Pets teach children to rely on parents more than before

There are two kinds of parents in the world: Those who have succumbed to their children’s incessant pleading for a pet and those who are still putting up with it.

Maybe you’re one of those parents who thought caring for a pet would teach responsibility. But after a few months with a new puppy, you’re thinking, “Hey wait! I was already responsible.” The children who begged, pleaded and promised to walk the dog daily now have softball practice, summer camp, and temporary amnesia. And instead of learning about responsibility, they’re learning they can always count on you.

Or maybe you’re like I was when my son was growing up: looking for a way to teach your children about responsibility, give them the joy animals provide and stop the begging, all without actually getting a pet. This is a tall order, but I have three suggestions for you. And, speaking from experience, I can tell you that none of them work.

First, have plenty of friends and relatives who own pets your children can play with. If your friends and relatives don’t have pets, give them some. You may be thinking that playing with other people’s animals would only make your kids want their own pet more. And you would be right.

You may also be thinking that, if you give a friend a pet just so your children can play with it when you visit, you may not be invited to visit again. You would be right about that too. I told you these don’t work.

Secondly, you can encourage your kids to pet sit. There are two kinds of pets a child will care for without being reminded: One that belongs to someone else who is paying them to take care of it and one they’ve owned for less than a month. You choose.

Pet sitting allows children to learn about responsibility without their parents having to learn any more about responsibility. At least it works for some kids. My one and only pet sitting experience ended abruptly after an unfortunate incident with a beta. You’re probably thinking, “How hard can it be to take care of a fish?” Well, that’s what I thought too.

My son was much more successful. He started his pet-sitting career with some hermit crabs, graduated to a chinchilla, and then you could say he went to the dogs. I thought he’d change his mind about wanting a dog of his own after going to a friend’s house several times a day, feeding and playing with her dogs, then waiting for them to “do their business.” What an odd way to put it. Whoever came up with that phrase wasn’t very pro-business. But I digress. The point is, business or no business, it didn’t change his mind.

Finally, you could compromise and get a small, low maintenance pet. A friend told me that if a child wants a dog, he or she would be wise to start by asking for a horse then negotiating from there. My son asked for a dog, so he got a hamster. And yes, I’m aware that many a family has started with a fish or bird and wound up with three rabbits, two cats and a St. Bernard to keep it company. I’m proud to say, we held our ground and stopped at the hamster. If he was lonely, he never mentioned it.

But my son did—often. He knew that I grew up with cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, and even a few pigs and sheep. (No hamsters.) And he knew I loved them all. I’m not sure how much they taught me about responsibility, but I did learn to count on my mother. Dorothy Rosby is the author of three books of humorous essays, including I Didn’t Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest. Contact her at www.dorothyrosby.com/ contact.