Kids and Cats

Allowing a child to grow up with one or more pets has always been considered a very natural thing to do. It teaches young people many things, including responsibility, companionship, compassion, love, loyalty, non-verbal communication, and maybe most importantly, respect for living things.

There is nothing like the unconditional love and friendship that exists between a person and a companion animal. Many wise parents understand this and encourage their children to care for a pet. They may surprise their toddler with a kitten or a puppy for Christmas or a birthday. Or they may cave in to an older child's entreaties to "Pleeeease let me keep him, mom."

But we must understand (and teach our kids) that pets are not furry toys. Having a pet can be the perfect opportunity to teach children the concepts of responsibility and compassion, but in the end, it is still the parents' role and responsibility to do so. One cannot simply unload a kitten or puppy into the house and expect everything to work out automatically.

It becomes Mom's and/or Dad's new job to teach the kids how to care for an animal, and they must teach the kitty the rules of its new home, too. Kids don't automatically know how to care for the little guys, and the little guys don't know how to tell their new people what they need. Since cats can't seem to learn human language (duh), they have only kitty language to get our attention so we can meet their needs. It is our job, then, to pay attention to them, and to teach our children how to pick up on "messages from the cat."

It also is Mom's and/or Dad's new job to actually care for the animal. Shelter workers often hear comments such as, "Well, the kids got tired of taking care of this cat, so we're going to teach them a lesson and get rid of it." The lesson they just taught by doing this is that pets are disposable. That pets don't matter. It didn't work out, so give up. (We don't discard the kids if they can't seem to remember to clean their rooms!) Let's instead teach them that pets DO matter, and that achieving a happy relationship with the new kitty requires loyalty, dependability, compassion and a willingness to work things out. After all, isn't that one of the valuable life skills we try to teach our youngsters? Having a pet to care for provides many opportunities to develop those skills. Don't throw them away with the cat.

It is a grave mistake to think of the new kitten as "the kids' new cat." It is instead essential to think of any pet as the "family pet." The parents will be paying for its food, veterinary care, and other items. The parents must be prepared and willing to supervise every phase of the animal's care. This is what parents are for - to teach their children. That is done by example, and by direct demonstration and supervision - not by "letting Nature take its course." If you let that happen, the pet will die - usually by torture, abuse or neglect.

Children aren't born with a "natural" ability to relate to an animal. This MUST be taught. Kindness to animals is not a natural trait either. It MUST be taught. And the best teacher is example and experience. Show children how to care, and they will learn from you.

Copyright 2009 - Dr. RJ Peters 
The Problem Cat