Manatee No-Kill: Picking the right pet for your child

September 17, 2013 

The Children's Summit is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

This is a great family event so don't miss out on the fun!

Visit the Public Safety table where you can meet our staff from Animal Services.

Dogs and children can be a great match. It is important to make sure to include your children when selecting a dog.

Every parent has heard, at some point or another, from their child, "Can we get a dog? Please, please, I promise to take care of it!"

You think about it and visit our Animal Services shelter. You walk through the kennels, looking at a variety of dogs. Your eager 6-year-old walks through the shelter, stopping in front of a kennel where a white dog with black spots is jumping up and down, wagging its tail. The dog has such a cute face and huge brown eyes. Your child turns and looks you in the eyes.

Wow!

You see an emotional combination of hope and love on your child's face. In desperation to make the right decision, your initial inclination would be to say, "No," but you don't. You crouch down to look at the dog at its level and you are hooked. Your heartstrings have been pulled, too.

Is your child old enough to be responsible to care for a pet? The answer may be closer to you than you think.

Benefits of adults owning a pet include less stress, longer life and increased health. With children, there are even more benefits that include a wide range of life skills that will be with them their entire life.

Children who have pets have lower anxiety and

higher self-esteem than children who do not have pets in their lives. We know that any pet, especially a dog, can show unconditional love. As children go through the many changes in their lives, the love of a pet can provide emotional support.

Having a pet can teach a child many things such as compassion, respect for others and responsibility. Taking care of a pet can allow a child to nurture and feel responsible for another living thing, making your child proud of themselves for their accomplishment.

Deciding to bring a pet home is a positive decision, but you should think about whether your child could succeed with caring for that pet. And you shouldn't assume that your child will not be able to succeed because he or she can't handle all the responsibilities alone.

Make sure you are willing to take full responsibility for the pet's care yourself, giving your child realistic tasks to make sure they are able to succeed in caring for the pet. Of course, the older your child gets, the longer the list of responsibilities can be.

For example, a 4-year-old child may be able to do more simple tasks such as calling the pet at feeding time, hold the food dish while you fill it, play with the pet, as long as you are supervising, and coming with you on walks.

These are not difficult, and they are achievable, making your child successful. You can always add to these tasks, making sure you keep the tasks achievable.

Parents play an important role when selecting a pet and it is a good idea to let your child help with the research about how to care for a pet, which pet may be right for you and actually being part of the selection of the pet.

As with selecting any pet, not only for your child, make sure you can financially afford the pet, including veterinary visits, proper food and doing whatever it takes to make sure your pet is healthy and happy.

So, have you said "yes" yet to get that puppy? The short term answer should be "no" until you are ready to make the lifelong commitment.

Make sure you demonstrate to your child that having a pet is a big decision. Plan and do a bit of research first. Adopting a shelter pet should not be impulsive, nor should it be based upon emotional reasons. Shelter pets need forever homes so make sure you are ready. Pets have a lot to give you and deserve a commitment from you for the same.

If you haven't been to De Soto Square mall for a while, come visit us from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday for an Adopt-A-Thon event. Dogs and cats will be available for adoption. We hope to see you at the mall.

Watch for more coming events and adoption specials. Don't forget the ongoing BOGO special where you can adopt a dog or cat at the regular adoption fee and get a dog or cat for no adoption fee. Also, any dog or cat that has been in the shelter over 60 days is available for no adoption fee.

If you never have to look into the eyes of a dog or cat and make a choice, you are lucky. One day, we all would like to be lucky too.

Check out Manatee County Animal Services on Facebook. Like us and share us with all your friends. Our website at mymanatee.org/pets has a wealth of information, including your new family member for adoption. Or call 941-742-5933 for information.

Kris Weiskopf, chief of Manatee County Animal Services, provides this weekly column to the Herald.

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