There was a time in my life when I felt that the Bronx Zoo had nothing over me. I was raised with pets in my family’s house so why wouldn’t I want them when I had a family of my own? So when my daughters realized that other kids in their class or in the neighborhood had pets, the inevitable question came…

“Mommy, can we get a dog?”

Well, my answer to this was a flat out no! Working a full time job and raising four kids was enough of a zoo for me! Besides, I wasn’t sure that my babysitter would keep watching my girls if I acquired what I call a two year old with fur! I already had two cats (always rescues) but they were mine from before I got married. I took care of them. And cats are way easier to take care of than a dog.

But I did believe that animals provide a lesson for children in the fact that they were to be responsible for a living thing. And of course when asked, they all agreed to be those responsible caretakers of their very own pet.

That’s when you find out how responsible each individual child is…
Or isn’t, as the case may be!

I think we started off with hamsters. Each one had it’s own little cage (poor thing), it’s little running wheel (reminds me of me on a work day), a water bottle, wood chips and food. They are cute little things, and pretty easy to take care of.

Katie, being the inquisitive early scientist that she was, gets a book and reads everything she can about the care of her pet. The others are told what they have to do, but past that don’t seem to be as involved with their animal. And as the weeks go on, as is always typical with children when the thrill wears off, I find myself “reminding” of their caretaker responsibilities. All except Kate.

Now the strange thing is, that for all the wonderful caregiving Kate gave to her animals she had no real luck in keeping them alive. The neglected animals seemed to thrive in their messy habitats and poor Kate would come home to find out her well cared for hamster had committed suicide by trying to escape the cage! It had trapped itself under the bottom bar of the cage and was too fat to move back or get out. The poor thing killed itself! Of course the tears flow and the funeral procession now takes place in the back yard. Complete with cotton for an eternal bed, the shoebox was placed in the hole that was dug by the little hands that were my daughters. The Hail Mary’s and eulogy came next and then we all left the “gravesite.”

I never really thought about it when we got the animals,
but there was a real lesson to be learned by a child with the passing of a pet.

This happened to poor Kate a lot. Next came parakeets. The poor kid came home from school one day to find her pet lying on the floor of its cage belly up! Tragically, even her cat got run over by a car on our street on the day of her birthday! Her sisters began to call her Doctor Death! And this was the kid who wanted to become a doctor?

And so it went, the house became a proverbial zoo. One after another from fish to cats and dogs, they all passed through my house. And as the kids grew the animals were always there. We eventually wound up with five cats and a dog that lived with us for many years and were loved by the entire family. The one thing I do know is that it is hard to lose an animal that you love. I guess that was one of the difficult lessons that children do learn about owning a pet. It’s difficult for me even at this age to have to put a cat or dog to sleep because of some incurable ailment, but I think that the ability to bond with something that depends on you is a more invaluable lesson for any child to learn.


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