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To Have Pet or Not

For generations, people have said that "every boy should have a dog." This bit of folk wisdom has particular significance today when we know much more about the importance of human-companion animal love and the benefits a pet brings to a child, adult or elderly person.

A dog, cat, horse or hamster, for example, is a source of 24-hour-a-day love. The benefits from this unconditional, 24-hour-a-day love. The benefits from this steady flow of affection can be surprisingly far-reaching for the children. You should be certain however, that your child is the one wanting the puppy rather than you wanting a puppy for your child.

In a sense, a pet can mitigate the hectic pace of your household. Studies have found that an animal can be a consistent, cohesive force uniting children and parents and encouraging communications. This is particularly true today when the average young family is under greater economic and social pressure causing more stress than in past generations.

Pets certainly play a special part is a child's development. Because the animals are usually obedient and unconditional in their affection, they can build children's self esteem and make them feel wanted and needed. Pets also teach children empathy -- the ability to understand how another living thing thinks and feels. You often see children bandaging an animal pretending it has been hurt -- and actually performing a "dress rehearsal" for later life experiences. When children dress their pets in clothes and pretend that Johnny is the daddy, Susie the mommy and Fido the child, they are acting out their parenting or protective instincts and enjoying important creative play. An animal that accompanies a child in play also can serve as an icebreaker that can open the way for its young master to meet other people and make new friends.

It is even healthy for children to be exposed to the death of a pet. From the age of seven, a child is capable of understanding death and needs to see it as a concrete event -- to see that the pet no longer moves or breathes. This loss of a pet can prepare children for the possible later loss of an important person in their lives.

In homes where both parents are career oriented, the child may face an empty house after school. An animal can be the most significant, constant social contact offering companionship and love after a hard day at school. Pets also teach responsibility, making children feel they are contributing something valuable to the running of a household.

In short, the pet your child wants may be the most important gift you can give your children. The bond that grows between children and pets can help any child weather some rough times and develop the character that will make them a better friend, husband, wife, mother and father when an adult.

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