The pros and cons of getting a family pet can be like working your way out of a maze. Here are some tips to help you.

Getting a family pet for the house is usually a quick discussion, which is regretted the very next day. When dad scoops up Rambo’s towering heaps of crap or vacuums the fish bowl, or mum digs a shallow grave for Sippy the hamster or flushes another floater down the loo, it becomes resoundingly clear that this is gonna be hard work. Your work.

As parents, we already have ample work and we just seem to pile more on top of it all. When the topic of a new pet came up, there was no discussion about the sharing of duties and responsibilities. Surely you didn’t sign up for the extra work.

Yet, there is Gizmo the cat, a walking flea-factory and grumpiness personified, licking itself in the morning sun, stretched out over your clean clothes and new bedding. Not to mention that stale smell coming from the Bearded Dragon cage in pangs. And who agreed to walk Fido every single afternoon? Not Grandma.

The discussion

Preceding the shopping phase, there will be a discussion phase where the whole family decides (or just the parents if it is a planned gift), whether or not a pet is to be gotten for the house. This discussion never lasts long enough.

For those who know the discussion, you either already have a pet and wish to add a second one, or you’ve had one that ended up “going to the farm” to go live with its friends. You should be aware of the referendum that needs to be passed before shopping for another pet.

Discuss the pet and the caretaking responsibilities in detail. Who does what? And by when? Be clear so that no misunderstanding takes place. A couple arguing about a pet, or the evident disdain toward the creature, will warp your child’s relation towards it. This could be detrimental in the long run.

Which pet should we get?

It is best to consider the group dynamic in the house. If you have a young baby in the house, or plan to have another baby soon, a poisonous pet snake or spider might not be the best choice. In fact, those might be poor choices regardless.

Never ask yourself what pet you would like to have, unless you are wholly prepared to care for it and keep it, as well as your children and your house, safe at all times. It’s better to ask what pet would bring out the best in your child. What would aid the child in having a better understanding and greater appreciation for life?

A great example of this is the animated movie Secret Life of Pets, where they only reveal the pets’ owners near the end. The owners and the pets don’t seem to fit together at first glance, but you quickly realise that they are a perfect fit. There are many guidelines on the Internet for picking the right pet. Google a bit.

Chores and responsibilities

It has already been agreed who will tend to the animal’s needs. However, from past experience, let me encourage you to put it down in print. It is common knowledge that a verbal agreement is as good as the air it had been uttered into. Feeding, cleaning and basic caretaking needs to be listed.

If you have more than one child then make a responsibility-sharing roster, which all children agree on prior to the pet’s arrival. If only one child, then the parents can share duties with the child. It is a great parent-child bonding opportunity.

Put this roster up in plain sight, a week or two prior to the big day. Let the weight of the decision sink in. This also creates a sense of anticipation, which will be rewarded in due time.

And, please, if you end up having to do some of the duties yourself, then don’t bitch and moan about it in front of the kids. Sit them down and have a discussion, referencing the roster, which is evidently not being kept to. Treat your children like adults and talk to them. This examples a need to open-up dialogue about topics like fairness, respect and responsibility.

If all else fails, monetise the roster. Don’t be exorbitant. It’s still money. Give them fair money for fair amount of effort. No effort, no pocket money.

An attack!

If there has been a pet bite incident, then that is an entirely different situation. An attack needs to be addressed according to the severity of the bites and the nature of the incident, with more focus of concern on the animal than the child.

The reasoning that an animal attacked because the child did something wrong, is not an acceptable argument. Unless conditions were very extreme or repetitive, then a pet should not attack a human, no matter what the child was busy doing to it. In saying that, remember that pet-child interaction should ALWAYS be supervised.

How else will the child know what is wrong and what is right? It’s still an animal and it will defend itself if need be. Parenting skills will be required to teach your child the right way to behave around your pet and to gauge their relationship.

Do some research into teaching bite inhibition. Take your children to puppy training classes. By now you should know that puppy training is not for the puppies, but actually for the humans looking after the puppies. Your kids will enjoy it.

The benefits

If proper effort is put towards the careful selection of a pet and the caretaking of it, then the joys and advantages of having a pet far outweighs the concerns. A good pet is like family glue.

It brings everyone together at the beach, at the park or in the backyard. It gets mum and dad researching all things pet-related. They open up the discussion of life and death. Pets aid us in knowing our own children better.

James Fouche is an author, travel writer, entrepreneur and silly daddy of three. He also writes about parenting and wine, whenever his kids allow him to.

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