It all began just before Christmas, when I got my dog, Finley. She was a “free” dog, from a friend’s parents’ farm. And we all know that “free” dogs aren’t really free, right?
So… we spent a lot of time at the vet. Each Monday we were there for check-ups, shots, or treatments.
My vet partners with the Animal Rescue League. And each week my youngest, Caelan, would spend her time with a yellow cat. They bonded. After about three weeks, she began asking if she could have the cat. Our first reaction was a definite no! We actually hoped she would forget about the cat – that the desire for a pet of her own would be a passing fancy. But, daily, she would talk about Goldie. So we began having discussions about how much work a pet is, how you don’t get a day off from owning a pet, and how much they can cost.
Not a bit dissuaded, Caelan continued to visit Goldie at the vet, and did not lapse in her quest to bring the cat home with her. Even the monetary arguments couldn’t sway her. She earns a weekly commission and had savings from Christmas and birthdays.
It took about eight weeks, from meeting Goldie to convincing her dad that she was mature enough to have her own pet, until Goldie became part of our family. And a more loved and pampered cat I’ve yet to see.
At seven, Caelan is a bit young, but she is incredibly responsible. Had it been her older sister asking, the story would have played out much differently. But Brenna knew she didn’t want that kind of responsibility. Daily litter cleanings, measuring food for multiple feedings each day, and brushing is just too much work for her. (She has since gotten her own pet: a very low-maintence dwarf hamster, appropriately named Nymphadwarfa, a Harry Potter reference.)
When Is Your Child Old Enough for His/Her Own Pet?
We did a few things to be sure that pets weren’t just a passing fancy.
1) Don’t get the pet right away. Make your child wait. See if her interest remains after a few weeks. And don’t be the one to bring it up – let her.
2) Give your child daily responsibilities that he must remember and carry out. When he forgets, remind him that having a pet is just as much – if not more – work. Put it in perspective.
3) Our rules were
-You have to pay for the animal.
-You have to pay for the accessories.
-You have to buy the food.
-We will pay for the vet.
4) After that was understood, we went to the store and priced everything so there were no surprises when it came time to pay for things.
5) If your child still isn’t dissuaded, it’s time for research. Find as many books as you can about the pet your child wants and how to care for it. Have your child read those books. And then give you an oral report on how to care for that pet.
6) By this time at least six to eight weeks have passed. That was enough time for us to realize that Caelan was, indeed, ready to be responsible for a cat. (You know your child, so use your own judgment on this timeline.)
Pets in your home are, above all, a personal decision. But allowing your child to have something to care for builds compassion and responsibility that taking care of inanimate objects cannot replicate.