Kids and pets. They go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Richmond Animal League, a shelter in North Chesterfield, offers some advice on what to consider before adding a pet to the family.
The biggest question: Who will take care of the animal?
“Parents need to be closely involved in helping children interact with animals,” said Kaicee Robertson, director of development at RAL. “Caring for a pet is a great way to build responsibility and compassion in a child, but ultimately it’s the parents’ responsibility to care for the pet.”
In other words: Don’t get a pet and think that your child will be totally responsible for its care and feeding. “It’s a teachable moment,” Robertson said. “But a pet is a living being that must be properly cared for.”
Another big factor: pet personality. “I think personality is more important than looks,” Robertson said. “Personality is what will determine the best fit.”
For example, active dogs might do best with lively families willing to take the dog on walks, outings, and vacations. Gregarious dogs would likely be better fits in busy households with lots of comings and goings, Robertson said.
By contrast, some animals have a quieter disposition and a lower need for exercise. Quiet animals may become anxious in a boisterous household, or if routines change, Robertson said. “If you work a lot, you might prefer a low-key pet,” she said.
RAL helps families choose the perfect pet by requiring an application that asks questions about lifestyle and preferences. “We always recommend meeting the pet,” Robertson said. This helps both RAL and the adoptive family get a feel for the pet and its fit within the family.
As you think about what pet is best for your family, RAL offers this age-by-age guide showing how children generally interact with pets:
Birth-6 months: A quiet time for interaction between child and pet. No small child should be left unsupervised with an animal.
6-12 months: Children this age must be carefully supervised around pets. Crawling children can get into pet food and grab a pet’s ears or tail.
1-3 years: At this age, the child is eye level with a medium to large dog. A pet may naturally be possessive of toys and food; close supervision must continue.
4-6 years: By now, a child has mastered quite a lot of language and can understand more about how to interact with another living being. Supervision is still required.
6-10 years: At this age, a child can help look after a pet – feeding, cleaning up, walking, and playing with the pet.
Teens: Adolescents develop other priorities such as sports and hanging out with friends. Parents may have to take up some pet-care slack.
18+: Families should consider the pet’s potential age when children leave for college or the military. Pet care may necessarily revert to adults or other children.