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Alternatives to pet ownership — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Alternatives to pet ownership — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’m dead set against having pets but my husband is saying the children will miss out on important childhood experiences. He always had a cat and dog growing up, and though he may have helped out when he was older, our children are at an age where they still need a lot of care themselves. I’m the one home all week, not him. Your thoughts?

Enough to Do Around Here

Don’t miss last weeks column on Play with a Purpose

Dear Enough to Do,

There are indeed many good lessons to be learned from pets in the family: responsibility, life cycles, sharing (puppies often chew toys without regard to whose they are), and unconditional love to name a few. However many households get by without animals in them due to allergies and the reason you cited in your signature: limits on the adults’ time for the added responsibilities.

Here are some compromises.

Visit a zoo such as the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and the Salisbury Zoo, spend time at the Children’s Museum in Annapolis, go to the petting farm at Kinder Farm Park, window shop at pet stores, and get invited to other people’s homes where your children can satisfy their animal interests. Without bringing an animal into your home, your children can enjoy watching a bird preen its feathers, cuddling lambs and chicks, holding a snake, romping with puppies and kittens, and perhaps learning about some of the tasks involved in taking care of animals.

Hang a bird feeder or two outside a window in your home from which the children can sit and watch who comes to peck at the seeds and fruit they help to keep stocked. Install a bird bath in the yard and have the children help you keep it clean and full. Squirrels can find plenty to eat on their own if you have oak trees in the yard. So find the best place to enjoy watching them scamper along the trunk and branches. Or plant butterfly bushes to attract colorful butterflies to watch from spring through fall.

Take nature walks. Our county has many lovely parks full of wildlife including Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary; Quiet Waters Park; and Sandy Point State Park. If you go often, you will soon learn the daily and seasonal habits of the various inhabitants. Parks schedule nature programs to teach visitors about the animals that live in them, and sometimes include presentations with live critters.

Since your husband is the one who is keen on having an animal in the house, it may be worth asking him to think through a scenario wherein the children have the benefits he is so eager for without obligating you to any additional duties. Could he pet sit on weekends? This could be at your home or he could take the children along to feed, water, and play with a cat or dog whose owner is away. Might you relegate a small pet to one area of the house? He could promise to maintain a small habitat, such as for a hamster, lizard, or fish. If things work out, and the children also share in the duties as they mature, the discussion could be reopened later for the cat or dog of his dreams.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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