Do Pets Benefit Children?

child cat 2

This blog was written for The Motherload and first published here.

We have a cat now. I didn’t really want one, but I was outnumbered. I grew up with pets myself, by which I mean I mostly ignored our dogs and begged and begged for a rabbit then promptly lost interest and left my parents to clean out its hutch every weekend for the following five years. I didn’t want the responsibility of a cat on top of everything else I do each day, however I have to admit I didn’t like the idea of our children growing up without a pet.

Aged three, our eldest daughter was animal mad and had always been very gentle and respectful of the animals and pets we came across. Last year I finally agreed that we could get a cat as long as everyone else in the family realised that it would be their cat and that I would not be cleaning out its litter tray or picking dead birds up off the living room floor.

So one January afternoon we bundled into the car and set off for our local animal shelter. The weather didn’t do much to help my mood; the wind screen wipers were on full pelt and we were being desiccated by the car’s heating. We stepped into the reception area which was complete with that unmistakable wet dog smell, and enquired about any young cats that needed re-homing.

We were sent off to the cat area, and told that none of the cats would be suitable for us. What they actually meant was that our children would do little to rehabilitate the already traumatised cats. Instead, we were shown a litter of kittens and their mum, and I watched as my daughters stared at them with love in their eyes. Needless to say they fell completely in love with a little ginger and white kitten, who we brought home with us about four weeks later.

My lack of enthusiasm didn’t last long. Rupert soon found his way into our hearts with his love of cuddles and a purr that could rival the volume of a tractor. The girls are naturally gentle with him; far gentler than they are with each other. Our eldest has learned to think of Rupert’s needs and feelings, for example making sure that we are home in time to give him his tea, or saying sorry if she has done anything that he doesn’t like. She keeps an eye on his food and water bowls, often commenting on how much he has eaten that day and whether he might be hungry. His love appears to be unconditional and they can often be found curled up on the sofa comforting each other. Both girls are also keen to throw him a treat or two if he has been a particularly good boy. It seems that having Rupert is encouraging their development of nurturing behaviour, and helping them to think of the needs of others.

However, as with any pet it has made some aspects of life harder and more complicated. We cannot spontaneously go away for a night or two without making sure we have a friend available to feed Rupert. We now have the added expense of cat food, flea and worm prevention, his vaccinations, pet insurance, and the cost of neutering. He has the cheek not to wipe his feet on the mat when he comes through the cat flap, and so the floor is often decorated with brown splodges. And when he brought his first bird in it looked like the scene of a horror movie.

Rupert has made his way into my heart, and it is hard to imagine life without him. The added complications are worth it for the pleasure he brings.  Despite my initial reservations, watching the girls growing up with a pet is truly wonderful.


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