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Pet Patter - Catrina Skepper's Blog

Toffee Caramel, three children, a husband and me - a guide to pets

Posted on: 2/24/2010 10:26:27 AM under Catrina Skepper
There comes a time in most children's lives when they turn to their parents and beg to have a furry companion.

Often parents are wary about taking on such a responsibility, especially cats and dogs, because of the level of commitment involved in their care and the cost of their upkeep.
And I know that a main concern of many parents is whether their child will be safe with a pet around the house.

In this blog, I will take you through some of the important and sometimes daunting issues in the world of children and pets, using my own experience, as a mother and a pet owner. From looking after the school gerbil in the holidays to making the big step and getting your own, you will find everything you need to know, all in this blog.

As you may already know, I have three children, and animals have always been a big part of our family life. From my experience, I believe that owning animals can have a very positive effect on a child’s development. The children's first pet was the lovely, Jazz, a Labrador, who was adored by all. She was the perfect family pet, robust enough to deal with a lot of attention from the children, but also a gentle giant who never became too rough even during the most excitable moments of playtime.
I found the children's interaction with Jazz very interesting, as almost immediately they developed a nurturing tendency towards her. Even though the children would have been quite happy to play with Jazz all of the time, they learnt to respect her and leave her alone when she was eating or drinking and especially when she was snoozing because they understood that she, like them, had feelings and they wouldn't like to be disturbed in those situations.

Sadly, Jazz, was quite an old girl and passed away. I missed her terribly, but more importantly, the children did too. They liked to think of her in doggy heaven with lots of pals, but when the chance of a friend's Labrador puppies came along, the timing was right and the children was so happy to be involved in the choosing of what was to be our Toffee Caramel. We even felt Jazzy wanted us to take this puppy because as it turns out they are almost identical in look and colouring! Remember, training is time consuming but so important and rewarding that it is a must for most breeds. I did make sure that I began training Toffee to listen to my commands as soon as I could, so that should anything get out of control, I can always stop Toffee in her tracks.

If you want to get a cat or a dog, you might want to consider steering away from very young puppies and kittens, especially if your children are under five.  The young animals are far too fragile, and they could run the risk of serious damage if they are handled in the wrong way.

However, if your children are a little older then this is a perfect time to look into buying a pedigree animal as you can enjoy them from when they are really tiny. Another advantage of buying a pedigree breed is that you can have a greater understanding of the animal's character from their parents.

If you are looking for a more mature pet, then you could make some enquires into your local rescue centre. Although there will not be as much detail available about the dog or cat, staff are usually really helpful in informing you of the animals behaviour. Whatever you decide, it is important that you are covered by pet insurance and, as we talked about last week, ensure that your animal is microchipped. If something happens to your family pet it can be very distressing, and expensive. Make sure that you ease these worries with lifelong protection and the best treatment.

I know that not all of you will be ready to go the full hog, or should I say dog? So, here are some other options available to you.

First things first, let's start small. Getting a goldfish, rabbit, mouse, guinea pig or gerbil can be a great way to get your children to understand what pet ownership can entail. While all animals need the utmost care and attention, these furry or aquatic friends need considerably less than, say, a cat or a dog, and they don't cost half as much to keep.
I would advise anyone looking to get a hamster to think again if it's a first pet for the children. Hamsters are originally desert creatures, which means they are nocturnal and, unless you want your precious angels to be up at all hours marvelling at the sight of Harry, the hamster, scurrying about I would advise against this choice. Also, hamsters have an uncanny ability to get lost under the floor boards never to be found which of course can cause huge heart ache for the kids.

 It is vitally important that if you do decide to take your first step into adopting a family pet, you make the time to sit down with your children and explain what having a pet will mean and the responsibilities that will follow, although always be prepared to be the main care giver to your animal. Ensure that you set strict guidelines over how your children should treat the animal, make sure they always pet lightly and teach them to respect the animal, especially when they are eating or sleeping. Most importantly, children will always learn by example, so, make sure that you are a shining one. For example, I made sure that there was no feeding Toffee at the dinner table, but my children quickly learnt it was a good way to get rid of unwanted veggies!

Having a pet can really enhance family life, but you need to be ready for the commitment. If you are just about to jump in to the world of animal ownership, welcome along. From experience , the pros of having a pet far outweigh the cons! If you are concerned about pet allergies, you might want to research the breeds that shed less or are known for their allergy friendly status such as President Obama's dog, the Portuguese Water Dog. There is also research showing that children brought up with pets are less likely to develop allergies in childhood such as eczema and asthma.

Don't forget to let me know your thoughts by commenting on my blog and sending in your photos.

Best wishes,

Catrina