Growing up, my sister and I had a number of pets. Our first was a parakeet—which really belonged to my sister, as I was a toddler when she got him. She named him Tweetie, and he was amazing. I remember him fondly, beginning from when I was about three years old. My sister let him out of his cage occasionally to fly around her room. One lovely spring day, her window had been opened from the top and, with no screen, Tweetie took to the sky.
Horrified, my sister, with me in tow, ran down the stairs and out the back door calling his name. My parents, who were also fond of this bird, but mainly to placate us, put ads up around the neighborhood and in the newspaper, assuming nothing would come from it. Imagine their surprise when a woman called, saying she thought she might have our parakeet. We had taught him to talk, and he had landed on her shoulder while she was out in her yard talking to a neighbor, and clear as could be Tweetie said, “Whatcha doing?” Fortunately, she also had a parakeet and took him inside and put him into the cage. I am not sure who was more stunned—the woman to have a talking bird land on her, or my parents that he was found. Tweetie lived a long life, keeping us amused with his ever-expanding vocabulary.
Throughout his life, and beyond, a myriad of pets enriched our lives. With each, it was our responsibility to see to their various needs. Sometimes it took a gentle reminder to us to make sure they were fed on time, a cage was cleaned, or their water was fresh. The responsibility of a pet impacts many aspects of your life.
Our daughters never experienced a home without a pet. There have been fish, birds and hamsters at different times, but the one constant is there has always been at least one dog. Having a pet teaches children so many valuable lessons. Not only do they learn responsibility, they also learn about care, training, compassion, relationships, and, unfortunately, the pain of losing a cherished friend.
My family has long been advocates of adopting rescue dogs. Each one has easily assimilated into their new surroundings, giving them the life they deserve and joy to their new owners. They always seem to know they have been rescued and are now safe, well taken care of, and loved. These pets always give of themselves in their trust and loyalty. When one crosses the rainbow bridge, we have lost more than a pet, we have lost a member of our family.
As grandparents, we feel that teaching children about pets should come from their parents. If it is not an option for them to have an animal that needs more care, such as a dog or cat, they can still learn about pet responsibility with a fish or hamster. If you own a pet, they can watch you interact with yours and see how they are well treated and cared for. Two of my grandchildren have a dog, cat, and gerbil. They not only snuggle and play with them, but at ages 4 and 7, they feed them, make sure they have water, take the dog outside, and, as the dog is still a puppy, work on reinforcing certain training skills.
Summer is usually a good time to adopt a pet. The weather is conducive to house training and getting in walks. With school out, it allows the children time to bond with the new family member and know what is expected of them in caring for the new pet. Usually, summer means vacation time, but as this has been a strange year, this might not be the case. A well-behaved dog will make the pet experience the best. There are a number of training options available that can help with this. Children would benefit from attending the sessions with a parent, so they can reinforce the training at home.
If a dog or cat is in your grandchild’s future, please strongly consider adopting a rescue. You not only save a life, but are rewarded with loyalty and love, as well.
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