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When to Get Your Kids a Pet

7 Questions to Ask Yourself and Discuss With Your Family Before Getting a Pet

Quite simply, I am a dog person and always have been. I came home from the hospital and was immediately greeted by my parents' Golden Retriever, Rory, who would soon become my dog, the first in a long line of four-legged friends that my parents, brother, and I loved and treated like equal members of our family.

When I was 26, I got my own pup, a Tibetan Terrier so adorable that I could barely walk him down the street without cars stopping to ask what kind of puppy he was. I named him Gus after my favorite of Cinderella's mice and trained him to let me carry him around on my hip like a young child. (My bug for a baby was obviously rapidly approaching.)

I met my future husband when Gus was a little over a year old, and despite my often-stated prerequisite for a mate that loved dogs, I decided his sensitivity, ambition, and great sense of humor were more important than the fact that he hadn't grown up with dogs and was kind of glad about that fact. He tolerated Gus (a high-maintenance creature that my father nicknamed the "arrogant bastard") because he loved me, but a few years later, when Gus nipped our then 1-year-old daughter in the face for no reason at all, I knew he was going to insist on finding him a new home.

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I had to agree after a quick search of his breed told me that they were not really suitable dogs for families with young children. It's research that I wish I would have done long before I fell in love with his sweet puppy face, but knowing that our house would be home to young kids for quite some time, I knew it was time to prioritize my human children and say goodbye to my four-legged one.

Luckily, my parents, the original dog-lovers, agreed to adopt Gus despite those well-earned nicknames; I got visiting rights; and our family went on, adding a son a few years after my daughter. My kids are each their own people and very different from one another, but there's one trait of mine they've both inherited: they are both obsessed with dogs.

That little nip hasn't stopped my daughter from desperately wanting her own puppy. The kid brainstorms dog names constantly, and the only books she's brought home from her school's library all year are nonfiction primers about different dog breeds. My now-3-year-old son will regularly put his chubby little hands together and say a prayer for "my very own puppy" with heartbreaking earnestness. I'm not sure if the dog gods are listening, but I know my husband isn't.

I have to say that my own desires for a dog have also waned in the years since I've had kids. The prospect of having another body in our house to keep clean, fed, and out of trouble seems daunting. I haven't even managed to potty-train my son yet, so the idea of having two creatures to have to teach the proper place to deposit pee and poop? Not so appealing.

But soon, I know that old urge will come back, I'll rediscover my belief that having a dog is incredibly beneficial for children, and I will join my kids in their puppy petition. My husband is bracing himself for being truly outnumbered.

If you are similarly considering a family dog, here are some questions you might want to discuss with your family.

  1. Are we home often enough to care for a pet and do we have time to train one?
  2. How much home destruction are we prepared for due to shedding, chewing, and accidents?
  3. Are we prepared for the financial realities of owning a dog, including food, medical care, and potential boarding whenever we travel?
  4. Are we ready to take care of a puppy, or would an older dog be better for our lifestyle?
  5. What breed makes the most sense for our family, and are we sure that breed is good with young children?
  6. Have we observed our children with dogs enough to feel comfortable that they are prepared?
  7. Are our children willing and able to help with the responsibilities that come with owning a pet?
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