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For some expert input into how animals can enrich your family's life, we spoke with Barbara Steinhoff, communications manager at the Toronto Humane Society.
1. Pets can bring the family together in making decisions
There are few times when children get to be involved in making big decisions for the family, and having a pet makes for many decisions that a family can make together.
"It's everyone's responsibility. That pet loves everyone in the family," says Steinhoff. "Everybody pitches in. Mom and Dad may take on the majority, but there is a role for children as well, and I think it's a great way to bond as a family."
Even the process of deciding on what kind of animal the family should get can be a great bonding experience. Steinhoff encourages families to go to the animal shelter together when choosing a pet so the best fit can be determined.
2. Pets are natural stress relief
Pets can be a great stress relief for Mom and Dad, too. With parents working full time and being pulled in many different directions, a cuddle with a cat, dog or other furry companion is more beneficial than you think.
"Animals are incredibly instinctive, so if you're having a bad day, if you're not well, you'll find that they'll be right there with you, showing you this empathy that is incredible," explains Steinhoff. "We react to it, not necessarily consciously, but your mind and your body just see this thing looking at you and you relax."3. Pets can teach kids life lessons
When it comes to illustrating the cycle of life, nothing demonstrates it better than a pet. Pets are quite often the first loss children are ever exposed to, Steinhoff points out.
"Whether it's your goldfish or your hamster, it's very often that first loss," she says. "It really does help us build up the techniques and the internal mechanisms we need to be able to deal with that later in life."
This can be an ideal opportunity for parents to explain to their children the concepts of both birth and death.
4. Pets teach children responsibility
Depending on your children's ages, their household chores may vary – but with a pet there are roles that kids of any age can play.
"There are incredible things you can do with your kids to bring their responsibility level up," says Steinhoff. "Then, as they get older, you can add more responsibility around taking care of the pet."
This can be as simple as getting your young children to interact and play with your pet to older children getting involved with daily feeding and hygiene.
5. Pets make you more active
Some lifestyles are becoming more and more sedentary, so any reason to enjoy the outdoors is a good one. If your family has a pet, particularly a dog, it will get you outside at least twice a day. This is a mutually beneficial activity, says Steinhoff.
"Normally I wouldn't think to head down the street to the beach, but I would do it because I know my dog would love it," she says.
Dogs in particular are easy to integrate into an already active family. Swimming, hiking, biking and running are all great ways to get your dog involved with your favourite family activities.
Pets have a lot to offer and can bring a great deal of joy to any family. However, it is important to do as much research and looking around as possible to find the right pet for your family. Although adopting a pet is a big commitment, what your family will get in return is worth every bit of effort.