Monday, March 28, 2011

When Can Children Be Responsible Pet Owners?

By Linda Cole

Most kids are drawn to pets like a moth is to light. We've all seen the cute videos of kids playing with dogs or being overrun by a litter of puppies. Screams of delight erupt from the child as they’re covered in puppy kisses and wiggling bodies. Kids can and do accept caring for pets all the time, but like anything that's learned, taking good care of a pet depends on the age and personality of the child.

I'll never forget the night my mom brought home my first puppy. I was only about 3 years old, but I remember that night as if it was yesterday. My mom wore a cream colored winter coat with huge, deep pockets. It was a cold night, and the smell of fresh winter air clung to her coat. She called my brother, sister and me into the kitchen. Grinning, she dug down inside her pocket. As she withdrew her hand, tucked inside her palm was a pure black, purebred Rat Terrier puppy with eyes that sparkled like stars. We named the puppy Susie and she, along with four wild kittens that came three years later from my Grandma's house, taught me how to be a responsible pet owner.

Children have a lot on their minds; growing up is hard to do after all. Being a responsible pet owner isn't usually on their agenda. But it is for some kids. Susie wasn't the best dog breed for small children and she put up with a lot from my siblings and me when we were little. But as I grew older, I started to learn who Susie was as an individual dog and discovered the joy of interacting with her. Taming four wild kittens taught me how to be patient and gentle.

Being a responsible pet owner means making a commitment to a pet to attend to their needs, care for them in sickness and health, and love them. Some children embrace responsible pet ownership from the day an animal enters the home, even if they don't realize it. However, most children need a chance to mature before they're ready to assume a responsible role in the care of a pet. Kids become responsible pet owners when they are ready to understand what the needs of a pet are.

Tamara Waters’ article, “How to Help Kids Learn Responsible Pet Ownership,” is filled with excellent suggestions for teaching kids about caring for a pet. All kids need a mentor to help them learn what it means to be responsible for another living being. It's up to parents to teach kids what it means to care for a pet as they embark on a journey to discover who their pet is. Caring for my pets was never a chore for me, because I wanted to play with them, and I loved to feed Susie because she did tricks. But just playing with a pet doesn't make someone a responsible pet owner. I had to learn about commitment, the proper way to teach a pet, and why it's important to treat them with respect.

When you love a pet or person, you want to protect them and make them happy. You learn to respect them as you earn theirs and a bond grows no matter which kind of relationship it is. Some kids are ready to be responsible pet owners at a fairly young age, while others may not be ready until they are older. It depends on the child and their level of understanding of what it means to be a responsible owner. It also depends on their ability to take the initiative to do something for the pet without having to be told.

A pet should never be brought into the home for the sole purpose of teaching a kid how to be responsible. Sit down with your child before getting a pet to make sure they are at least willing to learn how to care for a pet and take on some of the responsibility. If they are, then you can decide as a family what kind of pet to get.

Looking back, Susie and our four wild cats we tamed (Smoky, Cinnamon, Taffy and Coco) were my best friends. Learning how to be a responsible pet owner is a process we all have to go through. Some children learn at an earlier age than others. The important thing is moving from feeling like you're doing chores, to giving a pet what he needs without thinking about it. When it becomes an automatic reaction instead of a forced response to doing chores, this is when a child is on their way to becoming a responsible pet owner.

Photo by Sharon Lee

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Great post. I think it is so terrific to have children learn the responsibility of taking care of a pet. It teaches them so much about life in general. Mostly about the importance of taking care of that pet. This is a great subject.

  2. I absolutely adored this! It is so important for children to learn not only how to take care of their pet but how to relate to their pet in a non-harmful way. Children can often be overly exuberant when relating to pets and should be taught at a very young age how to approach and pet a dog or cat (and other pets) as well

  3. Wonderful post!
    We are in the process of teaching my daughter to respect our dogs space, something that has proven not to be as easy as one would think.


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