Curled up on the living room floor or leaping through the air with excitement, pets provide a special companionship that can bond families and strengthen core values.
The Center for Disease Control reports that pet ownership decreases blood pressure, cholesterol levels and feelings of loneliness while increasing opportunities for outdoor activities and socialization.
Pet owners are likely to be happier, healthier and better adjusted than non-owners according to a 2011 study by Miami University and Saint Louis University. Additionally, dog owners were found to have increased feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.
Feeding, walking, and bathing the family pet might be a child’s first lesson in responsibility and the importance of caring for others.
“Children can learn that just as pets are in need of people to provide them with food, a place to live, safety and medical care, we have an even greater responsibility to make sure that human beings have access to food, clothing, shelter and health care,” says Father Christopher Smith, Rector of Christ Cathedral. “Pets are a good way to begin to teach children how essential their care for other human beings is. Just as a pet would not survive if they were not taken care of, people do not live happy and healthy lives without the care of others.”
Caring for another creature is a big decision for any family. Although a dog might be an idyllic furry companion, a low-maintenance pet might be a better fit. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends considering your lifestyle, health concerns and living space before deciding on a pet. Fish, guinea pigs, rabbits or reptiles can also offer families the joy of pet ownership and expose children to the unique traits of each creature.
“Pets bring to a family another living creature that needs to be cared for,” says Father Christopher. “They provide the opportunity for parents to teach their children about God’s creation, which is filled with so much life in addition to human beings. The diversity of this creation can be pointed out through animals that are so different from each other, from birds and fish, cats and dogs, hamsters and rabbits. These animals enjoy God’s creation and it is up to human beings to take care of God’s created world.”
Pets also can teach children the meaning of unconditional love. Father Christopher notes, “Perhaps the biggest lesson for a child to learn from a pet about love is that a pet’s devotion to its owner, especially in the case of dogs, is not based on what the owner has done for the pet. The loyalty and devotion is just there. A Christian is called to love without expecting something in return. Many pets can help us to remember that.”
Snuggling with a kitten and stroking the fur of golden retriever are small acts of kindness that can have lasting effects on children. Beyond teaching children empathy and furthering their connection go God’s creation, pets can offer lessons about life, grief and dying.
“As children watch their pets thrive, children can be taught to be grateful for the life their pet brings to them,” Father Christopher says. “As a pet grows older, children can learn that this is part of the cycle of life for a living being. We are born, we grow and develop and have our healthy days of energy and strength. As we age, these diminish. As pets get ill, sometimes so do we. Finally all life ends in death. In all of this, with our pets and those around us, it is our faith that helps us celebrate the good times and gets us through the times that are difficult.”