Can kids look after pets well?

Terriers are like oven-warmed cushions or hot water bottles.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is all about kids and animals with an extra focus on children with special needs… For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

Baby it’s cold outside
My favourite joke is from an ancient copy of Country Life I read waiting for the dentist, a long time ago. It depicts a posh tweedy woman looking at her guest room and saying “It’s so cold I put another dog on the bed.” As you can see from the photo, my dog Vulcan – with his friend Daisy – understand their role as eiderdowns and were quick to cuddle up to me on the sofa. Just like holding a new born it is hard – pointless even – to move when a terrier insists that they will be your hot water bottle. I think the Country Life cartoonist may have it spot on as the Royal Household’s website seems to have more info about the Queen and dogs, than anything else. Turns out she has a dog with the same name as our dog, Vulcan. To think that I thought Pete was naming the dog after Mr Spock in Star Trek, but it turns out he’s a closet Royalist. Here are the details:

“For her eighteenth birthday, The Queen was given a Corgi named Susan from whom numerous successive dogs were bred. Some Corgis were mated with dachsunds (most notably Pipkin, who belonged to Princess Margaret) to create ‘Dorgis’.

At present, The Queen owns three Corgis: Monty, Willow and Holly and three Dorgis: Cider, Candy and Vulcan.”

A dog may not be for Christmas, but clearly they can be for birthdays or because your home has a dog-shaped hole in it.

What dog to get
Dogs are also a top choice for children with special needs. The families I know who have got a dog often decided to do so because their child was frightened by dogs. In each case bringing a dog home has been a huge success, although it’s mum or dad who’s had to do the looking after. And with a dog this doesn’t just mean cuddling on the sofa or walkies. There’s also flea checking, grooming, and teeth cleaning! It’s a lot of extra work, some of which you wouldn’t want any child to do (eg, poo-picking).

Alex, mum of two children and two labradors (let’s hope she forgives me for calling her “bitch”) has this to say about introducing a dog into your family –

“We had been thinking about getting a dog for a while but the issues of what to do with the dog when we wanted to go on holiday kept putting us off. Dariusz, now 14, was pretty dog phobic and we were worried how he might adapt to having a dog at home.
My husband Mark was adamant that he did not want to get “a Paris Hilton dog’ ie a small bijou one. A big dog was not an option (no space at home!)  so we were thinking of a spaniel type dog. Always a pup rather than a rescue dog ,as a pup would come to us with no history and rescue dogs do come with issues. So after my mum’s funeral we had a week in Dorset and then on the way back to London we stopped off at a friend’s house in Somerset. I was looking in the pet section of the Blackmore Vale mag and rang the second advert which was for lab pups as they were only 10 mins drive away. We went to have a look at the only pup (Lucy) that was left for sale and the rest is history as they say.
We did not conciously set out to get a lab we just loved Lucy when we saw her. We also met Lucy’s mum and saw that she was a nice calm friendly dog. Lucy is quite small for a lab as she is from a working strain and these tend to be leaner and not so broad and squat as regular labs.
So the choice of breed was determined by size and temperament. Labs have got a good reputation as family dogs so that was reassuring for us to know that she would get along with Dariusz. When Lucy arrived she was 8 weeks old and Dariusz was absolutely fine with her. He had met her before we got her so he knew that she was coming and he was very excited. There was lots of biting and scratching as there is with new pups but the memory of this soon goes once the pup grows out of these habits.
Dariusz is very interested in Lucy’s social life ie the dogs she meets in our local park. We are lucky as there is a real dog walking community and dog walkers are on the whole very friendly and we tend to walk around in 2’s or 3s so there are packs of dogs and dog owners walking around together. We have made friends with other dog owners particularly one family with a dog similar in age to Lucy.
Having  dogs has been very beneficial to Dariusz. He loves stroking and cuddling our two dogs (we have a younger black Labrador now too) although he cannot cope with scooping up the dog mess. He loves going out with them and seeing them play with other dogs. So far we have not had any bad experiences with nasty dogs attacking our dogs but I guess that could always happen.
I would advise families thinking about getting a dog to think very carefully about the breed and their own circumstances. There are breeds that do not need much exercise like miniature Schnauzers, spaniels are quite nervy and springers especially need a lot of exercise. Always go and see the dog and the mum if getting a pup.
I cannot think of any special advice for families that have got special needs kids other than what you would normally think about when deciding whether or not to get a dog. There is a dog show in November at Earls Court which is a good place to go to if you are thinking about getting a dog but are unsure what breed to go for.They have lots of breeds on display and owners are on hand to give you the pros and cons of each breed.
There is also www.dogsforthedisabled.com which is worth looking at.
Pigs in blankets
I’ve been following a fabulous blog called Beneath the Rowan Tree. The American writer, and craft guru, has just brought two guinea pigs into her home “for the children”. Curiously she’s using cut-to-fit fleece for her guinea pigs bedding. I think you shake off the poos (into the compost) and then hand or machine wash the fleece (just like a cloth nappy) when the wee-smell builds up. Maybe every week, perhaps more often. If you are interested have a look here.

Riding for the disabled
If you’ve got children embarking on the Duke of Edinburgh award, they have to do a stint of volunteering. One idea for pet lovers might be to give Riding for the Disabled a go. It’s meant to be especially good if you already like horses and know how to handle them – there’s usually enough people to support the child, not so many to be good leaders. If you go to this website and tap in your postcode loads of groups spring up. Considering I live in central London it’s amazing to know there are 15 groups within reach (by tube).

Over to you
I know animals are expensive, often caged, definitely smelly and sometimes gross (my dog really can be). But they are also lovely to have around, apparently reduce stress and can give children practical caring skills. What’s not to like?

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2 Comments on “Can kids look after pets well?”

  1. Nicky Says:

    Found this topic really interesting. We have progressed from a hamster to 3 guinea pigs and are now talking about a dog. My 10 yr old son has been campaigning long and hard for a dog and has coped really well with being fobbed off with the smaller animals! I’ve never wanted a dog but my 10 yr old has been brilliant with the guinea pigs – which frankly are a bit dull for a lively boy! Mind still not completely made up but your blog has certainly helped his cause!

    • homemadekids Says:

      HI Nicky, i told my daughters they’d have to do all the research and that gave a delay of at least a year. In truth we parents do a lot more of the dog care and walks. For another interesting pet (but with a short life) you might consider pet mice – they are more exciting possibly than the guinea pigs but not such a responsibility as a dog. Glad to help his cause though! Nicola


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