Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is a blogger at Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified pet therapist in the New York City-metro area. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
Our family is not very crafty, but each year on Valentine’s Day, I gathered doilies, feathers, and pink markers for our daughter (now a college freshman) who loved making her own straight-from-the-heart designs. I remember her as a little girl as she sat at the kitchen table, gluing red hearts and writing out “I Love You” in glitter while Choco, our big chocolate Lab, slept nearby. That special card for her special dog was one she often finished first.
Did Choco notice and fully appreciate the sweet Valentine from the youngest member of his family? What Choco seemed to crave the most were our daughter’s belly-rubs and ear-scratches—tactile reminders of her affection.
Cho was already six years old when our daughter was born. As she grew from a baby to a toddler, he was her gentle playmate. She tumbled over him while he slept and was patient as she dressed him in our family’s wardrobe of hats. While she played, Choco felt her tiny hand on his head and his back, every caress an expression of devotion.
Touch is a vital component to the relationship you have with your dog. This Valentine’s Day, if you are considering buying your pet a squeaky toy or a card, don’t forget to simply give him a hug. While handling is easy and natural for many pets, for others there can be some hesitancy. Visit the ASPCA’s Pet Care section for tips if your dog resists touch.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blogGrown and Flown.
As new parents, even during the first months of our sleep-deprived state, we knew we wanted another baby and dreamed about our tiny son having a little brother or sister. Years later, when our family included a son, a daughter and a seven-year-old chocolate Labrador named Choco, we welcomed a new Lab puppy. Our family now numbered six!
Most of the time, Choco seemed delighted with his new playmate, Argus. When they romped around the backyard together, our older dog resembled his younger self. Meanwhile, the puppy spent many happy afternoons alternating between chewing on and napping next to his big buddy.
Are you considering bringing home a second dog? Here are a few things to think about first:
1. Is your family ready? Are your children at an age where they can interact with a dog? Will they be able to help with feeding, walks for one or both dogs and simple lessons of sit-stay-down for the dog? Are you committed to housebreaking and/or training a new canine friend?
2. Is your resident dog ready? If your dog has mastered basic obedience training, it may be easier to introduce a second dog to your family. If you choose to bring home a puppy, he or she may benefit from learning from your older, resident dog.
3. Are you prepared for the additional cost? Covering the cost for twice the food, vet bills, medicine, insurance (if you choose to insure your dogs), toys and other pet care supplies adds up quickly.
4. Have you considered factors like age, size and temperament of your resident dog? When you are out walking your dog or, if you take him to a dog park, how does he react to other dogs? Does he tend to dominate or is he easy-going? Is he playful and good natured with all other dogs, or does he seems to do better with those who are similar in size?
5. Have you planned for the introduction? When we brought Argus home, we brought Choco out to meet him in a neutral place and had one adult supervise each dog. We made sure to praise both dogs during the introductions, and provided separate food dishes and water bowls for Choco and Argus. As the dogs became used to each other, we enjoyed doing fun things together such as playtime in the backyard and taking walks around the neighborhood.
We loved watching our children and dogs grow up together and, after Choco passed away, we eventually got a second dog to spend time with Argus. I cannot imagine our household without canine companionship. But the decision to bring home a second pet is a serious one, and should not be done on a whim. Carefully consider your second-dog readiness, plan for the inevitable adjustment period, and look forward to many happy days to come—both for your dogs and for the rest of your household.
Joel Schwartzberg is a father and cat-rescuer from Chatham, New Jersey. A nationally-published author and essayist, Joel works in executive communications for the ASPCA. Learn more about his personal writing at joelschwartzberg.net.
While I hope that trip influences their decisions and someday activates their personal interest in animal advocacy, I realized the experience was only half of the lesson. The other half happens at the animal shelter or adoption site itself.
All too often, when kids visit an animal shelter, they cuddle the purring cats and friendly dogs but leave with little education about the true and important realities that put these animals there in the first place.
My kids and I recently spent a Saturday afternoon at the Verona, New Jersey PetCo, where a staff member from Pound Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) showed us some of the adoptable cats she showcases every week. We made sure to give equal time to both the kittens and the more veteran cats. Afterward, in the car, I threw out some new discussion topics.
We didn’t concern ourselves with questions like “How cute was that little cat, Billy?” (Answer: terribly cute). Instead, we openly pondered:
What happens to animals who don’t get rescued by local groups or shelters? What happens to animals who are rescued by a shelter but don’t get adopted? Why are there are so many homeless animals across America? How can we reduce this number?
Though my kids and I have visited shelters and adoption events before, their brains were clearly consuming these issues for the first time.
I told them that many animals become homeless when they’re abandoned or lost. Homeless cat populations are increasing in particular because so many aren’t spayed or neutered, which creates more and more litters. Homeless animal populations can be so large that local shelter and rescue groups have trouble adopting them out fast enough, which puts those animals in danger.
Even when animals are rescued and cared for at shelters, I explained, those facilities are not meant to be permanent homes; those animals desperately need to be adopted.
We also talked about euthanasia. My kids are old enough to understand that, in some cases, communities deem it necessary to put animals to sleep when there’s no other way to responsibly and humanely care for them. Nobody wants to kill animals, but it’s a reflection of how big this problem is.
“That’s why adopting save lives,” I said.
These can be difficult discussions to have with your children. It’s easy to talk about pets as if they’re all as happy and carefree as the beloved dogs and cats in our homes. However, kids as young as eight can not only process real news, but act on it. With more than 7.5 million companion animals entering shelters each year, our kids need to see adoptable dogs and cats not just as cuddly pets, but as desperate animals who need our help.
Once they do, maybe they’ll be moved to donate needed supplies –such as food, newspaper, kitty litter and towels—to their local shelters, host fundraisers at school, or go even further, like these creative kids did.
When they grow up, we hope they’ll be more likely to adopt their own animals; to sterilize, microchip, and put I.D. tags on them; to provide important socialization and enrichment; and even to volunteer at shelters and help care for feral cat colonies.
However families choose to help, it all starts with teaching kids to be aware—not just of the cute, yearning animals before us, but of the tragic peril that too often befalls them.
Keri Matthews, a mom of two, has worked in the ASPCA’s licensing department for more than five years. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Tom, her children, Gabriella and Tommy, and their Greyhound, Clyde.
The New Year is a great time to reflect and plan what we would like to accomplish for our pets and kids. Here are just a few goals my family set for the New Year:
We made a resolution to take more walks with our 12-year-old senior pup, Clyde. Our family really enjoys this time together, and it really connects us! We are also planning to take Clyde to the new dog park which opened last year in our town. I think this will be a wonderful learning experience for the kids, as they will see Clyde playing with his friends--some old and some new. And when you think about it, all the same sort of play date rules apply for pets as they do for kids: sharing space, taking turns and welcoming others into the group to play. Visit the ASPCA’s Pet Care section to learn more on how to get the most of your visit to the dog park.
We are also going to start taking Gabriella to volunteer at our local library. Recently, opportunities have opened up for kids to read to shelter dogs. I believe this experience will be extremely fun and rewarding for her and the dogs we get matched up with!
Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a year of celebrating and strengthening that special bond we cherish with our pets and kids.
Our Lab mix, Django, likes to be with us. When we are in the living room, she’ll jump up next to one of us and snuggle on the couch. At night, she sleeps soundly in our bed, or sometimes in one of the kids’ beds. When we hang out in the yard, she’s there, too. She is our fourth child. Wherever we go, she goes, and it’s usually not a problem—except when she is underfoot while I’m cooking, hoping to catch a scrap or two that falls to the floor. When we are in the kitchen, she really has nowhere to go.
In the beginning, she’d try to find a spot on the floor, but our kitchen is small and when I’m preparing meals and the kids are in and out, there’s not a lot of free space for her. So I guess out of (her) necessity, she began to take a seat at the table…literally.
One day, I noticed that she was trying to get all of her body up onto one of the kitchen chairs. It was a slow process, and she tried her best to stay there as her hind legs and tail threatened to cause her to slide off. It was a sight to behold, and I called in my kids and husband to come see exactly what she was doing. Over time, she perfected the process and now she is a pro. In fact, when one of us gets up from the table to get an extra fork or drink, she takes our seat!
It’s one thing when a small dog will jump up and rest on a chair, but it’s a whole other experience when a big sloppy pup is trying to sit comfortably on a straight-backed chair. Django has always acted human in her own way, so it’s not a particularly big stretch to think she might want a chair of her own.