My daughter wanted a dog for years, but she had a big obstacle in her way.
I am highly allergic to dogs and cats, so I never had a deep, intense friendship with an animal as I was growing up.
I just didn’t like them. They’re smelly and have moist noses and shed and make me very, very sick. I told people I didn’t like dogs until my husband told me I should really stop saying that, as it made me seem unlikeable.
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When she was seven or eight, we bought my daughter a fish. I have to admit I felt pretty terrible when she had to fill out a “My Pet and Me” worksheet at school that asked what her favorite thing to do with her pet was. She answered, “Look at it.”
So we bought her a guinea pig. She was pacified for a while.
Then something happened. My little sister left my parents’ house to go off to college. My mother needed something to take care of, so she got a little poodle. A little hypoallergenic poodle. You know what? I didn’t hate it. It was cute, and it smelled like green apples. It didn’t shed. My kids got all starry-eyed when they held it. Most importantly, I spent days with it and didn’t sneeze once.
A little seed was planted in my head. I could stand a poodle for the sake of my children. Maybe.
One day we were in the pet store buying food for the guinea pig, Tater. Alcovy Rescue was there with dogs in need of homes. My daughter asked if she could look at them, and I said, “Sure. But don’t get your hopes up. It’s not like they’ll have a purebred poodle over there.”
But y’all, they did. A small, black one. All the other dogs were going nuts, barking and rattling their cages. This little guy sat calmly in the corner and had an air of “I’m just suffering these fools” about him. I knelt down to look at him, and it felt right.
We took him home that day. I laugh now remembering how uncomfortable I was touching him and interacting with him.
Three years later, Gus is the undisputed King of House Nichols. He holds my heart in a way I never imagined. He sleeps curled up on my lap and defends me against the overzealous love of his adopted brother, another mini poodle. That’s right. I have two dogs now.
Gus and Boo Radley love my kids, and my kids are absolutely crazy about those dogs. Sailor and Jack have learned responsibility and compassion from being dog owners, but most importantly they have two furry best friends who don’t judge and seek only to comfort and play and protect.
There’s no doubt the poodles have had a dramatically positive impact on our lives, but they come with a lot of responsibility. Responsibility that kids can take part in but should never be left to the them alone.
If you’re going to bring a dog into the family, even if it’s a gift for your child, you should know in advance that it’s going to be work for you as well. Small children just can’t handle the job of pet ownership on their own.
Lots of families have dogs who have been around longer than the children and are solidly the parents’ responsibility, but for those who are interested in a dog “for the kids,” I did a little research.
The ASPCA has recommendations for pets for kids. Pets aren’t recommended for children younger than five. Tots aren’t usually big on empathy. They don’t really get how their pulling and pinching can hurt or scare their pet, and sometimes a frightened pet will bite. They’re also too young to be very helpful in pet care.
Kids ages five to 10 are just the right age for small pets like gerbils, guinea pigs and fish. Supervise them during play sessions and while they do chores such as cleaning cages, filling water bottles and bowls, measuring food and scrubbing cage furniture and toys. This is a good time to develop good hygiene habits around pets with an emphasis on washing hands and surfaces when done handling or playing with their pets.
Most animal experts agree that by age 10 most kids are ready to have a dog as a pet. Kids ages 10 and up usually have a good capacity for responsibility. They can handle feeding and walking the dog. Although kids in this age group can be reliable, adults should always check that pets have adequate food and water.
Wondering what kind of dog to get your kids? Pet MD has a list of the top ten family friend dogs. In case you were wondering, poodles are ranked No. 3, behind Labradors and golden retrievers.
If you decide to get a dog for your family, please consider saving a pet and not shopping for one. There are lots of wonderful dogs out there in desperate need of a good home.
What about you, moms? Do you have a treasured family pet? Thinking about getting a dog for the kids? What responsibilities does your child assume in the care of your dog?