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Norwich Bulletin - 8/1/2004

Puppies, Kittens And Kids

I hate sad phone calls and when I heard the tone of voice that my favorite vet tech was using, I knew the news was not going to be good. As I listened to her message, I became even more distressed because I had gone against my personal beliefs for a friend and the result was a tragedy.

A close friend called me because she knew that I do not adopt out kittens to people with children under five. She assured me that her best friend had the most gentle, wonderful three year old little boy and they would be perfect pet owners. Would I please make an exception based on her recommendation and adopt out a kitten to them.

I reluctantly agreed. Three days later the call comes in from the vet that the kitten is there dead, under unusual circumstances. The little boy, telling the people that he can't make the kitty go "meow, meow" anymore by hugging him. As the tears welled up in my eyes, I made a decision to stick to my criteria from then on, regardless of who asked.

The whole puppy/kitten/kid thing is overrated. Children are rough by nature, even when they are trying to be gentle. There's hair pulling, jumping, throwing, hitting, screaming - all types of behavior that just does not go along with a baby animal.

While I believe children need animals in their lives, I also believe that the adoption needs to be in the best interest of the animal and not just the family. For instance, I oftentimes get what I call a kid's cat. About a year old, playful, friendly, lively - in fact, the cat is very much like a little kid - this is a perfect pet for families with young children.

The cat is old enough to get away from unwanted child behavior, old enough to bite or scratch if the child is too rough, and yet young enough to enjoy a good playtime with the little ones.

Dogs are a little harder to judge. You need to know the background of the animal and make sure they tolerate children. I usually suggest a six month old dog - still young and puppylike but, again, old enough to be able to deal with the over exuberance that some children exhibit when they get excited.

We start our children's lives by filling their rooms and playtime with images of animals - cute puppies and kittens on the wall, stuffed bunnies and cows to play with, books filled with baby animals, and so on. And then its time for the real thing - and every parent thinks they know what the real thing should be - a cute eight week old puppy or kitten.

But it isn't that easy when getting your pet from a local animal shelter. Most shelters will not adopt out baby animals to families with toddlers. I have had numerous calls in which I have been referred to by many names I prefer not to share with my readers, but I stand fast on my decisions.

Those families that have allowed me to choose a young adult kid's cat, have come back to me and admitted that it was the best choice for the family. And that makes a successful adoption all the way around.

Now, it's different when the animal is already in the home before the child arrives. I never advocate giving up your pet because you are having a baby. While there are some challenges, most families want to make it work out for both baby and pet.

For those with dogs, I suggest including the dog in your preparations for the nursery. After the baby is born, while you are in the hospital, have your husband bring home one of the baby's undershirts so your canine can catch the scent of the new family member.

Have the dog in the room with you and the baby - don't chase the dog away from the baby because that could cause resentment. The dog can become the baby's best friend and protector if you introduce them the right way.

As for cats, they will be curious and you certainly should let them meet the baby supervised. I would get a tent top for the crib to keep them out of the baby's sleeping area while the baby is very young, but I would certainly allow them to rub against the baby and "mark" him as their own.

And remember, recent studies reveal that children raised with animals are less likely to develop allergies to animals when they get older.

Children and animals can certainly go together, but not necessarily the way television depicts it. Parents need to think things through carefully when deciding to bring together kids and pets.

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