy-in of all family members.

Pets Teach Compassion and Love

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry stats that “positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others.” (www.aacap.org). The AACAP also notes that pets teach general respect for living things. Pets are true dependents and can bring out the best in your child.

Pets Help Children to Understand Loss

Your child will likely outlive your pet. This may sound daunting but the loss of a pet presents the opportunity to share an important lesson: that death and bereavement are part of life’s journey. Saying goodbye to a beloved family pet offers parents a way to lead children through the grieving process. Children need to accept loss and learn to deal with the resulting changes and emotions. Someday those children will grow up and will outlive many of the important people in their lives. Experiencing the death of a pet helps to build the emotional maturity needed for adult life.

Common Pets and Their Life Expectancies

            Depending on your future plans and the ages of your children, it may be wise to assess the life expectancy of an animal before you get to the “yes” part. Here are the average lifespans of some of the more common household pets:

Dogs – 7-16 years, depending on size (smaller dogs tend to live longer)

Cats – 15-18 years for indoor cats

Rats, Hamsters, and other Rodents – 2 years. Rats make great pets, no kidding! They’re clean, energetic and highly trainable.

Snakes – 5-50 years depending on the species. In general, the older a snake gets the bigger it gets, so prepare to invest in larger enclosures as the years pass.

Lizards – Up to 20 years in captivity, depending on species. There is much variation here so discuss with a veterinarian or herpetologist before committing to a specific animal. Some lizards, like iguanas, can grow very large.

Amphibians – The larval stage will last a few weeks or months, then they become land-lovers. The expected life span of a frog in captivity varies greatly depending on species and can range from 3 to 20 years. Frogs are fun, especially when kept in groups. Many types of frogs are protected species and are not allowed as pets, so double-check before capturing frogs in the wild or purchasing one from a vendor.

Goldfish, Betta, and other Freshwater Fish – Many animals live longer in captivity than in the wild. Goldfish are the exception to this rule and live only 3-5 years in captivity. Betta fish live 2-3 years and other freshwater fish can vary in their lifespans.

Saltwater Fish and other Ocean Creatures – These species run the gamut of life expectancy. Consult an expert before starting a saltwater tank. Ocean fish, cephalopods, and other underwater animals are beautiful and can live many years. They do require committed caretaking and an eye for detail.

Rabbits – Opinions vary regarding the expected lifespan of domestic rabbits. Petmd.com reports that pet breeds live 8-12 years but other online sources list longer and shorter life expectancies. Plan on at least a decade of care before committing to a pet bunny.

Ferrets – 5-8 years and they do well in pairs or groups.

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