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I spent a lot of time listing what you should consider before getting a pet but there are many positives. I grew up in a home with a beloved dog and my own children always had pets so I find it hard to believe that families can be happy without them. Our current dog, Yo, is curled up next to my desk as I write this.
Children get a very special type of unconditional love and affection from a dog. Mom can yell at you for not picking up your toys but the dog still wags its tail! Grownups may be busy but the pet is always ready to play. A pet is great to talk to. Some children tell their pet their sad or lonely thoughts; others seem to “rehearse” speeches they later will make to friends.
A pet can be the one non-stressful fact in a child’s stressful world. A child can have a best friend, always available and ready to play, from the moment a puppy or kitten is brought into the house.
Pets can help young children deal with fears. Our dog always joined the children in crawling in our bed when a thunder storm started. My son would tell the dog not to be scared — it was only thunder. By telling this to the dog he began to master his own fears.
Pets can help children separate reality from fantasy. Pets can be important pretend figures. My daughter stuffed our remarkably cooperative cat into doll clothes and wheeled her around in the buggy. But pets are not inert like a doll–they tell you when you have gone too far or they have had enough.
Pets can help children learn about being gentle and can help them develop responsibility and respect for a living creature.
Research confirms that the presence of a pet has a positive effect on children. One study reported lower blood pressures in children who were in the presence of their dog. Children (and adults) who live with pets have higher morale and better health status than those without pets.
Finally the death of a pet, though very sad, can help children learn about death, recognize that we all die, and begin to understand how wonderful life is though it ends in death.
If you decide to get a dog, some breeds are better suited to live with children than other breeds. Ask a veterinarian for advice or go see a variety of breeds at a dog show where you can talk to owners and judges about breed-specific behavior. Don’t overlook the mixed-breed, medium-sized dog that you can often find at the Humane Society. Many of these are excellent with children.
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