Teaching children the responsibility of caring for pets – Part 3

Pet or companion animal “ownership” in Japan has increased significantly over the last 20 years, resulting in the strengthening of Animal Welfare laws in 1999, and an expectation of their actual enforcement. Possibly the primary motivator behind this trend is the recognition, proven through research, that children that interact with animals, and particularly those that have the responsibility to care for pets, are less likely to bully other children, or commit suicide in their teenage years, than those that don’t. Teenage suicide and bullying are significant problems in Japan, but occur in all nations to some degree or other.

Many Japanese parents have an increased interest in pet ownership as a means to teach children to be more nurturing and respectful to other people, as well as to enable discussions in schools about death as a counter to suicide. There is no reason to think that this should be appropriate only in Japanese culture.

Waiting until our child is old enough to be able to care for a pet is neither necessary nor desirable. It is actually best if our household contains companion animals from the time of their birth, if we don’t have them for ourselves even before that. Obviously, expecting a two year old to care for a pet is a bit much, but it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to feel for a pet!

The early introduction allows them to develop bonds with our families’ animal members. When our children develop to the point where they have the ability, gifting them with an animal who is “theirs” allows them to learn responsibility and care for another being. Their desire and willingness to take care of their pet might initially be more pronounced if they have not previously experienced such relationships, but the ability and fortitude to care for their companion animals is likely to be more enduring if they have grown up in a happy environment containing them. Although this is no reason to not allow the child without such experience to have a pet; it may be even more important to do so for their personal development.

Positive encouragement is very important, but showing our children the practicalities of pet care is nearly as important. If our child feels they are failing their pet, they may feel obliged to give up, so someone more “capable” within the family will give the animal the care they need. So if you agree to bring in a new species or breed to the family as “their” pet, make sure you do the necessary research to know how to care for them first. As a parent, it is our responsibility to know how to care for the companion animals we allow our children to “own”, so an avoidable early death through inappropriate care won’t devastate our child, or the rest of us for that matter.

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