PAREN(T)HESIS — Caring For Pets

December 2, 2017

Jill Rothenbueler Maher

When I walk around our neighborhood, I occasionally see remnants of what seem to be former dog houses. (If I’m wrong, I cannot imagine how the concrete rectangles were used.) The attitude of Bay View residents and suburbanites toward dogs sleeping outside is one of the huge changes since I grew up. My parents’ dogs, a Black Labrador and an English Springer Spaniel, both slept in doghouses connected to our garage. I don’t think anyone found it strange at the time, but today it would raise eyebrows among neighbors.

The attitude toward pets has really changed since the 1970s. I noticed that a hand-me-down book from that era included the question, “Is loving a pet like loving a person?” The publisher’s answer reflected what was probably commonsense back then, which boiled down to, “No, you might love a pet but it’s not like loving a person.” In 2017 I think the answer would be different, or the publisher would eliminate the topic to avoid the negative feedback!

This month is a popular time to get new pets and experts say it is important to think through your situation before welcoming a new pet. The reality can involve allergies, the safety of the child and pet, and the ongoing cost of food and visits to the veterinarian. My husband and I held out until the age when our daughter could reasonably help care for a pet with things like feeding the correct amount and remembering to put the dog food bag away. We also thought about whether she knew how to control a leashed dog and safely cross intersections.

One thing that hasn’t changed since my childhood is children insistently begging for pets. Our daughter moved from turning the kitchen into an imaginary pet store to directly asking us to give her the odds, that is, the percentage of likelihood that we would get a dog. That percentage moved from 50 to 100 the day we visited a shelter and found the right match. Our work schedules meant that we couldn’t adequately train a puppy so we got a more mature, house-trained dog. Our daughter has been helpful with chores and has loved the dog more than I could have imagined.

We had to say goodbye to a cat a few years ago, and we dread the day when we will have to deal with the death of our dog, but experts point out that experience with the death of a pet can help translate to dealing with other types of loss.

Pets can also help children develop responsibility and give them time away from screens. An advantage I hadn’t thought about before researching this article is that pets can be trusted, safe recipients of a child’s innermost thoughts. Kids sometimes share thoughts with a pet like they do a favorite stuffed animal. On dark winter nights, a pet with the right temperament can be a great comfort.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

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