New pets are in a lot of homes today, most of them given to kids as Christmas gifts. Some parents give their kids pets in the delusional belief that the kids will take care of them. Some parents give their kids pets because they really want the pet for themselves, and some give them because their kids said they really, really wanted that puppy or kitten or baby iguana and the parents wanted to see their excitement on Christmas morning when they got their wish. In a few weeks, a lot of those new pets will be abandoned or returned or mistreated because the parents haven’t taken the responsibility of caring for them.
Parents who give a child sole responsibility for a pet are guilty of animal abuse AND child abuse. They’re not only endangering the pet’s welfare, they’re training their children to be cruel to animals. Since there’s a direct link between abuse or neglect toward animals and abuse or neglect toward people, the way children are trained to care for pets has a lot to do with what kind of adults they’ll be.
To grow up healthy, happy and well-behaved, pets need the same things children need. Good nutrition, a calm, clean home, consistent rules, lots of love and positive attention. No child is mature enough to give all those things to a pet, not even teenagers.
Don’t expect a child to get up every day and walk a dog or feed him. That’s an adult’s job. Don’t expect a child to change a litter box every day or put out fresh water. That’s an adult’s job. Don’t expect a child to be responsible for grooming or behavior training, either. Those are adult duties. In fact, don’t expect a child to do much of anything with a pet except love it and play with it. That’s a child’s job, and it’s extremely important for both pet and child.
Children learn by observing what their parents do. So if you want your kids to grow up to be responsible pet owners, be one yourself.