Should You Get a Pet?

At Island Wealth, we want to help you make decisions that bring joy and value to your life. While we often focus on the importance of teaching your child to understand the difference between wants, needs, and responsibilities, we also recognize that life is more than the bottom line.

During the pandemic, many families are considering adopting a dog. We are at home for an extended time now, so we have time for a dog, families may reason. Adopting a family pet, whether a dog, cat, rabbit, bird or guinea pig, is an excellent opportunity to involve the whole family in research and to sneak in a few budgeting and life lessons for kids. While this post focuses on dogs as a specific example, the ideas here may be applied to planning for any potential pet.

Involve your child in as much of the research about a family pet as possible. Children can learn a lot through this process! Check out books from your local library and research online. Have them come up with specific questions and then talk with people who have dogs. Discuss which breed would fit well with your family. Talk to breeders and visit animal shelters. If possible, consider adopting a dog from a shelter. Once you’ve identified the possible breed you’d like to adopt, try to arrange for an in-person visit to make sure all family members do not have allergies and to see if the breed’s temperament and energy levels are a good match for your family. Research the needs and expense of a dog (purchase price or adoption fees, food, veterinarian visits, grooming, supplies, boarding needs in case of travel, etc.). Take a realistic look at your family’s priorities and constraints and imagine how family life may need to adapt to the needs of a new family member. Does your physical space allow for a dog? Do you need to securely enclose your yard? Once we can return to work and school in person, can you still meet a dog’s needs? Dog walkers or doggy daycare are options. Help your child recognize that a family pet can bring great joy, but also involves a commitment of time, effort, and resources for the lifetime of your pet.

Finally, parent support is essential. Many parents believe having a pet teaches responsibility. Adopting a pet can be an excellent way for children to experience responsibility, empathy, and loving compassion, but you as a parent must invest time to ensure that it is a positive, manageable experience. Adults need to monitor the amount of responsibility placed on a child. Who will walk the dog? Pick up the dog’s messes? Feed? Bathe? Train? “Responsibility involves not just duty, it also involves response-ability, the ability to care.” (Lucy Calkins) If you do all of the care, your child misses out on an opportunity to learn, nurture, and strengthen the bond with your dog. If you nag your child or give them too much responsibility, they may resent the dog. As our children grew up with our dogs, their responsibilities and independence increased gradually. In our family, we now share the responsibilities, and everyone pitches in. We all worry and feel sadness when we see our dogs aging, which motivates us all to provide them with a good life of lots of walks and attention. We have ended many of our stay-at-home days on “walk and talks” with Boots and Bear. Fulfilling the wants and needs of these furry beings brings health and happiness to our days as well.

Is a dog a want or a need? It’s debatable!

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