Too many people give up pets they ‘gifted’ their child

Difficult Conversations: Keeping pets is not about the child. It is about you even if you have a responsible teenager at hand. Children might help with the care but they cannot be the sole caregivers for the dog or the cat.

By Tanu Shree Singh

“Mummaaaaaaa!” He wailed like a two-year-old for the eighteenth time.

“Nope. You cannot keep a kitten. We already have dogs and I am not too sure whether this is the best idea.” I dismissed the petition yet again.

“I promise to take care, clear the litter, get him vaccinated, and feed him. Please?” The 15-year-old pleaded again.

We got the kitten. And our household grew to a mad five dogs, one kitten and a tankful of fish proportions. And exactly a year later yours truly was sitting and biting her nails outside the operation theatre as Toothless, the cat got wheeled in to be neutered. The boy’s cat obviously took over all the people of the household. He was not just the boy’s anymore. We were all happily owned by him. I always had a dog while growing up, and now the boys do too. I would walk in with pups all the time much to my mom’s exasperation. Things are no different for me.

Recently, I saw someone looking for a breed suggestion for a dog since the five-year-old wanted to keep a pet. A few minutes later I came across another post about a pup looking for a home since the family had gotten the pup for the child and now found it too overwhelming. The number of instances that I come across of people giving their dogs up because they got it for the child and then were unable to care for it, found it too boisterous, or didn’t anticipate the care-bills, breaks my heart on a daily basis. Therefore, before we give in to the demands of a child asking for a puppy or a kitten, there are a few things we need to consider:

1. Do you like pets?

Keeping pets is not about the child. It is about you even if you have a responsible teenager at hand. Children, might help with the care but they cannot be the sole caregivers for the dog or the cat. The boys helped a lot with our pets when they were growing up but were always supervised. Additionally, children might lose interest, might be tied down to exams and assignments or like my older one, take off to college. So ask yourself before getting a pet for your child, how you feel about them.

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2. Consider the costs

Keeping a pet would mean vaccinations, trip to the vet, grooming, medical expenses and food bill. The other day, I saw a picture of a St Bernard (not the first) on an adoption website. The owners were finding it difficult to feed the growing dog. The eyes still haunt me. Before you decide to even consider keeping a pet, consider the time and money costs, research, talk to other pet-owners and then decide.

3. A dog is not a toy or a birthday gift

Most of us give in to the demands of a birthday present. But we need to remember and also tell the child that a pet is not a gift. Keeping a pet is a serious decision, it is a life that would depend on the family for care and love. Impulse purchases for birthdays rarely go down very well. Besides, why gift-wrap a living being?

4. Take the child to an animal shelter

Animal shelters are an excellent idea for the child to understand the care needed and also understand the enormity of the decision to keep a pet. It would also give you a fair idea about the child’s comfort level around animals. Finding pictures of puppies cute is one thing and keeping a real one is an entirely different thing altogether. I remember on one of the visits to the vet, the doctor was patiently explaining to a child what keeping a pet means. That is another great idea. Get the child to talk to other caregivers and a willing veterinarian.

5. Consider adopting

We have four dogs that were adopted, one who was taken from a home litter and another who was born at home. The rest have a similar story. It is a happy mix. The absolute best thing one can do is to adopt an Indian dog. The breed is best suited for the weather, presents lesser health problems and is abundantly available (read as no hole in the pocket). Besides, the pet shops that you see, mostly get their ‘stock’ from puppy mills, the worst, cruelest money making venture there is. However, I have nothing against breeds and ethical breeding. A friend’s Labrador recently conceived despite them being vigilant. Accidents happen despite the best of the intentions. Cut to two months later, there was a litter of 12 healthy puppies and two exhausted caregivers who were on call 24×7. Taking a pup from home litters is entirely different from buying them over the counter. So before going to the first pet shop you see, research all available options. If it is a particular breed you are looking for, look for an ethical breeder. They are few and far between, but make the effort. However, if you were to create a poll, Indie puppy would score a landslide win.

Pets saunter in and take your life over once you open your heart and readjust priorities. A friend recently adopted and now she says, “I have no idea how I was living so far.” That is what they do. They chew up your furniture, maul shoes and make neat holes in trousers. Yet, they warm up your soul, give you unconditional love and follow you around as if it was their sole purpose. Mine proved to be the best companions to the boys despite chewed up homework and toys. We have always had pets not because it would be a good learning experience for the boys or because, “oh, it’s his birthday!” but because we needed that extra bit of sunshine at home. After all, paw prints on the heart are the best thing.

(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh’s podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)

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