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Most of us can look back on our own childhoods and bring up some great memories of interactions with a beloved family pet. Remembering a loyal and gentle dog or a fluffy kitten perhaps, or even a canary or gerbil may bring a smile to our faces. Most likely you would love for your grandchildren to have these same kinds of positive experiences with one of our animal friends. What are some guidelines in determining whether or not your grandchildren are ready for a pet?

Number one, and I can’t emphasize this too much, never give a pet as a gift without first making a plan with the entire family. As wonderful as pets can be, receiving one when not properly prepared to care for them is a recipe for disaster. While there are numerous benefits to children who are raised with animals, there are also big responsibilities in the proper care and feeding of a pet. The entire family should embark upon this venture together.

What sort of animal would the family enjoy the most? Dogs are animals needing room to run and play. They need regular exercise in addition to daily feeding and watering. Cats need less in the way of running room, but still need places to sleep and eat without interruption. Even small animals such as gerbils, hamsters, and mice need a living space that can be regularly cleaned, and regular feedings. Who will do these tasks? Is the family prepared to spend the necessary money to buy the materials and food for the animal on an ongoing basis?

How old are your grandchildren? If there are babies or toddlers in the home, who will supervise when the animals are indoors with them? Toddlers may want to pull tails and chase animals around the house. Who will be there to teach gentle petting of heads and to make sure that animals aren’t teased or abused in any way? Are your older children involved in many after school activities such as lessons and sports that require the family to be away from home much of the time? If so, then who will have the time to care for the family pet? Is the family so busy that caring and cleaning up after a pet may add too much stress to daily family life? Who will care for the pet when the family is away from home?

There are many benefits of having pets in the home. Children who have animals around are learning important lessons in responsibility. Animals must be fed on a regular timetable and children taking on such a task will learn valuable lessons in unselfish and caring behavior. They will learn to monitor their own behavior by treating animals gently and lovingly. They will learn compassion when an animal needs their care and may even gain communication and social skills as they play with and care for another living being. Animals provide lessons about life as they are born, grow to adulthood and even when they grow old and die. They provide a real connection to the world of nature and children learn to respect life through observation and personal experience with them. Animals are  a source of great comfort to humans and give unreserved love and affection.

The purchase of a pet with all the necessary supplies and materials can make a wonderful gift for your family. If the time is right and the whole family is on board, go ahead; make a plan that spells out all the tasks involved in adding this new family member. Then enjoy the fun and satisfaction of sharing life with one of God’s creatures.