Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kids And Dogs--A Natural Team

To us, children and dogs are a natural fit. We both grew up surrounded by pets and learned early on about the joys, friendship and love they bring.

Kids who grow up with dogs and pets learn empathy, responsibility and respect for nature. For many of us, helping care for the family dog is our first experience with chores and leaning to take care of others. A child who nurtures a dog, also learns to appreciate, not fear animals and nature and takes these important lessons into adulthood. In addition, your child will have a natural exercise partner. Having Sally and Tom running around and playing with a dog sure beats having them watch TV and gorge on junk food!

Moreover, kids who grow up with pets may have stronger immune systems and may be less likely to develop allergies, asthma and other problems. Here's another relevant article.

If you can't have a dog or cat, don't fret. Get creative and figure out ways to expose the kids in your life to animals. Although not as cuddly as a dog (or even a cat), a fish is a fine introduction to animals. Alternatively, take your kids to visit homes with pets and talk about the importance of respecting nature and being kind to animals. Visit the dog park or stop someone walking a dog and ask if your child can pet the pooch. (Be sure to verify that the dog is child-friendly and teach the child to allow the dog to smell his/her hand before petting.) Read books about animals and watch movies staring our four-legged friends. Many animal welfare organizations have websites and educational programs specifically for kids, such as the ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society also has a site specifically aimed at teens.

Ask at a local shelter or animal rescue about programs for kids. Some may allow you to bring an older child along to walk dogs or volunteer in the shelter. A group of kids in Chicago have raised over $17,000 for animal shelters selling homemade jewelry and crafts. Many of these kids have dogs or other pets and some do not. But, all of them have learned that it feels good to help animals.

All this exposure to animals is a good thing. And who knows, your son or daughter may become a veterinarian or a top groomer or even write a particularly interesting, informative and well-written must-have future best seller about caring for a dog's body, mind and spirit.

Photo of Ian and Arthur by Michael Vistia, Vistia Designs

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