According to the magazine Scientific American, people overwhelmingly believe that having pets is good for children. Three local parents I interviewed bought their family’s pets for this reason.
Amy and her husband grew up with pets. The couple have always had a wide variety of animals. “They usually found us/needed homes and it was meant to be,” Amy said.
When it came time for introductions, the couple brought home a blanket that had been used with their newborn in the hospital so that their dog and cat could smell it. “Once we got home,” Amy said, “we introduced our dog and cat to the baby sleeping in the car seat, so that they could safely sniff and explore without too much commotion.”
Lisa and her husband also grew up with pets, and continued the tradition to own pets when they married. Although they already had two cats, they opted for a dog when they decided to introduce their children to pets, and involved their children by allowing them to choose their new puppy from a litter.
One reason Tanya believes children should have pets is that animals teach us to show compassion. Tanya bought the family’s female pit bull, Marley, three years ago through Craig’s list. She met Marley’s owners in a Walmart parking lot, where Tanya said the couple had Marley sit so that Tanya could see that Marley was well-trained. “She did a great tail wagging, wanting to greet everyone, and was super friendly.” Then Tanya introduced Marley to her daughter and was pleased with how gentle she was.
In its discussion about whether pets are good for children, Scientific American referred to a 2003 paper by developmental psychologist Gail Melson which reports that most parents acquire their family pets for the children. The three local parents I interviewed all said that they wanted their children to have the experience of owning and caring for pets.
In these three families, the children have designated responsibilities. Amy said that the couple’s five-year-old daughter lets the family dogs she lets the family dogs outside to go potty and helps put out food and water for both the dogs and cat. Lisa noted that although she’s the one responsible for taking Cinder for walks, the children “take her out as well, clean up after her, brush her, feed her, etc.” Tanya said that her daughter brushes, feeds, and helps take Marley for walks.
The Scientific American article cited other benefits of pets for families, such as a better understanding of animals, increased empathy and social adaptability, and aiding in the development of leadership roles. Much of the article’s scientific wording boils down to this: pets are great companions. Perhaps this is why 90 percent of us live with a pet at some point during our childhood. Four local parents offered examples of their pets making great companions for their kids.
Jill owns Malamutes, Pomeranians, and cats. Although she bought these pets for herself, and therefore assumes most responsibility for them, Jill does allow her daughter to feed them. Both she and her daughter enjoy when the dogs play with and snuggle with them and when the cats agree to be held and petted.
Amy said, “Watching how gentle our Rottweiler is with the kids is always a joy. Our Rottweiler is never more relaxed or calm than when she’s watching her babies.” Another special moment for Amy is when their daughter takes their Chihuahuas for a walk.
Lisa told me that there are many special moments between Cinder, the cats, and their children. She shared that after a busy day at school, the children find it relaxing to just sit and pet Cinder and cats. “It’s good stress reliever!” she explained. In addition, their son loves to play fetch with Cinder and the children love taking Cinder on vacations.
Tanya has discovered Marley is good for the whole family. She loves the pit bull temperament, goofy smile, and playful nature. “I have anxiety and depression and Marley helps me a lot with that,” said Tanya.
Finally, Tanya offered what may be the best summary of the benefit of pets to families: “In the end, [Marley] rescued us and brought us closer as a family. I don’t know what [we] would do without her.”