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September 01, 1989 - Image 78

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-01

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• -


The Perfect Pet



Special to The Jewish News

oes your family
seem to share
very few inter-
ests? Are you
concerned that
your "latchkey" child suffers
from severe loneliness? Does
your adolescent seem to be
keeping all his worries to
himself? Is a crisis such as a
divorce deeply troubling fami-
ly members?
Maybe it's not family thera-
py you should seek out; per-
haps you should just get a pet.
It has long been thought
that pets help teach children
a sense of responsibility —
which, in fact, they do, de-
pending on how much the
child interacts with the pet —
walking it, feeding it, train-
ing it.
But the benefits of pet
ownership go beyond an edu-
cation in responsibility, no
matter what else is going on
in your life.
Experts are particularly ex-
cited by the benefits of pet
ownership for adolescents;
' one study, conducted by the
Center for the Interaction of
Animals and Society at the
University of Pennsylvania,
found that more than 70 per-
cent of adolescents confide in
their pets (as compared with
48 percent of adults).
Some researchers argue
that pet ownership can play a
definite role in child develop-
ment. A European study, for
instance, found that children
who are raised with animals
learn non-verbal communica-


Finding the right pet for your child and
family situation is the key
to many years of happiness.

tion skills better than
children who don't have pets.
Underlying all the subtle
benefits, however, may be the
simple fact that you can touch
and talk to your pet, accor-
ding to Alan Beck, director of
the Center for the Interaction
of Animals and Society. The
Center's many studies have
found that people describe
their animals as if they were
human and that pets often
play family-like roles.
In fact, pets tend to join a
family as a family grows. Dog
ownership, for instance, in.-
creases dramatically when
there's a child older than 6 in
a family.
"My personal bias is that
contact with living systems in
general is important for peo-
ple, whether you have a pet or
go to the zoo or go camping,"
says Beck.

When To Adopt

Even with all the benefits of
pet ownership, the general
recommendation is that most
families shouldn't adopt an
active pet, such as a cat or
dog, until the youngest child
is at least 6 years old. Very
young children sometimes
torment animals, and the pet
is going to defend itself.
Young animals, especially
puppies, are more difficult to

integrate into family life than
older animals. Puppies are a
tremendous commitment.
They have-to be fed every four
hours and it takes as long as
two months to train them.
No matter what their age,
pets are not for everybody.

Pets help teach
children a sense of

They're not for families in
which parents don't want a
pet but are getting one to
keep the kids occupied. And
they're not for families in
which the parents don't like
animals, but buy one as a tool
to teach responsibility.


There are a couple of things
a parent should consider
before bringing a pet home.
The biggest problem is the
wrong attitude about who
cares for the pet. Having a pet
is a group effort. Often, the
person who gets home first, or
who's home most, is the per-
son who takes care of the pet
the most.

Another trouble area is the
possibility of dog bites. Accor-
ding to Beck, 20 percent of
children under 17 are bitten

by dogs each year. In most
cases, however, dog bites are
not severe injuries, he says.
Disease is another area for
concern. Ringworm and
mange, both animal diseases,
can be contagious to humans.
But both conditions should be
obvious to an owner long
before the diseases get so bad
that they are transferred to
Supervision is critical in
preventing communication of
animal diseases to humans.
"With the tremendous in-
timacy in pet-people relation-
ships, you have to watch your
kids and never leave a very
young child alone with an
animal," Beck says.
Most animal experts recom-
mend animal shelters,
veterinary hospitals and
responsible professional
breeders as the best sources
for pets. You are sometimes
saving an animal from being
destroyed and an animal's
health and temperament will
have been checked before it is
put up for adoption.
People have definite prefer-
ences when it comes to choos-
ing pets. "There's a real
difference in kids' prefer-
ences," says Beck. "At
adolescence, boys prefer dogs
and girls prefer cats or
Even so, these preferences
should be tempered by the

knowledge of how that pet fits
into different lifestyles.

Picking One

Cats have replaced dogs
as the most popular pet in
America, probably because
their independence fits in
with today's busy lifestyle.
Although sometimes charac-
terized as solitary, standoffish
creatures who don't like affec-
tion and don't "need"
humans, this independence
makes them terrific pets for
families in which someone
isn't home all the time. Cats
don't have to be walked, and
they can eat dry food that's
been left out for days. And
since most cats sleep at least
60 percent of the time, you
shouldn't worry that your pet
is lonely while your're away.
Kittens are adorable, but
older cats are preferable in
homes with young children.
Because small children tend
to pick up things and drop
them, it's a good idea to start
them off with an older cat.
Although not fully noctur-
nal, many cats tend to prowl
at night, especially if a home
is quiet during the day, and
they can rest for uninter-
rupted periods of time.

Dogs are the most social of
all house pets and enjoy
human companionship. They
are generally happy to learn
obedience training, for in-
stance, because they enjoy
pleasing their owners.
On the negative side, dogs
are a greater responsibility
than cats. They need to be
walked and fed, needs that re-

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