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So if you're considering adding a cat, dog or other animal to your family, look before you leap. "Pets are a huge responsibility and commitment," says Craig Naherniak, General Manager, Humane Education, at the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "They affect everything in your household, from costs of care, to cleaning, to impacting vacation plans. Puppies and kittens require enormous investments in time and energy if you expect them to bond and become members of the family," he says.
That said, handled correctly, the human-pet relationship adds a wonderful dimension to family life. Is your family ready? Not if any of these red flags apply to you.
Red flag #1:Your child is terrified of animals
Some kids are natural animal lovers. Others are more tentative, especially with dogs. "Mild apprehension to dogs, particularly if they are larger breed dogs is normal for lots of kids," says Naherniak. "Young, high-energy dogs are also understandably more intimidating. Dogs can cause harm, so being a little afraid is not a bad thing! However, having an intense fear of dogs is another issue and should be taken seriously by parents. Often caused by a traumatic event such as an attack or scare, an intense fear of dogs will not be reduced by getting a family dog. In fact it may make the situation worse," he says.
Help your child get over an intense fear of dogs before considering animal adoption. "Clinical treatment will help desensitize a child to his fear. After treatment, a psychologist will assist in making the decision as to whether it is appropriate to bring a dog into the family," says Naherniak.
Red flag #2: You have toddlers in the house
Although cats and dogs can and do live peaceably alongside human toddlers, in many cases, these relationships work because the pets were living in the households prior to Junior's arrival. (Also crucial: providing child-free escape zones where Fido or Fifi can chill sans homo sapien kids.)
Adopting a pet as you navigate the toddler-parenting learning curve isn't generally a good idea, says Naherniak.
You may be exhausted by parenting, space may be at a premium and the added work of helping a new pet adjust, can put additional stress on a marriage. Factor in the potential dangers posed by grabby, impulsive toddlers, and it could be a disaster in the making.
"Waiting until kids are at least six or seven is far better for everyone," advises Naherniak.
Page 1 of 2 -- Are you living on a tight budget? If so, find out why you might not be ready for a pet just yet on page 2.Red flag #3: Money's tight
Cats and dogs are expensive. Veterinary costs (annual check-up, vaccinations, initial spay/neuter, monthly flea- and parasite-prevention meds), food, grooming, and occasional pet sittingor kenneling add up. Exotic animals cost even more, due to the need for specialized equipment and habitats, not to mention expert veterinary care. (Exotics make poor pets anyway, often appearing tame, while actually suffering from intense stress.)
Family budgets can be stretched close to breaking between mortgage or rent, childcare or private school costs, RRSPs, RESPs, transportation expenses, leisure activities, clothing budgets and so forth.
Here's a good litmus question: Would you be able to afford $1,000 vet bill tomorrow because your dog is violently and unexpectedly ill?
If the annual cost of a pet makes you balk, don't adopt. "Cats and dogs live from 12 to 20 years; rabbits eight to 10; guinea pigs; six to eight; rats up to three and chinchillas up to 20 years," says Naherniak. That's a major financial commitment!
Red flag #4: Your kid is impulsive, aggressive… or a bit of a space cadet
"Children are fascinated by animals and most are naturally are drawn to animals," says Naherniak. But that doesn't mean all are ready for the responsibility of daily feeding, watering, and weekly litter changing.
Your family isn't adoption-ready if your child:
• has difficulty demonstrating empathy toward others;
• is prone to being impulsive;
• is a bully;
• is easily distracted and doesn't follow through on their household chores.
"Never think that getting a pet will teach responsibility or accountability," says Naherniak.
Red flag #5: You're not ready, able and willing to be the primary – possibly only! – caregiver
As much as your kids may promise to be responsible for all aspects of animal care, at the end of the day, it's usually mom or dad who's left holding the bag (of kitty litter or cedar shavings). So be 100 percent positive you're willing to add a fur baby to your personal brood.
"The number one reason families surrender small animals to shelters – rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs – is because the kids got bored of the animal and the parent didn't have time," to handle animal care, says Naherniak. Larger pets including cats and dogs are surrendered for similar reasons.
Not ready to adopt a pet?
It's okay if you're not 100 percent sure if you're ready or not ready to adopt a pet. Contact your local humane society or SPCA and make an appointment to meet with an adoption counselor. They can help assess your family's suitability (bring the kids to the meeting), and make suggestions for waiting, or for finding the right pet-human personality match.
If pets are not an option for you now, but your kids aged 6+ are itching for animal-time, look for an SPCA summer camp, winter break or March Break program in your community. These fun day camps split kids' days between typical craft and sport activities, plus supervised animal time and age-appropriate education in animal-welfare and pet-care issues. They also learn "what it takes to look after an animal – without committing to a pet straight away," says Naherniak.
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