Learning to Care

Marilyn Mackenzie

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The age at which a child is responsible enough to care for a pet on his own varies with the child. Some kids mature faster than others. Some are brighter than others. Some have more sensitive natures. The parents, meanwhile, should have responsibility for pets until their child shows enough maturity to be in charge of his or her pet.

But even before a child is old enough to be the sole caretaker of his pet, he is learning valuable lessons.

A pet can teach a young child the importance of unconditional love. Pets – both dogs and cats – exhibit this unconditional love, albeit in different ways.

Dogs look to their masters (and sometimes that includes the entire family, sometimes it does not) as the person(s) who rule the universe. They enjoy pleasing their masters. But when a member of the family is sick, especially if it is that one person with whom the dog has bonded the most, the dog takes on a sadness that makes one think the dog might also be sick.

Cats, is seems, have a rather lofty view of their own value to the world. But even they can exhibit love in ways that we never knew possible. When a family member is sick, for instance, a cat will often cuddle next to the sick one and offer purrs as condolences.

Kids learn from caring for animals that those animals depend upon them for their very existence. While a child can learn – somewhat – to fend for himself or herself, a cat or dog depends entirely on the human population of the household to fill the food and water bowls.

Kids learn patience and tolerance from caring for pets. They learn that teaching a puppy to do its business outdoors is often a daunting task, and that some kittens don’t get the concept of using a litter box right away. They learn that there will be accidents and that anger is not the way to deal with them.

They learn that pets can become bored with the same environment, just like people do. They observe that playing is an important part of the day of kittens and puppies, just like it is with kids. And they discover that their pet's needs often are not convenient, or take place on time schedule that the child would prefer.

Children learn compassion from caring for pets. If their own pet becomes sick, they learn that time schedules and pills are important in caring for the sick. If their pets must be administered shots, they tend to “feel the pain” for them.

Ultimately, in learning to care for pets, children learn just a bit about parenting as well. They discover the kinds of patient, tolerant, compassionate acts their own parents have encountered in the midst of having a child.

Some believe that children should not have total responsibility for the care and feeding of their pets until they are 10 or 12 or older. For some, that may be true. But having pets in the family before that is a good idea.

There’s nothing better than having a pet curl up on the bed with you while you complain about your horrible day. They just seem to understand.

Marilyn Mackenzie has been writing about home, family, faith and nature for over 40 years. This article has been submitted in affiliation with http://www.PetLovers.Com/ which is a site for Pet Forums .


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