What Can Having a Pet Teach My Child?

We are a family with a cat now. I didn’t really want one, but I was outnumbered. I grew up with pets myself, by which I mean I begged and begged for a rabbit then promptly lost interest and left my parents to clean out its hutch every weekend for the following five years. However, I have to admit I didn’t like the idea of our children growing up without a pet. But did I really want the responsibility of a cat on top of all the other jobs I end up doing every day? Not particularly.

Aged three, our eldest daughter was animal mad and desperate for a pet, and my wife had been asking for a pet for the entirety of our marriage. Last year I finally agreed that we could get a cat as long as my wife realised it would be her cat and that I would not be cleaning out its litter tray or picking dead birds up off the living room floor.

So one January afternoon we bundled into the car and set off for our local animal shelter. The weather didn’t do much to help my mood; the windscreen wipers were on full pelt and we were being desiccated by the car’s heating. We stepped into the reception area which was complete with that unmistakable wet dog smell, and enquired about any young cats that needed re-homing.

We were sent off to the cat area, and told that none of the cats would be suitable for our family. What they actually meant was that our children would do little to rehabilitate the already traumatised cats. Instead, we were shown a litter of kittens and their mum, and I watched as my wife and daughters stared at them with love in their eyes. Needless to say they fell completely in love with a little ginger and white kitten, who we brought home with us about four weeks later.

My lack of enthusiasm didn’t last long. Rupert soon found his way into all of our hearts with his love of cuddles and a purr that could rival the volume of a tractor. The girls, aged three and one, are naturally gentle with him; far gentler than they are with each other. Our eldest has learned to think of Rupert’s needs and feelings, for example making sure that we are home in time to give him his tea, or saying sorry if she has done anything that he doesn’t like. She keeps an eye on his food and water bowls, often commenting on how much he has eaten that day and whether he might be hungry. His love appears to be unconditional and they can often be found curled up on the sofa comforting each other. Both girls are also keen to throw him a treat or two if he has been a particularly good boy. It seems that having Rupert is encouraging their development of nurturing behaviour, and helping them to think of the needs of others.

However, as with any pet it has made some aspects of life harder and more complicated. We cannot spontaneously go away for a night or two without making sure we have a friend available to look after Rupert. We now have the added expense of cat food, monthly flea and worming treatments, his annual vaccinations, pet insurance, and the cost of neutering. He has the cheek not to wipe his feet on the mat when he comes through the cat flap, and so the floor is often decorated with brown splodges. And when he brought his first bird in it looked like the scene of a horror movie (with added feathers).

Of course Rupert is very much a part of our family now, and it is hard to imagine life without him. For us, the added complications are worth it for the pleasure he brings us. Despite my initial reservations he has been a great addition to our family and watching the girls growing up with a pet is truly wonderful.

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About Hannah

Hannah is a freelance writer living in Bristol with her wife and two daughters aged three and one. When she’s not obsessing about getting the laundry done, she can be found eating potatoes. You can find her on Twitter, read her blog and follow her on Facebook

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