I have no sons, yet my three daughters have two brothers. Or at least they tell me they do. Those brothers are actually our four-legged family members, Samson and Lucas, two large Newfoundland dogs. “The boys,” as my girls call them, may not be human, but they have taught my daughters life lessons – lessons that only pets can teach.
My children have never been without a dog. My husband and I adopted our first dog about a year before we had a baby. Since that time, we’ve adopted two more dogs and lost one. Through it all, our kids have learned responsibility, compassion, loyalty and even how to say goodbye.
Our daughters help with the day-to-day care of our pets and have learned a lot about the large responsibility that comes along with them. When they were old enough to count, my husband taught our children to feed our dogs. They measure out the food and set out their bowls.
Our middle daughter once gave us trouble, saying she didn’t want to feed the dog. We pointed out to her that he can’t do it for himself and he’s hungry, much like she would be if she were deprived a meal. After that, she seemed to comprehend that it is our job to care for the dogs.
From this, they have learned to judge the amount of responsibility they can take on. My oldest daughter recently asked for a bunny. I reminded her about all the care that goes into pets. She made the decision on her own that while holding and feeding it would be fun, she didn’t want the job of cleaning the cage.
The kids are also involved with training the dogs, which teaches them consistency and boundaries when it comes to educating the young pups. They learn to say a command and stick with it. The dogs have taught them that praise and positive reinforcement goes a long way in training an animal – and humans.
Our Newfoundlands are eager to greet us each time we return home. They want to be cuddled when we sit down to watch TV and they love to play fetch with the kids in the backyard. My kids are happy to reciprocate with ear scratches and belly rubs. Having pets has taught my children that animals aren’t something to be afraid of, but can be loving and affectionate friends.
Of course, with any pet comes the lesson of goodbye. Our first dog, Simon, died unexpectedly at the age of 7. When he went to the vet one morning, we never anticipated that he wouldn’t return. Yet that evening, we found ourselves crying over memories and wishing he was there to cuddle just one more time. Through his death, our children learned to mourn and how to cope. It was very sad, but they learned about dealing with those emotions and about leaving a legacy. Through his death, and our new puppy, we taught them that dogs, much like people, don’t live forever and can never be replaced.
I might have to vacuum my house more than a person without pets. The floors might have paw prints and there might occasionally be wet-animal odor. However, our pets are part of our family and teach us more than we could ever imagine.
South Lyon mom of two Wensdy Von Buskirk says family pets aren’t necessary. Read about her no-pet stance here.