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Does Having a Pet Teach Kids Responsibility? The Irreverent Vet Speaks Out

Does Having a Pet Teach Kids Responsibility? The Irreverent Vet Speaks Out

Raising a child means teaching them responsibility. It's a tough job, but it's got to be done… and that brings me to today's topic. It's something that comes up with a lot of new pet owners, and especially families with young children.

“Doc, I want to get my kids a pet so they learn how to be responsible. Which one should I get for them?”

AHHH… .this really gets my goat!

Before I go any further, let me introduce myself for those of you that don't know me. I'm the Irreverent Veterinarian and I give you my honest opinion of issues in the animal care world. Some might say that I'm honest to a fault. I speak my mind and I won't sweet-talk you or sugarcoat the truth. I tell it like it is - to you, the drug companies, the pet product manufacturers, professional breeders and pet owners. Some of what I say can be controversial, but that doesn't stop me-it can be hard to hear the truth.

Back to the issue at hand: is being a pet owner a good way to teach children to be responsible?

Here's another one of those times that I'm going to be totally honest with you. Sometimes it's an alright choice, but often it is totally the WRONG thing to do.

The main thing to remember is that a pet is for life. Your obligation to care for them lasts not a week or month or until you get tired of them; they could live for years, and that means you need to take care of them for that long. Will YOUR child be able to handle that commitment?
Before you jump into getting a cat or a dog, think about how much work is really involved. It's more than just the occasional dish of food or walk around the block. Depending on the type of animal, adding a pet to the family can involve a significant amount of work that even adults can be reluctant to take on. And it's not all fun and games, either… some of those chores can be gross or inconvenient.

It's not uncommon for kids to quickly tire of all that's involved with being a pet owner. The novelty wears off and they are no longer interested, or the animal becomes an inconvenience when they would rather spend time with friends. The pet's care suffers, and in many cases it becomes easier for the parents to do all the work themselves. That's when the parent often steps in to take over and before you know it, the lesson of responsibility goes right out the door. If they don't, tragedy can strike.

Here's a true story from last summer that illustrates just what I mean. A beagle named Baxter was brought into my office, but by the time he arrived he was dead of dehydration. He was kept solely outdoors and it was a child's responsibility to give him food and water. It was a very hot week and my guess is that Baxter either drank or knocked over his water bowl, but it was never refilled. The child wasn't paying attention and the parents didn't step in and Baxter died.

Ultimately taking care of Baxter was the parents' responsibility, and I'm sure this was an entirely different lesson than the one intended. This may have traumatized the family and it certainly wasn't a good or healthy experience for anyone.

I know there are exceptions to this rule. Some kids embrace the responsibility and are great with pets. To be honest, these kids probably already understand responsibility and don't need a pet to teach them. However, having these skills means they will make good owners.

I want to know what you think. Go to: Do You Think Pets Are a Good Way to Teach Responsibility?

My Final Thoughts on Does Having a Pet Teach Kids Responsibility?

I think that kids and pets are great together. They can help create wonderful memories and fun times. What is sweeter than a kid and their dog together? Many of us can recall our favorite childhood pet and all the great times they had together.

Pets can give the love and friendship that kids can struggle to find. The bond between an animal and a kid can be unlike any others. Some children feel that their pet is their best friend; they share all of their best days and their worst ones, and even their deepest secrets.

I once had a client tell me once that he was abused as a child. He felt that his dog Blackie was his only friend and companion, and they shared all of his secrets. This client confided that had he not had Blackie in his life, he would have committed suicide. Blackie gave him unconditional love and the safety that he so desperately needed. I don't care who you are - that brings tears to the eyes, and I am so glad that this client had a pet in his life. (By the way - this client went on to start a rescue group and works hard to give back to dogs in recognition of all the love Blackie gave him.)

So… getting back to the point, pets can be an absolutely wonderful addition to a kid's life. But as great as they can be together, there are much better ways to teach responsibility than the commitment of a pet.

Disclaimer

The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to . The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can't always say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another point of view. All opinions are those of the Irreverent Vet and not the views of and are not endorsed by .