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The Family Pet: To Have or Have Not?

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Growing up, we always had pets. There was Peppery the Tomcat who enjoyed knocking up the neighborhood felines and who, despite his amorous inclinations, was a fighter not a lover (I had the battle wounds to prove it). Then there was my beloved Lacey who I trained for the Bichon Frise Summer Olympics against her cousin, Missy. One day on a run, portly Lacey faked an injury.

I had no idea dogs even knew how to do that.

I loved and cared for my pets even when they did not love me back. I always assumed when I had a family of my own, pets would become a part of our life.

Except they’re not.

My 4-year-old daughter Hadley adores animals and constantly begs us for a pet. I think if we already had one when we became parents, it would be different. But my husband issued a decree we would not get one until “everyone in this house is potty trained.” At the time, there was only him, my daughter and me.

Do you think he was trying to tell me something?

I have to admit I agree with him. Life is just so busy with two young children that the thought of taking care of an animal does not appeal to me. I would love to take a dog out hiking and I would certainly appreciate the companionship. But then I remember the clean-up, training, vet bills and vacation hassles.

Sure, we could get a low-maintenance animal like a hamster or a fish. But in my opinion, the point of having a pet is to interact with them. And somehow removing them belly-up from the fish tank is not my idea of interaction. Nor is consorting with rodents.

I will likely not always feel this way. And rest assured, when everyone is potty trained my daughter will hold us to our word.

Unless I can buy some time by faking a few accidents of my own.

Do you have a pet? Is he/she a valued part of your family? What memories to you have of your animals as a child?

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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  • comment avatar Tanya November 10, 2008

    We had to put our dog down at the end of September – it was hard for all of us. BUT, I am not ready to get another pet. I don’t have to clean up outside after him anymore, we’re no longer constantly covered in dog hair, and I don’t have to worry about putting Noah on the floor.

    I miss Pooh Bear terribly but right now we’re not ready for another dog. Maybe once the boys get older – we’ll see.

  • comment avatar Sketchy November 10, 2008

    I always thought I’d have dogs. But I have cats. My husband is a cat person. A house is not a home without a cat…to him.

    To me, I appreciate that he cleans the litter boxes and they are independent enough that you can go away for a few days and just leave out extra food for them.

    But still I keep thinking it’s weird not to have a dog. I love dogs.

  • comment avatar chellie November 10, 2008

    I always had pets growing up and loved them, but also didn’t have to be the main caretaker of them. We’ve tried having a Bichon Frise and it didn’t last too long. We have begun to think we are just not cut out for pets… no one seems interested in exhausting their efforts to properly care for and interact with one.
    I agree on a fish or rodent. no thanks. Maybe down the road we’ll consider a dog or cat… but not for awhile.

  • comment avatar Monica November 10, 2008

    Two dogs and a cat. I won’t mention the hamster. I love my dogs I really do. My son and husband really wanted dogs and so I finally gave in. They take care of the dogs and I just play with them. I must say dogs are great vacuum cleaners in the kitchen. We have really great neighbors who come over and feed our dogs when we travel. It works out great for us.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 10, 2008

    What? I bichon frise that didn’t last too long? That was our favorite pet growing up!

    And Monica–you are one of the lucky ones who doesn ot have to do all the work and clean-up. I think most of us would want pets if that was what it entailed. Good for you!

  • comment avatar Kagey November 10, 2008

    We have a dog now, but she predates the kids. She seemed to know when I was pregnant, and liked to comfort me in the bathroom while I had morning sickness.
    I had the weirdest thought when I was pregnant with my first – that the dog’s death might be his first experience with death. I just hope it doesn’t happen for awhile.
    Our wonderful mutt doesn’t get the attention she used to, but she is great with the kids and I’m trying to figure out a way to fit walks in again.

  • comment avatar Stephanie November 10, 2008

    I love dogs. Growing up we had a little dog that slept at the foot of my bed and I loved her. I always thought I would have a nice big dog to take running and hiking and camping. But I’m with you. Two small children to take care of is enough right now. I would go for a cat, but my mom is deathly allergic and would take personal offense if we had one. Since she’s one of my main baby sitters, no cat.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 10, 2008

    It’s amazing how things change once we have kids, isn’t it?

  • comment avatar One Mom's Opinion November 10, 2008

    We have a dog, a yellow lab. She’s six now. Hubby and I love dogs, but decided when this one is gone–we’re probably done.

    We both love dogs and we both always had dogs as kids.

    We can never go out of town on short notice because of all the planning involved in putting her in the kennel and keeping her shots up to date. The constant upkeep of the dog hair and the yard is the main reason.

    Cotton is our second dog. The previous dog (that predated our child) we had to put down as she bite Harley. It wasn’t her fault, it was early in the morning and Harley bothered her. She wasn’t awake, wasn’t aware of what she did, but it was bad and could have been horrible given her breed, an Akita.

    Kita, our Akita was a big part of our family. Cotton is too, but it’s not quite the same. She’s the guys dog. I love her, but I’m not as attached to her like I was with Kita.

    Everyone wants a pet, but the kids rarely if never want to participate in the care and upkeep of the pets. Pets are a great deal of work and it’s another expense.

  • comment avatar Jen November 10, 2008

    Two cats, which we did have for many years prior to having a child, and a dog, which we got when my daughter was 3. Because of my PCOS, it’s looking increasingly like she’ll be an only, and that was one reason we got the dog. The others were more important, I think: I wanted something to walk and hike with, something that would be more affectionate than the cats (though I adore them), and I wanted my daughter to have the experience of growing up with a pet–a young one that would play with her and be a companion and one she could help take care of (and thus learn compassion and responsibility). Even though she and I both are allergic to dogs (though not to ours–we got a soft-coated wheaten terrier), it was an excellent decision and I’ve never regretted it.

  • comment avatar Scattered Mom November 10, 2008

    We’ve had two hamsters in the past few years. We really enjoyed both of them, but I don’t think that hamsters really are for little kids. They are easily injured, some can be a bit finicky, and they don’t live long. We had a great time with ours and still plan to get another one, but Jake is almost 13 so for him, it works. I think the best idea is to look at what is best for your family and go with that.

    Maybe try taking care of a friend’s dog or cat and see how it goes. If I weren’t so allergic to cats, I would get one tomorrow.

  • comment avatar Erin November 10, 2008

    we had to find out doggie a new home when petunia came along. but now he is the baby of the family again and loving it. it is very nice to not pick up poo and think about exercising him every day of course we miss the companionship too.

  • comment avatar Awesome Mom November 10, 2008

    We are still mulling it over and heming and hawing. We were going to get a cat but then it turned out that we would not be here as long as we thought we would so we drug our feet, not wanting the hassle of moving a pet. Now the talk has turned to getting a small dog (full grown no puppies, I am not totally insane) one we move again. I am mildly allergic to cats (even though I love them and would totally put up with it) so my husband thought that a dog would be a better fit. I just love animals and would love to add one to our family, but I want to make sure it is the right animal for us.

  • comment avatar GrumpyAngel November 10, 2008

    We have a labrador retriever and he is the baby of the family. I’m like you I grew up with pets. But for the longest time my husband refused to get a dog. When the kids were older (grade school age) then he relented. Now he loves our dog like he is part of the family. I think it’s best to get a pet when the kids are a little older than toddler age so they can help take care of and be responsible for the pet. I also think it has really brought out the affectionate nurturing side of my kids to have our dog to love and take care of. Waiting till the kids are older is a good idea, because you really just need 1 baby per family you know, but do get a pet 🙂 Studies show that people with pets are happier and healthier. It must be the unconditional love one gets from a doggie. And also because one is encouraged to be the kind of person your pet thinks you are :-)It can be a lot of work BUT the return you get for all the work and vet bills is priceless!!!

  • comment avatar Tia Juana November 10, 2008

    Oh honey, three words … DON’T DO IT!!!! For all the reasons you stated. If this wasn’t a public forum I’d give you my phone number and I could give you an earful. But, then again, I don’t know that you can really trust my judgement because I think I may be defined as an animal hater. Yes, they do exist.

    We dont’ have pets…. but something very great for all involved might just be on our horizon….. and it is something that may just redeem me as a mother in my children’s eyes….

    Stay tuned for about 2 weeks, I’m sure I’ll be posting about it – and you can say you knew it first. Sort of.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 10, 2008

    I am starting to gain courage from all these comments. I just didn’t want to be dubbed an animal hater!

  • comment avatar Tina November 10, 2008

    If you have any doubt in getting a pet, don’t do it.

    We have 2 cats and a dog. The cats are mine and have been with me longer than I’ve been married (16 and 12 years old). They were my rock (or maybe my soft blankie) during a divorce and really bad time in my life. I will forever be indebted to their unconditional love and nothing, ever, would make me get rid of them.

    The dog, on the other hand, is the bane of my existence. Not really…he is getting better. My husband is a dog person and had lost his 2 dogs that he brought into our marriage. We agreed that when our kids were 2 & 3 we would get a puppy for them. My thinking – I’ll potty-train the kids and dog at the same time. The dog was the easiest to potty-train but I had no clue about the chewing. He ate a hot tub cover and countless toys. I’m the one who walks him, feeds him and now loves him. My husband hasn’t really warmed up to him from his destructive puppy days (he is a 11/2 years now).

    So wait until you are completely sure to get a pet and just remember that you are most likely going to be its primary caretaker, no matter what anyone else promises.

  • comment avatar Lisa L November 10, 2008

    I agree with Tia Juana. Don’t do it. Unless you can afford a care taker to go with it. Having a pet is like having another child. They require a lot of work. If you are a worn out mom then wait until the kids are a lot bigger and even then really think it over

  • comment avatar Momma, The Casual Perfectionist November 10, 2008

    Growing up, we always had a dog. But, we lived on a farm in the Midwest where dogs were kept outside. There were farm-cats, and they never lived in the house with us either.

    My hubby never had a chance to have a real pet, so after we bought our house, we adopted two kittens from Table Mountain. (They were brothers from the same litter and had never actually been in the shelter, as they were part of the “Kitten Adoption Days” program.)

    We’ve been able to take long trips, because they can just stay here at the house, and we have a friend that pops in every couple days to freshen the water and food.

    They are definitely a part of the family. They just turned 7-yrs old in August. They were 4-yrs old when Claire was born, and they’ve been SO good with her…and vice versa.

    Now that she’s almost 3, part of her “chores” to do around the house is to feed them. With our supervision, she gets their food and fills their bowls, and it’s great watching her take responsibility for them.

    I can’t imagine life without them!

  • comment avatar Momma, The Casual Perfectionist November 10, 2008

    Ack! I always forget my link!

  • comment avatar Tee November 10, 2008

    I volunteer at an animal shelter. I see way too many animals thrown away by families: (1) who didn’t have time for them, (2)whose kid mistreated them and received a nip, (3) because they were never properly socialized and trained and developed behavior problems, (4) because a kid became allergic to them, (5) because an injury or illness was too expensive to treat, (6) because the kids failed to keep to their promise to walk the dog, clean the litter box, etc., (7) because they’re moving to a place that doesn’t allow pets, etc., etc., etc.

    Unless you’re fully prepared to make a lifetime commitment to a pet, please do not get one. You think someone wants that middle-aged cat or dog you want to “get rid of”? Take him to most shelters, and it’s a death sentence; don’t fool yourself that he’ll be “re-homed” and live happily ever after.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 10, 2008

    I appreciate your experiences, everyone. Tee, thank you thank you thank you for this comment! I can’t tell you how many friends (and neighbors) I’ve had who treat their pet like they’re test-driving a car. If they don’t like it? They simply return it. It’s so sad and I agree–having a pet is a responsibility you need to commit to if/when you think you’re ready.

  • comment avatar feefifoto November 10, 2008

    Wait — the Bichon Frise Summer Olympics? That sounds like an oxymoron to me unless the events included things like Shoe Chewing and Toilet Paper Shredding.

  • comment avatar Carol November 10, 2008

    I have had dogs since I can remember. I don’t think there have been too many years of my life that I haven’t had one. It was my intention to not have any for a while but somehow it didn’t work out that way. 🙂

    Right now I have two and REALLY want another one… or two (it’s a sickness but I love my puppies like children). I agree with Tee that you have to be ready for the long term commitment and have a family dynamic that allows for pets. The kids in my house are 15 and up so it’s pretty easy for me to focus on the other “kids”

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 10, 2008

    The Bichon Summer Olympics consisted of no such things. Lacey was lazy and overweight so I decided to whip her into shape. She begrudgingly did it and I dragged her out on a run every day. One time, she started limping. I rushed her back to the car, only to find her racing all around like nothing had happened. She was FAKING!

  • comment avatar Melissa D November 10, 2008

    5 dogs of our own (a 10 year old husky, 10 yr old bull mastiff/lab/goofball, two 6 year old min pins and a 2 year old dobe.. we also have a 13 year old foster min pin.. so that’s 6!).

    I’ve done rescue for years and can say without a shadow of a doubt, WAIT until your family is ready. Go with your gut. The kids need to be old enough to understand being gentle
    and you need to be committed to watching children and dog like a hawk. Also, giving 100% to all the other training that goes along with the little package. When you are ready do your research. Find out what breed suits your family best… from activity level to allergies.

    Be thankful I’m going to avoid ranting about avoiding pet stores and back yard breeders… *shiver* Once you know what you want, find a reputable breeder or breed rescue or shelter (did I mention all but one of our dogs is from rescue or a shelter?). Pure bred doesn’t always mean perfect health and/or temperament and there’s nothing wrong with a great mutt!! :o)

    Sorry.. I just see so many owner surrenders that I’m all about educating. I’ll jump off my soapbox now..

  • comment avatar Karla November 10, 2008

    We have a dog and a cat. Both of which found us. Ches our Choc Lab/Chesapeake cross is 9, and we’ve had her for 2 years. Woobs, is ? and we’ve had her for about a year.

    We’re about to make a 3000 mile move so Woobs has found a new home, but I will miss her so, so much.

    I don’t regret adding either of them to our family, despite the fact that we didn’t go looking for them. For me, their worth the work. 🙂

    Happy Pet Free Living….for now.

  • comment avatar Erin November 12, 2008

    Growing up we had cats, mostly outside cats since my dad didn’t like them inside. I had a few beloved ones that got to live inside with us. I remember a stray lab finding our home. I loved that dog but my parents gave it away. I still have issues over that.

    Then not long after my husband and I were married. We got a little dachshund, two years later we got another one for her to play with. Then my husband found his dream dog a weimariner. Sadly when we had our first daughter the little dogs weren’t fond of her one even tried to bite her for no reason. So we found them wonderful new homes and they are happier now than they would have been with us haivng two little children chasing them.

    Our oldest daughter loves the weimariner she says it’s her dog. I will say that the extra time it takes to take care of a dog is a pain most of the time for me at least. But that dog is so good with our girls, she lets them lay on her, sit on her and never seems annoyed by it. It’s almost like you can hear her doggy thoughts, ” I love my humans.”

    However, this will be our only dog until my girls are old enough to take care of one on their own. I think it is important for children to learn how to take care of animals and that it helps build character.

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine November 12, 2008

    we’re a golden retriever family.
    my husband and i had one before kids were born. he died when our kids were 3 and 1. we didn’t wait too long before getting another but i’ll be honest in saying i wasn’t too involved with the dog seeing that my mother duties were in full swing. she passed aways a couple of years ago and we promptly went out and got another. i realize i enjoy this dog so much more than the last and that is because i have the time to interact and be a dog owner – not just sharing space with one.

    good luck.

  • comment avatar MommyTime November 12, 2008

    Our dog was our first baby. We coddled and trained, house-broke and ran with, scooped up after and canceled our honeymoon to look for (she ran away during the ceremony; she came back a whole week later). The up side is that she is part of the family, and that the dog toddler years were over before the actual children came along. Would I get another dog right now if we lost her? No. I don’t have the stamina for puppy training and the readjustment. But I would do it when the children were a bit older. (although emotionally, I may never be able to have another dog, but if we’d never had one, I would get one when the kids were about 6 and 4 years old.)

  • comment avatar Bebe November 13, 2008

    Hey Amber, just found your blog! I posted about this subject very recently. We finally got everyone in our house potty trained (including the triplets) and decided to take on a cat. Only a 3 months later, we are the proud owner of three kittens–three, not one, three…. Be careful! Apparently it’s not just bunnies that multiply exponentially!!!

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