Choosing your child’s first pet

My first pets

I think that the article below by my guest Dr. Tim has good info for parents.  What do you remember about your first pet? was it a cat, dog, frog, fish, rabbit or bird? Name? Fond memories? Sad? Bad? Please do tell.

what struck me is how traumatic my two experiences with pets were when I was a child… because my parents were not good role models nor did they value pets. And those attitudes do stay with people later in life. The good news is that you can heal and change… which takes real courage, honesty and willingness to FACE the bad and make amends. It also takes knowledge, patience and support.

First, I had a parakeet, two parakeets actually. One died and I was blamed for its death at the ripe old age of 8. No child is able to be 100% responsible for the care of a pet at that age or younger, I would say until about age 16. I did not feed the bird consistently nor take care of its cage often enough but my parents should have supported me and set me up to win not lose. It is crucial for parents to monitor children’s care of pets to make sure that the pet is being properly cared for and that the child treats the pets appropriately. Any parent who lays a guilt trip and dumps shame upon a kid for THEIR lack of parenting is destroying that child’s self esteem and should NOT be a parent (or teacher for that matter) in my humble opinion.

Second, we were not allowed to have dogs or cats as pets in the garden apartments. But there were always neighborhood feral cats running around. At about age 11-12, sixth grade, going into seventh, the girls in the neighborhood found a mama kitty who had babies. We each adopted one of the kittens as our own cat to take care of. It was a BIG secret because if/when the super or our parents would find out about the cats, we would get into trouble and the cats would get taken away. My kitten’s name was Ginger, a sweet gray and white kitty. My mother HATED cats. I painted a cardboard box with her name for my Ginger to sleep in. We kept the cats “underground” constantly changing their safe place from bicycle / carriage room (storage) to laundry room surrounding the court. We fed them thru taking tuna and other food from our homes. We also had a carnival to raise money for our cats.

I do not remember specifically what ended up happening but I imagine that we were eventually found out and that the cats were taken away. And I was devastated.

Here’s a kitten similar to how Ginger looked, available for adoption at Animal Friends Rescue Project. Call (831) 333-0722 for more info. For senior dogs, check out Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.  Also check out animals available for adoption at the Salinas Shelter, the Monterey County Animal Shelter, the Marina Shelter – (831) 384-2528, the Santa Cruz SPCA, the Santa Cruz Animal Services, the SPCA of Monterey County, and the Los Coches Vet Hospital – (831) 678-2658.  Click here for a more complete listing of other places to adopt a rescued cat or dog in this area.  If you scroll through shelter and/or rescue pages, you will be overwhelmed with the number of pets that need homes. Perfectly good, healthy pets. Adopt don’t shop for your child’s first pet !

We never discussed it and I can imagine that it must have been really painful. On top of that, the girls and I drifted apart as they became involved in a mean, bullying gang. The two situations merged and growing up became synonymous with “bad” experiences. But I digress.

Later in my 20’s I got my own dog and my parents did not like it but I lived 3,000 miles away so it did not matter. Still, the legacy that they left for me regarding pets/animals was not very constructive. I always loved animals and my parents hated them. A conflict for any child. And it can be worked through as an adult.

There are many benefits to having a pet. Taking care of an animal can enhance a child’s self esteem and confidence and help them mature. A lonely child can have a companion and someone to talk to who won’t judge them or make fun of their feelings. A child who has difficulty reading can boost their reading skills by having a dog listen to them read. In a scary world, children are comforted by their pets who can also help them grieve. Having a loyal friend is a value that is priceless for many years to come.

Teaching Kids Animal Compassion
Choosing the right pet for your child is key
By Dr. Tim Hunt, DVM

Children can learn so many valuable lessons by caring for a pet. Having pets at a young age instills kids with a sense of confidence that they can take care of an animal and help it to live a thriving life.

More importantly I find pets can be great therapy for kids. Have you ever seen a kid talk to a pet and the animal responds by wagging its tail or purring? A pet gives a kid a way to share their feelings with another living creature that will never respond in a judgmental or bullying way. Animals are unbiased companions, just what many kids need.

Having pets also teaches children that animals are not expendable items. If children are involved in the daily care of animals, it can help to make them a more compassionate person later in life. Over the years I have been able to follow kids who first owned pets in elementary school as they grow up through high school, and I have seen them grow up to be compassionate young adults.

On the other hand, kids that don’t get the experience of having a pet early may become afraid of animals, especially if their parents don’t particularly care for animals. But even parents who aren’t crazy about pets or did not own them as kids can help change this trend.

People sometimes ask me what are some good pets for a young child to have, and why. Here are some pointers for choosing your child’s first pet:

When to get a pet – People often ask me what the best age is for children to have a pet. I believe between ages 4 and 8 is ideal, although older kids can also benefit. I got my first pets, mice and guinea pigs, when I was 8. I didn’t get my first dog until I was 20, but since then I have been making up for lost time. Today I own 40 outdoor dogs and two more who live indoors!

Start with easier pets – Many people don’t want to start with the responsibility of a dog or cat. For these folks, I recommend a nontraditional pet like a rat or a guinea pig. Rats are extremely cuddly, they don’t bite and they only live two years. Guinea pigs also do not bite, unlike hamsters and gerbils which can tend to be nippy.

Aim for “fail-safe” pets – Kids are so impressionable. The worst thing that can happen is a six-year-old kid gets bitten by a dog and then becomes scared of dogs for years to come. Choose pets that are easy to care for. Spend time with your child and the new pet, reading and learning together how to care for the animal.

Pick a pet that fits your family’s lifestyle – Look at the purpose the pet will serve in your family. Do you and your kids spend more time indoors or outside? Is your child very active or does he or she prefer reading or playing quietly. If a child has ADD or ADHD, I recommend starting with a calm dog to help give them an example of what calm can be. For a hyperactive adult, I recommend the opposite: a high-energy dog they can play with to form a bond, such as a Lab or Golden Retriever, German Short-haired Pointer or Border Collie.

Pets and exercise – With so many kids overweight, people wonder if a dog can help their child get more exercise. The answer is yes, and it has less to do with the kind of dog than the simple act of walking it. A particularly excitable dog is not necessary. It is more important that the child spend at least half an hour daily walking the dog. Get a kid away from the screens and electronics for that long and they will start to realize there is more to life.

Purebred or mixed breed? It is not necessary to pick a purebred dog for your first pet. Many mutts you can get from the pound or animal shelter make terrific pets. I strongly encourage people to adopt pound and shelter animals. Try to find out what breeds are in your dogs background to help you better understand your dog’s behavior. With purebred animals, it is especially important to do your research and make sure the pet fits your family’s lifestyle.

Cats for quiet kids – I find that cats are great pets for very introverted kids. Having a cat helps draw the child out in a non-threatening way. Once the child and cat get to know each other the cat will come and sit in the child’s lap. Cats also don’t require as much work or attention as dogs. I find that cats are particularly good for kids with physical or other disabilities that limit how much they can care for a pet.

No matter what kind of animal you choose for your first pet, remember that your attitude toward the animal can influence how your child treats animals for life. This is particularly important when an animal becomes sick or old. If a parent views the animal as disposable, the kid will too.

Whether your family chooses a hamster or a dog, be prepared to care for your pet in sickness and in health. If the animal gets sick at least seek treatment. Even if the outcome isn’t good and the animal passes away, children will remember “we tried.” And that will stay with them their whole life.



About Dr. Tim:

Dr. Tim Hunt is a licensed veterinarian in both Michigan and Alaska. Drawing upon his 22 years as a vet and 17 years racing sled dogs, he created Dr. Tim’s Premium All Natural Pet Food to replicate the natural, wild diet of dogs and cats. Dr. Tim is recognized as an expert on all aspects of pet health and a staunch advocate for the welfare of all animals. He and his wife Mary live on 50 acres in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with four house cats, two house dogs and 40 outdoor dogs. Learn more at

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Filed under cats, dogs, guest blog, Monterey, Pacific Grove, pet adoption, pet care, Uncategorized

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