Like many couples, my husband and I had a pet before we had children. Darcy the pug was our first baby - our "fur baby." She has been with us through our early relationship, marriage and eventual expansion to a family of four. As Darcy enters old age, we're very aware of the fact that we will become pet-less at some point in the next few years (although who knows, she could hang on until 14!!)
Last night my oldest daughter and I were talking about pets. She mentioned wanting another pet - a goldfish or a bird. I groaned inwardly, as we all know who ends up caring for "family" pets. I'm not fond of any kind of caged animal or reptile - I find their existence a little sad.
But the conversation did get me thinking more about children, pets and empathy. I feel strongly that children who have animals to care for (and animals who care for them) develop more compassion for our natural world.
So I devised a few questions that parents may want to ask themselves before purchasing a pet:
1) What do you hope your child will get out of the experience?
2) Realistically, how much work do you think your child will be able to put into caring for this pet?
3) Does the "pet" in question match your values and beliefs about humans and our relationship to the natural world? For example, are you comfortable purchasing an exotic pet who's natural environment is thousands of miles away?
4) Are you prepared to explain death to your child, and help them deal with the loss of their pet?
5) Are you prepared to invest in your pet? Depending on what you choose, there will be general maintenance for their living area, food costs, and perhaps veterinary bills. Pets can be expensive!
What questions did you ask yourself before purchasing a pet for your family?