5 steps to find out if your family is ready
A new dog or cat (or fish, hamster or bird) can add a lot of love and fun to your family dynamic. But pet ownership also comes with responsibilities for even the youngest members of the family. Before you visit the shelter, prepare yourself and your kids for responsible pet ownership by taking these five steps.
1. Talk it through.
Adopting a pet should never be a spur-of-the-moment decision, especially if it’s your kids who are initiating the discussion. Ask questions and talk about how different family members answer them.
- What appeals to you about having a pet?
- What parts of pet ownership might be challenging?
- How would having a pet change daily routines?
For young children, prompt conversations by reading books about taking care of a pet, such as I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff or The Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems.
2. Assess your environment.
Pets thrive in the right environment, so take a close look at your home and lifestyle. Start with exploring your community’s official rules about pet ownership and any restrictions from your landlord or neighborhood. Then, think about your living space and schedules and the types of pets that would be the best fit. For example, do you have a fenced yard for an energetic dog? Is a quiet corner available for a cat who needs alone time? Is your family away from home for long stretches of time during the day? Does anyone in your household or extended family have allergies or health conditions that might be affected?
3. Add up the costs.
As you explore your options, don’t forget to factor in the costs of owning a pet. You’ll have adoption costs, licensing, vet check-ups, and vaccinations. Plus, you’ll need some initial supplies, such as a cage or toys. Then, there will be ongoing expenses like food, grooming, and regular veterinary care. And there will always be unexpected costs such as boarding while you’re on vacation or medicines if your pet gets sick. Finally, you should think about how your pet budget may need to increase as your pet ages and has additional medical or dietary needs. Pet insurance can be a smart way to manage the costs of pet ownership. There are a range of plans available covering everything from preventive veterinary care to emergency treatment, surgeries, and prescriptions. Even better, your credit union or bank may offer a discount program that can help make pet insurance more affordable.
4. Get real about tasks.
Once you’ve completed the first three steps, it’s time to get real. Having a family pet is an effective way to teach kids about responsibility. It’s also a long-term commitment. Pets require daily attention – and a puppy needs much more care than a goldfish. Make a list of daily pet care tasks and talk through how the responsibilities will be shared. Children aged ten or older can take on tasks like feeding, exercise, and routine cleaning and grooming. Younger children should also be included in day-to-day tasks. Have small children assist you in walking a dog or feeding the hamster, and supervise them until they’re old enough to handle the pet on their own. It’s critical to set the right tone about sharing the responsibility of pet ownership. Rather than setting it up as a chore to be completed, talk about how the pet is dependent on all of you for food, care and playtime.
Before you make a long-term commitment to a pet, look for options to test out the experience. Spend time with friends or families who have pets and offer to pet-sit while they’re away. Or, if your family is up for it, explore opportunities to foster animals as they await adoption.
CRAFT: Pet of your dreams
Here’s a crafty way to get kids talking about the responsibilities of pet ownership. Start with a stack of basic paper plates and art supplies like scissors, glue, colored markers and construction paper. With the paper plate as the face, encourage your child to create the pet of their dreams by adding ears, whiskers or spots! And don’t forget to give each lovable pet a name!