Monday, April 19, 2010


We had a particularly handsome visitor at our offices today, and he reminded us all about how pets can be a positive influence on children, especially those who struggle with school or with specific learning issues. We've written before about how some schools have programs where students read to dogs as a way of improving the students' fluency and confidence. But pets can have a positive impact on children in a number of ways -- and these benefits aren't limited to dogs or cats.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of pet ownership for children is that it teaches responsibility -- and consequences. Goldfish that are not fed, or are overfed, will not be around for long. Puppies that are not trained or walked regularly will get into mischief and have accidents around the house. Litter boxes that are not emptied will not be pleasant to have in your home. Every family will have to determine what kind of pet will be suitable for their home, based upon the age of the children, the kind of home (city, suburban, rural), and whether there are people home during the day. Allergies can also be a factor for some children. Even the breed of presidential pooch was chosen so as to avoid exacerbating the allergies of one of President Obama's daughters.

Families should consider what will happen if the pleas for a pet are not followed up by suitable responsible behavior. Will mom or dad pick up the slack? Will the pet be returned to the breeder or pet store? Pets shouldn't be an impulse purchase. Research can be an important part of the process and having children do some or all of this research can be another important skill builder. There are books at all levels about animals and their care and building upon a child's interest in a pet can be an important tool in building his or her reading skills.

Finally, parents need to consider another type of lesson that pets can teach -- the cycle of life and the "birds and the bees". Some species of small rodents and fish will eat their young. Many small animals and fish have short life cycles. The toilet bowl funeral service for a goldfish or the backyard burial of a gerbil can also teach life lessons, but families should think about the likelihood of these events before the trip to the pet store.

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