Frogs and polliwogs? Okay. Cats and dogs? Okay. Bunnies and birds? Chameleons and crickets? Mice and guinea pigs? All okay. But no, absolutely NO snakes. My mother had that one stipulation, no snakes in the house, though at the time we weren’t sure why… now I know. Snakes are pretty sneaky, and even though it was only a garter snake, Mom had the last word.
In the U.S., May is National Pet Month, the month for celebrating pets and how they enrich our lives. Parents are on the frontline of pet acquisition, as my mother discovered so many years ago, and it starts when children become aware of the existence of critters unlike themselves.
It usually happens around the age of seven, the age of reason. Children beg for a pet of their very own. They promise they will do anything to sway your opinion. They imagine they’re more grownup than they really are, and they’re eager for the challenge.
Sometimes parents give in too easily. I know it’s hard, because you have to look into those wide, soulful eyes – and think of the consequences.
When an animal is involved, we should think like big people, like our parents were when we first asked the same question of them. Some children start with the big ticket items: a pony was the favorite back in MY day. My big sister and I would later settle for a parakeet, only a little easier to take care of. That led to the rescued squirrel, the cat, assorted turtles, polliwogs, a guinea pig, a rat, a mouse, butterflies, and a full-grown chicken that escaped from a poultry truck passing by our house.
Depending on how well you know your child and how much work you’re willing to do to raise a pet, the sky is the limit. With a few exceptions for wildlife which you’d need a permit to care for, you can bring home a menagerie of creatures, from reptiles to birds to rodents, as well as the traditional dog and cat.
Pets are wonderful companions, for children and people of all ages. They ought to come with a list of chores that must be done to keep them healthy and happy, but they’re much more popular than virtual pets will ever be.
Pets come with responsibilities, yes. But with pets in the family, we can show children so much about caring: how to be gentle, how to listen better, how to understand feelings without words and to love and develop loyalty.
Your child hasn’t popped the question yet? Then you have time to consider – time to do some sleuthing at the library, or your local pet store, or even online – about pets for children of the right age. Weigh the costs versus the benefits, maybe make a chart to refer to when the time comes. Because if you’re anything like my mother, you want to be ready with a reasonable answer.