Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dads and Pets

You the Dad, and it the pet.
You have an unusual relationship.

Unlike other pets, this one was not for you or your wife, but for Jr. While you contribute to the daily drip,drip,drip of pet management, Jr sinks unconstrained love into the animal. Jr got to pick and name the creature, which in Jr's book, qualifies it for full family membership. Jr tries to sneak the pet into bed, insists on the need for special treats (and yes, sometimes that's a LIVE treat), coming to the park, pushing it around in a stroller, and attendance at family meal times. Hopefully, in your case, its not a goldfish or a chicken.

And if you are really lucky, this enthusiasm lasts for at least two weeks, which seems to be some kind of natural time limit for the kid-pet "Initial Wonder Period" (IWP). After this point, the primary pet maintenance authority usually reverts to you. The Pet Apathy Phase (PAP) is typically much longer than the IWP, and noticeably more severe for organisms that are lower down the food chain (insects, frogs, birds, rodents etc). Predators (dogs, cats, cougars etc) tend to fare much better during the PAP, probably because they have teeth and claws and are much more effective at reminding Jr that they still exist and are hungry.

Get your kid a pet.
Because it teaches them about joyful life, and eventually, about sorrowful death.

And in theory at least, until you end up doing most of it, they learn responsibility as they feed and look after it. After the experiences of my own childhood, then getting married and having children, and raising them to the stage where they now have pets of their own, I've come to believe that a much more significant outcome is at stake in the relationship between kid and pet. It's this: raising and caring for a pet prepares children for eventual parenthood. I'm no child psychologist, but this observation seems self-evident.

Pets that Dad U has taken for a test-drive and recommends:
  • Dogs. Old favorite. You are supposed to get one that looks like you. A bonus with dogs is that they take you for walks, so you will end up in better shape, intentionally or not. I've lost 10 lbs since ours arrived at Christmas.
  • Cats. Not an old favorite of many guys, but can be great for kids. They like to play, they clean themselves and bury their own poop. They also like to sleep on kids beds in Winter, so you get to save on some heating costs.
  • Frogs. Grow them from tadpoles! Great, albeit somewhat temporary, pet. More like a biology lesson. You get to feed them live crickets.
  • Rats. Seriously. They are smart and interactive. And a cage can easily sit in a nook in kids bedroom, where the smell will remind you to bug the kids to clean out the cage regularly.
  • Chickens. More like a real-time perpetual social drama network than a real pet, but a clucking flurry can be fun to watch. They can learn their names and be hand fed. And you get the eggs for breakfast.
  • Lizards. Not so cuddly, but it can interesting to watch them do their particularly cool interpretation of nothing. Boys especially like the effect of lizards on their sisters friends.
  • Guinea pigs. Less rat-like than rats (+ve), although not as smart (-ve). Breed like you wouldn't believe if given the opportunity. An issue to consider if you don't want to explain reproductive biology just yet.
  • Parakeets, or more correctly, Budgerigar. Smart, interactive and can be let out of the cage. If given an inch, will take a mile. The eventual outcome of a free range lifestyle is a resident parrot-dictator. The males can learn to talk. 
  • Kangaroo. If you live in Australia. You need a license. And a fenced yard. Yes, I did.
  • Horses do not come recommended by Dad U. In fact, horses and Dad U have come to an agreement. I don't attempt to get on them, and they don't attempt to kick my head off. A grumpy horse almost made Mrs Dad U a widow on her honeymoon. 
Dad U
-it's worth it for the IWP alone

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