A few weeks ago in a meditation group, the facilitator asked us to recall a moment of unconditional love. I immediately flashed on a vision of my late cat, Ariel crawling into my lap, resting her head on my chest and looking at me with adoring eyes. My heart flooded with my love for her and her love for me. It is a moment I will cherish.
I hear parents complaining about their children badgering them to adopt a pet. I never had a pet as a child (except for fish which are not really friendly) because several family members were allergic. This is only an excuse not a reason. Nowadays there are many hypoallergenic pets readily available.
So why should parents give into a child’s demand? Because pets are one of the greatest tools for learning about love and life in the world.
Consider these benefits as to why every child should have a pet:
- Someone to Love: Everyone needs unconditional, endless and non-judgmental love in their life. Of course, most parents love their children unconditionally but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way to the child. Parents must be authority figures to teach children the rules of living in a society such as boundaries, self-control, discipline and ensuring the child has the skills to cope in the world. These burdens imposed by parents often feel overwhelming to a child even if he knows he is totally loved.
A pet gives total unconditional love. It doesn’t matter if the child can’t spell, if she spilled her milk at the table or wouldn’t eat broccoli. A child can play uninhibitedly without her pet admonishing to mind her manners, play nice or not say bad words. She can totally trust her pet to keep the confidences imparted at night.
- Responsibility: As many experts acknowledge, pets teach children responsibility if a parent ensures that a child’s pet is taken care of by the child not by an adult. This helps the child distinguish “otherness” from self. It teaches the child to think of someone outside of himself before his own needs. His pet depends on him for care. If the child goes to bed before feeding the pet, wake him up to feed the animal, don’t do it yourself. This instills the lesson that his pet is his responsibility and will suffer unless he learns to care for it. Cleaning up after the pet also demonstrates that life takes work and some of it is not pleasant but necessary.
- Equality and Safety: In a world of grownups children often feel out of control. They are given clothes to wear, food to eat, schedules to keep and school to attend. Although they may be given some preference, they don’t control much in their lives.
A pet doesn’t control any decisions in their lives. The child controls the pet’s life. She is an equal or superior participant in the pet’s life. The pet never tells her what to do. A child feeds the pet food that is chosen (even though not by her) at certain times, takes a walk on her schedule, is played with when she wants. This gives the child a sense of power and a shared sense of life events. When a child bonds with a pet, the pet becomes a friend that will not let her down, disapprove, abandon her or turn their back. This give a child a sense of security and stability in a grownup world.
- Empathy: With long-lived pets (over 2 years or so) children establish patterns of empathy with their pets that is unequaled. Yes, they share an emotional bond with friends but when their beloved pet gets sick or injured, as they invariably do, the child becomes emotionally engaged in their health care. Perhaps the animal needs medication, or be kept quite or have bandages changed. Maybe it is vomiting or has diarrhea. The child knows how he feels when he gets sick or injured and can now share his pet’s distress and offer comfort and help.
This transfers to empathy when friends or family member are sick. Sometimes it is easier to help something helpless than to engage when a loved family member is sick. Generally, people have other adults to take over and the child isn’t needed. A pet’s injury or illness generally allows the aid of a child’s help even if it is only to keep them company and comfort them.
- Life Cycle and Death: Depending on the type of pet, the passing of a pet may be the first encounter with death a child faces. Sometimes pets cross over before grandparents, teachers, older friends or adult acquaintances. The child can often see a pet growing older and slowing down. Perhaps it begins to have health issues. When a pet dies the grief is as real and palpable as if a family member has passed. It hits a child hard. If the child is young she may have to learn what death and concepts of “Where do they go when they die.”
This is an opportunity for the child to learn that this is part of the life cycle. Grieving is part of life as is letting grief go and remembering the happy life the pet had. With the addition of another pet at the appropriate time, she will learn how to love fully and completely again knowing that death awaits at the proper time. It often takes people years to deal with the loss of a family member but with the opportunity to experience the smaller, but not lesser, loss of a pet gives them valuable life experience that inevitably occur.
When to get a Pet:
Parents first need to consider the child’s age. A child should be old enough to understand how to care for the animal. The time is right when a child is old enough to understand instructions and information about the pet
So if you decide your child needs a pet, what kind do you look for? Well, most small children prefer cuddly pets like kittens and puppies. Horses are in the top 10 but many don’t have the room or resources to maintain a horse. But even small mammals like hamsters, gerbils and mice are warm and cuddly. They all need care and all respond to affection.
You need to decide how much care, attention, and resources you and the child can reasonably devote to pet care. Dogs and cats take more care than birds, fish, hamsters and mice. You should consider the cost of purchase (Animal Shelters are great and less costly than commercial pets), food, litter, cages, vet bills and attendant support costs (collars, tags, flea medication). It is estimated that the first year a dog or cat costs about $1000 and thereafter about $500 a year. (Source)
The benefits of a pet to a child are boundless. If you have never been a pet owner go to a park and watch a child play with a puppy or to a friend’s home to see a cat cuddled. It is one of the greatest blessings in the world to see the love between a child and a pet.
Ariann Thomas is the author of the book: Healing Family Patterns: Ancestral Lineage Clearing for Personal Growth and is an international healer, teacher, ceremonialist, and speaker. She has a healing practice offering Shamanic Journeys and Ancestral Lineage Clearing sessions and training to transform heritage limits of DNA programming. http://ancestrallineageclearing.com.