The Star-Herald

The Right Time for a Dog

Should my children have a pet? When is the right age to get them a cute puppy or that cuddly kitten?  

Children often want a dog for their first pet, but before getting one there are so many factors to consider.  First, parents must realize that they are ultimately responsible for the dog, and that dogs often live 12 to 15 years.  Even though the children say they will care for the pet, with many promises, they sometimes neglect their responsibilities.  Research shows preteens are the most responsible kids to care for dogs, particularly playing with them, walking them and feeding them.

If the decision is made to get a dog, there are purebreds available from breeders (make sure they are reputable), and of course we have wonderful dogs at the animal shelter just waiting for that loving home.  Babies and toddlers sometimes poke and hit little dogs, as they don’t understand that it is wrong.  They are just very curious; therefore, a larger dog around 25 to 30 pounds might be a better choice than a tiny or toy dog, which can be quite fragile.  

Sometimes an adult dog can be the best choice for children.  If it is a shelter dog, the staff often know where the dog came from and if it is good with children, etc.  Not all dogs at the shelter are strays, as many are turned in by very sad owners who for various reasons cannot keep their pets.  These dogs are often housebroken, socialized and beyond the chewing stage.

Many folks want a puppy for their children, and that can be rewarding, but it is so important to keep in mind the care a puppy requires. It is a bit like a newborn baby.  There is the housebreaking and getting it accustomed to a new environment.  If there is a small baby or toddler in the household, it is almost like having two babies to attend to, but it can be fun, too.  

Personally, I have had a puppy with my young grandchildren and an older rescued dog when my daughter was a baby.  My grandchildren were 3 and 5 years old when we brought Henry home, an 8-week-old boxer puppy. The kids were wonderful with him, and they were lifetime buddies.  Some dog behavioral experts recommend that children under the age of 5 should not have a dog.  I think with good adult supervision it is very possible.  

Some pet owners have had a dog for a number of years when a baby joins the family.  New parents worry, of course, because an older dog is set in his ways and probably very spoiled; will he accept a new baby?  

My husband and I went through that.  We had had Deros seven years when our daughter was born.  Deros had been a stray running the streets of Fort Dix, N.J., when we rescued him and he became the center of our life.   He had some bad habits, was headstrong, and he didn’t always like everybody.  We had him neutered and he became easier to handle; however, when our daughter was born we didn’t totally trust him, and watched him very carefully.  From day one he either sat beside her crib or lay beside it.  If I held her he sat beside me.  Because of problems with her feet, my daughter had a bar on her shoes so she couldn’t walk, but she could crawl.  Deros was always a step or two behind her, watching and guarding.  We knew after a while there would be no problems.  They were fast friends until Deros passed away at age 17.

Children and dogs seem to go together and can give great pleasure to each other.  Taking care of an animal is a great way for a child to learn responsible pet care.  

Before adding a dog to the family, it is vital all family members want a dog and realize the responsibility and the cost of having one.  A family returning a puppy or dog to the shelter because they just had a new baby and don’t have time for the animal is one of the saddest situations we face.  

We humans have feelings; dogs have feelings.  The look in their eyes when left is heartbreaking.  This situation happens at our shelter and, unfortunately, at all shelters throughout the United States.   

Take the time, do your research and make sure the decision to adopt a dog is the right one for you and your family.  Please be responsible, spay and neuter your pets.

“Old age means realizing you will never own all the dogs you wanted to” (Joe Gores).

Carolyn Cheney is a member of the Board of Directors of the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

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