Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
In addition to the day-to-day fun of having pets and kids, our furry friends can offer some important life lessons for children. My daughter is only 20-months-old, but she has already learned quite a bit from our two dogs. We started with a lesson on how to pet the dogs gently, which is still a challenge when my daughter is excited. When she started walking, she would sometimes step on a paw or a tail or even attempt to use our pets as a step when they were lying down. We taught her that she needs to walk around them if they are in her way, which is often since we live in a one bedroom apartment. I love watching her when she carefully steps around a paw or tail.
We’re also teaching her that animals have feelings, too. If she plows into one of our dogs with her toy baby stroller and he ends up in the corner, we tell her he feels scared and hurt. If the dogs run to get their leash on for a walk, we explain that they are excited. When her aunt’s cat scampers away when my daughter shrieks with excitement, I explain that we should be quiet and gentle with the cat or she’ll feel scared.
My daughter likes to give the dogs instructions: To sit here or there, to go up on the bed or the couch, or to go in her tunnel. They don't typically listen to her, and we'll sometimes translate her requests or commands to the dogs. And she has learned that sometimes the dogs will do what she wants them to, but not every time, and that's okay. I recently observed her telling a squirrel at the playground to “sit," so she's still on the learning curve.
I look forward to her being able to play fetch with the dogs and cuddle with them in bed. We’ll teach her why our family doesn’t eat animals, why it’s important to adopt a pet and why it’s critical to show compassion for everyone, including animals. One of the inevitable life lessons that pets teach children is how death is a part of life. I hope we don’t have to teach her that lesson for quite some time. But I know it will be an important part of her development—and mine, too.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
I love seeing first day of school photographs on Facebook. The pictures remind me of my own two children when, as little kids, they were eager to pose in brand new shorts or a favorite dress. When they grew into preteens, smiles faded to smirks and, with older high schoolers, I was lucky to snap a quick photo before they jumped behind the wheel of the car to drive themselves. Now in albums, my favorite first day shots are those where our family dogs lean into the children. Our kids’ smiles are genuine and broad, showing their happiness that the pups were included in the send off.
This fall, our back to school photo tradition changed. No longer do we have a child to line up in front of fading summer roses or at the school bus stop. Instead, we watched our youngest say a tearful goodbye to her dog, Moose, before she left home to move into her freshman dorm. For our family and others with college kids, witnessing the final hugs between a young adult and her childhood pal is painful. New college students realize that they’ll no longer share a home with their confidant, their playmate and study buddy. They may worry about the health of an aging dog and wonder about his life expectancy.
And as for the dogs left behind? It’s common for pets to exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety as their human companions prepare to leave home and depart, as well as in the case of the sudden absence of a resident family member. Dogs with separation anxiety may become depressed and disruptive when left alone.
While I miss our daughter terribly and am trying not to fret about her well-being on campus, I also want to be vigilant about Moose in case he becomes anxious and sad. Warning signs include pacing, whining or barking, chewing furniture or other items, attempting to escape or “having an accident” inside the home. The ASPCA provides a list of tips for helping pets overcome separation anxiety.
Although I no longer have kids under roof to parent, my “mothering” responsibilities for our pups goes on. From the vantage of my empty nest, I have never been more grateful for the presence of our dogs!
Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
I’ve seen multiple studies that suggest having a dog in the home can decrease your child's chances of developing allergies later in life and can boost your child's immune system as they receive exposure to dirt and germs brought in from outdoors. So far, my 20-month-old daughter has not developed any allergies, which was (irrationally) my worst fear when I was pregnant. I can also attest that she has been exposed to a LOT of germs.
We have two shedding dogs, and you never realize just how much fur is in your home until you have a crawling child. Our crawling daughter’s pants used to become covered in fur. Once she even picked up a ball of fur from the floor and put it in her mouth. Luckily, she learned her lesson and only did that once. There's fur in her toy boxes, fur in her crib, fur in her potty and she's probably consumed her fair share of fur as well (fur ball eating not withstanding). I was so excited when she learned to walk.
When we first started feeding her solid foods in the high chair, our dogs quickly learned that getting less attention from us while getting poked by her was all worth it because of what transpired in the process—they quickly snatched up food items our daughter dropped. The dogs worshipped the chair—one dog would even wait under it when she wasn’t in it (just in case). We actually had to reduce our dogs’ food portions because of all the extra food our daughter tossed on the floor.
We’ve worked on getting her to hand the food to mommy or daddy if she doesn’t want it, or leave it on her plate instead of throwing it on the ground. Miraculously, when we ate in a different spot with no dogs present, a much smaller portion of food landed on the floor.
The first time she had one dog lick the food off her hand while she ate, I jumped up and got a baby wipe to wash off her hand before she continued eating. Now, I occasionally ask, “Do you want Dexter to clean your hand?” Judge me all you want—my daughter is going to have a dynamite immune system, as well as a healthy love for animals.
Guest blog by Alicia Meulensteen, a mom of two who works in Development at the ASPCA.
Just when you think you’re getting a handle on the whole baby thing, your little ones change the game as they become mobile.
A crawling, standing and cruising baby turns formerly harmless items into hazards. Children have an uncanny ability to find things you didn’t even know were on the floor—and shove them into their mouths. Pet toys, cat hair and other odds and ends became increasingly difficult to keep away from our little ones.
Then there was the litter box. I could tolerate my children eating a bit of sand at the playground, or sampling the odd fistful of cat hair (it builds immunity, right?), but the thought of baby’s hands anywhere near a litter box was too much. Our family lives in an apartment, so we don’t have the option of putting the box in the basement or elsewhere—we needed to be a bit more creative.
Our solution was probably best summed up as “out of sight, out of mind,” and it was quite effective. While renovating our apartment, we created a special space within a low cabinet for the litter box. Pointing away from the living room, you don’t know it’s there unless you see a cat entering or exiting. The box is located near our little “mud” area where we also keep shoes, coats and the stroller. We initially put up a baby gate to keep the whole area out of bounds to our toddler, and the cat quickly learned how to get around the gate when she needed access to the box. I’ve seen other variations of this in catalogs: litter boxes disguised as end tables, for example, that keep most of the box covered so access from most sides is limited. Some even have pet doors to cover the entrance.
As my son got older, we removed the gate but kept a watchful eye on him. We explained that the litter box is the cat’s potty to help him learn that it is definitely not a sandbox. So far, so good.
Do you share a small space with kids and pets? If so, how do you handle the challenge of keeping kids away from your pets’…personal items? Share your experiences in the comments.
Guest blogger Lauren Martin lives in New York with her husband, three cats, one bunny, one son and one daughter on the way. Lauren works in the Legal Department for the ASPCA, has published articles on animal law and taught animal law at St. John’s University School of Law.
Many people would agree that children’s lives are enriched through positive relationships with animals. Living with my three cats and rabbit has taught my son gentleness, patience and appreciation for the love and fun that animals bring to our lives. When I was pregnant with my son, I had anticipated that he would learn these lessons, but what I hadn’t foreseen was that my animals’ lives would be enhanced as well.
For the first few months of his life, my son slept in a bassinet in my room. Each night, I was amused and touched when my bunny would settle down beside my son’s bassinet and go to sleep. Once my son moved into his own room and slept in his crib, I would often find my bunny standing guard outside my son’s room—she weighs four pounds and is quite intimidating. Should I dare to let the baby cry for more than a few seconds, I will inevitably find my bunny hopping over to me with her ears on alert giving me a look that says, “Mom, we have to take care of the baby!”
My cats have also enjoyed having a little one in the home, and they have formed a special bond with him. Unfortunately, my cat, Cosette, has been very ill battling kidney disease. At a recent visit to the veterinarian, she was feeling particularly sick and seemed very despondent. At the veterinarian’s office she tends to stay in her carrier or look to me for comfort, but on that day, she walked out of her carrier and over to my 18-month-old son and put her head in his lap. In that moment, I realized that my son had really touched the heart of this very shy and sensitive cat who looked for him in her moment of great need.
As my son continues to mature and as I get ready to introduce a new daughter to our family, I cannot wait to see these relationships develop. I can only hope that the love that they give to one another continues to grow and that they are better people and animals for having each other in their lives.