Pets can enhance us

We're moving into the pet-request phase of our grandchildren's lives; a horse, a dog, guinea pigs and kittens are on the list writes Ian Munro.

Children are readily attracted to animals, particularly small furry ones, like those kittens they saw. The kittens you know will want to be let out in the middle of the night, will sharpen claws on the upholstery, will need ``de-fleaing'', will trigger Johnny's allergy, will need neutering and microchipping and, you fear, will eventually become yours to look after.

There's no question, however, that children can benefit from pet ownership. They can bring out a child's natural nurturing instincts, be great comfort in times of stress and anxiety and, for a lonely or abused child, be very therapeutic. Studies have shown that young children who, for example, are slow learners or whose parents divorce cope better with life if they have a pet than those who don't.

Pets can provide vulnerable children with a strong sense of security and comfort. Children sense that their pet will love and accept them, even when they misbehave, get angry, or don't do well at school. They'll provide friendship when other children might not.

Through pets, children can learn about taking responsibility and about the life cycle. The death of a pet may be the first serious loss that a child experiences and the hurt they feel will be no less than we might feel in losing a human loved one. They learn about the grieving process and how you eventually come out the other side.

If you are considering embarking on pet ownership, here are some things to consider:

The large dog wanted might not fit your small, unfenced section and inner-city lifestyle. It might have to be a mouse in a cage instead of a Labrador.

Despite all the promises made by the kids, and they will be genuine at the time, a pet will mean more work for you.

Children have to be taught how to be carers and responsibility for doing that and, ultimately, for the animal's welfare rest with us.

There will be additional costs; food, vet's fees and holiday care.

Someone may need to be home at regular times to let them in and out and to feed and water.

How do your pot plants fare? Most plants don't thrive on neglect and neither do pets.

Consider a trial by having the kids do some holiday pet-sitting or borrowing a pet for a week.

If a pet isn't appropriate, it's probably best to be straight about your reasons, acknowledge the disappointment, ignore the nagging and move on.

If you decide to go ahead, you'll find they will add an extra dimension to your family's life.

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