The number of pets in our home never fails to get a reaction. “Why so many?” visitors say. Or, “Oh my gosh that’s a lot!” My favorite? A simple “Wow!”
We have “a few” pets that we have either adopted or taken under our fur-loving wings. Some have been rehomed with us. It’s part of what makes it home for me.
I grew up with a lot of animals and have never not had a pet. I can remember my mom coming to get me from school early one day and taking me to get our new dog. She was a Great Pyrenees, and we had her from the time I was 5 until I was 14.
Later, we had Jules, our German Shepherd/Chow mix, from the time I was 15 until I was 28. And we had Kennedy from the time I was 14 until I was 24.
I’ve grown up with so many, and my memories of them are of lost family members. I cherish my “furbabies” and I’m so glad my kids get to grow up with animals, as I did.
But it isn’t just about enjoying pets. Bringing animals into your home can benefit your children in many ways. Our pets teach our children important values, and they just might keep them healthy, too.
One of the benefits of having pets is they help us teach our children responsibility. Kids (in my experience) love animals and they are often eager to help in the care of them.
Grayson, our six-year-old, has to let the dogs out of their area when we get home so that we can walk them, and then when they’re done being walked, he has to take their chain off. He also knows where the pet food is kept (in a closet, because the cats are heathens that will eat through the bag if left out anywhere) and he helps set out food for them.
We’ve always had a cat since before he was born. But he was 3 when we got our first dog. I was apprehensive about the added responsibility of walking her, so I definitely didn’t expect him to help at the time. However, as he has gotten older he has been eager to pitch in and help with these furry family members of ours. It is actually one of the only chores he doesn’t complain about.
When my beloved black cat Milo died suddenly, I was completely hysterical. I had another cat that was completely skittish after being trapped in a car’s wheel well. She would never come out! But that night, when I was lying in bed crying about Milo, she came on the bed and kept me company.
Every night, she does the same thing. She comes out from wherever she has been hiding all day and lies with me.
Grayson goes through spells where he is scared to go to sleep; on those nights, we place one of the animals beside him on the couch (because he thinks his room is scary) and that’s the last we hear of it for the night. He knows he’s not alone when they’re there. I love that our kids will be able to grow up with these animals as their first friends.
Nurturing and Empathy
Pets encourage nurturing and empathy. I can’t tell you how often one of the dogs is on the couch cuddling with Grayson, or in our bed getting grabbed by Elind for hugs. One of the first words we said to Elind with the pets was “gentle,” and she knows that that means to pet the animals softly. Now she has moved on to hugs and kisses on the top of their head.
Nurturing is something that is taught, and having pets is a great tool to help teach your child this. Caring for pets helps kids learn how to be there for loved ones, too. Our pets have helped facilitate a lesson that is very dear to me: that we need our pets just as much as they need us and we need to be there for them just as much as they are there for us.
One really awesome benefit to having pets is your child will be less likely to develop allergies — to pets and to other stimuli. People often assume that in order to prevent allergies or if their child is at risk for allergies that it is best to keep their child away from pets, but the opposite is true. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that early exposure to pets helps your child’s immune development and prevents the likelihood of allergic diseases. And a study at the Medical College of Georgia found that children exposed to two or more dogs or cats are less likely to develop common indoor and outdoor allergies.
Mental and Physical Health
One of the biggest reasons I love having pets for our children and for ourselves is they have been completely invaluable for everyone’s overall health.
Those suffering from high blood pressure can directly benefit from having pets. When you stroke a dog, or a cat (or any animal for that matter), it’s relaxing, which helps to lower your heart rate and your blood pressures. Pet owners also suffer fewer headaches and colds. Researchers at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from fewer outbursts when they have a pet in the home. Pets are calming to us, not just as our furry companions but as our friends.
I have personally experienced the psychological benefits of having pets. When it’s a bad day or even a good day and I’m exhausted, these beautiful animals calm me in a way I could never describe. They are there without really asking for anything in return. Pets can provide emotional support to those suffering from psychiatric issues, such as PTSD. And researchers from Miami University and Saint Louis University found that pet owners tend to be less lonely and have higher self-esteem. Pets provide positive interaction that doesn’t require verbal communication, and they fulfill a basic need for touch which we all have.
Cherishing Our Pets
One thing that nags at me is that one day we won’t have our pets anymore. We’ll have to say goodbye, long before we want to. While that’s not easy, we take the time to cherish these beauties while we have them. I don’t think we could possibly equal how much they give to us because the love is so abundant.
Overall, pet ownership isn’t just beneficial for just your kids. It’s beneficial for everyone. They bring a certain amount of joy to our lives that supersedes anything I could ever explain. I’m writing this in bed with two of our furbabies next to me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For more on the benefits of raising children with pets — or how to choose the right pet for your family — check out this piece from Parents magazine.