Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Joy Berry’s Parenting Advice: Children And Pets

My son and daughter-in-law vastly underestimated my granddaughter when they came up with roadblocks specifically designed to dampen her desire and slow her resolve to get a hamster. The main obstacle was her need to come up with enough money to purchase the pet plus all the equipment and supplies needed to take care of it. Given today’s inflated cost of cages and other necessary accouterments, that could be a lot of money for a nine-year-old kid to come up with. However, my granddaughter is not easily daunted when she sets her mind to something, and after weeks of doing odd jobs, she finally raised the necessary funds.

I have a number of reservations about children having live pets. While I know that it can be a good experience for kids on many levels, I am not as certain that the situation is as good for the pets. So, when I saw my granddaughter getting close to reaching her goal, I sat her down and had a real heart-to-heart talk with her about being a pet owner. In a nutshell, here’s the advice I attempted to convey:

Unlike many people, I do not believe that animals are put on earth for the sole purpose of fulfilling the needs of humans. In addition, contrary to the belief of many parents, I don’t feel that any animal’s sole purpose in life should be to serve as a plaything for a child. I think it’s unacceptable when parents take the stance, “The baby can (lay all over the pet, pull his ears, pull him by the tail) and he doesn’t mind a bit.”

All healthy relationships require respect from both sides and a balance of give and take. This criterion not only applies to humans, it applies to the relationships between humans and animals too. When we allow disrespectful and/or imbalanced relationships to occur between children and animals, we are doing a huge disservice to both sides.

Taking care of a pet requires more than throwing food into a container and periodically changing the pet’s water supply. It takes a great deal of knowledge and understanding about the pet as well as an in-for-the-long-haul dedication to addressing all of the pets needs and desires on a daily basis.

As I said to my granddaughter, “When someone chooses to take an animal out of its natural habitat, it is the person’s full responsibility to do everything possible to make the animal’s life as good as it can be on every level.”

A few nights ago, Waniso tracked me down to inform me about the arrival of a cuddly-soft, tan, Teddy-Bear Hamster. I rushed to her house to meet the new family member.

As I gently cradled the small animal in my hands, I could only hope that what I had shared with my granddaughter really got through to her—not just for her sake, but also for the sake of Kaytee Button.

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