Can I Have a Puppy?
Depending on your background and preferences, this question may be a welcome introduction to a discussion that has been on your mind or a dreaded beginning to a recurring, challenging topic. You have likely heard or experienced a variety of positive results of having a pet. These might include amusement, exercise, stress relief, mood improvement, and an excuse to see new places and meet new people. A pet can be an opportunity for a child or adolescent to learn responsibility and build caretaking skills. A child’s pet can also be a wonderful companion, confidant, and playmate. However, if taken on impulsively, a pet can also become a major source of family conflict. Animals require time, energy, space, and money, and they must be taken into consideration when making activity and travel plans.
There are so many things to consider and talk through as you consider the question, “Can I have a puppy?”. It is important that adult members of the household sit down and talk it over before giving your child an answer. You might want to consider consulting friends or family members who have pets, as well as people who decided not to do so, about their experience and recommendations. There are a variety of books for children, adolescents, and adults about choosing a pet, adding a pet to your family, and caring for a pet. The internet also has a variety of resources but be aware that the information is often impacted by the author’s opinion on whether you should have a pet and what type is best. When you are ready to tell your child the decision about a pet, plan a family meeting so everyone is involved. This is important to ensure good communication about a big and emotional issue, and to make it more likely that your family will have a positive experience (regardless of whether you get a pet).
Some things to consider when the question of getting a pet comes up in your family:
- If you already have a pet, would you consider having another?
- Does the place you live allow pets? If yes, what types and what (if any) restrictions are there?
- What type of pet(s) are you willing to consider?
- Does anyone already in your family have allergies, significant fears, or other issues that need to be taken into consideration?
- Who would be responsible for taking care of the pet on a daily basis (i.e., feeding or walking it)?
- Who would be responsible for recurring but infrequent care (i.e., cleaning a cage, baths, vet visits)?
- Who would pay for the pet? Who would pay for recurring fees (i.e., vet visits, food, and toys)?
- How would you pay for emergency care or other large fees?
- What happens to the pet during the school/work day?
- What happens to the pet if you leave town?
Pets often live for multiple years and their lifespans vary dramatically. How do you expect to answer the above questions about care and financing in one year? Five years? Ten years? Answering these important questions as a family prior to adding a pet to your family will go a long way toward ensuring that the process is a positive one for everyone involved.
Joyce Matthews-Rurak, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist