How often do parents hear this refrain? As the Christmas decorations start going up on Orchard Road, inevitably that tune will begin to increase in volume alongside the inevitable Christmas carols in the malls: “Mummy/Daddy, I want a dog for Christmas!” (or cat, or hamster, or guinea pig, or …)
A well-loved pet makes a wonderful addition to any family. But parents who are beginning to soften to their children’s pleas should consider one very important thing:
Kids will promise you the earth when they are begging you to buy that cute puppy in the pet shop, but cast your minds back to the last Transformer/Disney Princess/wotsit toy that they were desperate to have: how long did it sustain their interest? Likewise, what happens when the novelty of the new doggie wears off? Cats and dogs can live up to 15-20 years, that is a long-term commitment.
Remember how much you need to nag your son/daughter to do their homework, pick their dirty clothes up off the floor, wash their dinner plates? Imagine having to add to your ‘nagging list’ all the chores involved in caring for a pet: feeding, poop-scooping, grooming, bathing … and we haven’t even gotten to obedience training yet. Parents often tell me that sooner or later, all the unpleasant household chores seem to end up being done by them, just because they’re so fed up of hearing their own nagging!
And let’s be honest: with the hectic school schedules and enrichment classes that our kids have these days, does even the most consistently responsible child really have the time or energy to care for another living being?
This is the suggestion that I give parents whose kids say they want a pet: How about sponsoring a dog or cat in a local animal shelter, as a first step? You and your kids can go and visit your charge on the weekends, bring it for walkies, have cuddle-time, bathe and brush it, etc. After a few months of this, you will be able to get an accurate gauge of whether your child (or rather, your entire family) is truly ready to have a pet – and who better to take home than the pet you’ve been sponsoring? And then again, if you find that you’ve missed many sessions with your charge because you were too busy to pay it a visit … well, that’s your answer right there.
Sounds harsh? Yes, because lives are literally at stake. Many of the dogs and cats you see in our shelters (and so many more who are euthanised due to lack of space in those same shelters) started out as “the best birthday/Christmas present ever, Mom!”, only to become an annoyance and “interfering with homework time” a few months down the line.
It’s trite but true: a pet is for life, not just for Christmas.