Does Your Child Want a Pet?
CHILDREN in all parts of the world are attracted by pets. And what a variety they have to choose from! Thirteen-year-old Tabitha, for example, keeps a guinea pig as her pet. Five-year-old Naomi has a white mouse. And 15-year-old Bobby-John’s current joy is a joey—a young female kangaroo. “She has her own basket and curls up in it as she would in her mother’s pouch,” Bobby-John explains. “She doesn’t like to be picked up very much, but she is so cute.”
Many adults are also very fond of pets. And the taming and use of animals as pets goes back to ancient times. The Egyptians, for example, tamed cats and baboons. Then there was the Roman emperor who had an unusual pet—a lion named Scimitar. So fond was he of his feline pet that it sat at the dinner table with him and slept at the foot of his bed at night. The Romans also trained dogs and apes. A popular entertainment was to see apes riding on dogs’ backs or driving chariots.
When properly trained and guided by their parents, children can learn to care well for their pets. They can be given the responsibility to feed and look after them. Having pets can also be very instructive for children. As noted in The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “keeping pets offers the opportunity to teach children the close dependence of privilege on responsibility and also something about sex. The process of mating is soon noticed, followed by such matters as gestation periods and the varied problems involved in the birth and care of young.”
Parents have used pets to show their children the right viewpoint toward all living things—never being cruel or causing the pet to suffer, for example, and never allowing it to go hungry or stay dirty. Here, too, is a practical way to show children the wisdom and masterly skill of the animals’ Creator, who made each one “according to its kind.”—Genesis 1:24.
But children often tire of responsibility or are forgetful. Only too often a youngster’s enthusiasm for a pet quickly evaporates. This week’s interest can easily become next week’s boredom. So, parents, if you are considering giving your child the responsibility of having a pet, remember that it is you, the adult, who must bear the final responsibility.
Proper Hygiene Necessary
Good hygiene is important for the pets, but it is equally important—perhaps more so—for your children. Pets’ cages and kennels should be kept clean, and some pets need regular grooming and bathing. How much close physical contact humans should have with animals also needs to be considered. Remember that for many animals their tongue is also their washcloth, which they use for all parts of their body. And while they are equipped to handle the germs that they ingest, children are not. Do not encourage your child to kiss an animal.
Pets should also have their own feeding dishes and should not be allowed to lick plates used by humans. This is a quite serious matter, for animals and birds have many diseases that can be transmitted to humans if sensible precautions are not taken. And many pets bite. It is true that some of these ailments are quite mild and may often pass unnoticed or may be attributed to some source other than the pet. But some respiratory diseases and skin rashes are commonly caught from pets. Other diseases are much more serious and can prove fatal. “Domestic cats infect some 3,300 expectant mothers a year with toxoplasmosis, resulting in a 15 percent fetal death rate,” says U.S.News & World Report.
Teach Children That Pets Are Not Humans
As children’s affection for a pet deepens, care needs to be taken that they do not go overboard and begin to treat their pet as a fellow human or as having human qualities or levels of understanding. This would cause unnecessary trauma when the pet grows old and dies or perhaps is killed in an accident.
Of course, this is not something that only children have to be taught. Some adults also need to be careful in this regard. In some cases the pet is fondled and treated as if it were a baby or a small child. Children may be quick to emulate things they have observed some adults doing, lavishing affection on their pets.
So we need to keep a balanced view of pets and teach our children likewise. Help them to see that pets and all of God’s animate creation are here for man’s pleasure and use. But we must be careful never to elevate the animals and birds above the role that God intended them to have. It was not God’s purpose for animals to live forever. Their limited life span is not due to the sin of Adam and Eve and the subsequent inheritance of sin and death, as is the case with humans.—Romans 5:12; 2 Peter 2:12.
When pets are kept in their proper place, they are a delightful gift from God for man’s enjoyment. And not just for children. Many lonely, sick, and elderly people have derived benefit as well as pleasure from their affectionate pets. “Researchers say that, in some situations, pets—or, as some prefer, ‘companion animals’—can improve their owners’ heart function, speed recovery after a heart attack, ease anxiety and lower blood pressure,” notes the journal AARP News Bulletin.
To Have a Pet or Not?
What will you do, then, if your child asks for a pet? You must decide, keeping in mind all advantages and disadvantages. Factors such as the area where you live, the expense of proper care and feeding of the pet, the age of your child, and the time needed to supervise the proper care of the animal will need to be considered carefully.
But if you do decide that it would be beneficial for your child to have a pet, keep the foregoing advice in mind. Then, with a pet in the family, why not enjoy it to the full? Care for it well, and teach your child to do the same. Kept in their place, pets are not only useful and enjoyable companions but also delightful evidence of intriguing variety, the endless initiative of a thoughtful Creator.