All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Good First Pet for a Child

Dear Marie,
My daughter has been begging for a kitten for at least two years. She is ten years old and in the fourth grade. I don’t think that she is ready for the responsibility and I don’t want to end up being the primary caretaker of this pet, which I think will be what ultimately happens. I don’t have the time for a pet and I really don’t want one. But, she is really emphatic that she will take care of her own pet and that she is ready. I’m thinking that maybe I should just get her a fish or a frog. That way, if something happens to it because she didn't take care of it, it won’t be too big of a deal. What do you think?

Dear Craig,
I think it is an excellent idea to start children out with pets that don’t require the same level of care that a kitten or puppy would need. Nevertheless, fish and hamsters DO require care or they will become sick and/or die. Frankly, I don’t think any valuable lesson is learned by letting children fail in the care-giving department. Coming home to a dead pet—of any kind—is never pleasant (and it certainly won't be very enjoyable for the animal either!).

This will be your daughter’s first experience in nurturing another life. You will need to guide and supervise her until you are certain she can assume the responsibility on her own. It would be unwise and inhumane to present her with a pet and then wash your hands of it. Taking that attitude will only lead to a tragic end. Your daughter should learn that all life, whether a fish or a hamster or a kitten is valuable; and if entrusted to her care, she must respect that value. But only you can teach her that important lesson.

If she adopts your attitude that the death of a fish or hamster is really no big deal, she will probably not develop the skills she will need to care for a kitten or a puppy. Ultimately she must be made to understand that if she demonstrates that she can properly care for a pet, that she will be able to
adopt a kitten.

However, even at that point, you will need to be involved. No matter how responsible your daughter becomes with regards to pet care, there will be occasions where she forgets, or is just unable to tend to her pet’s basic needs. You will need to pick up the slack in those cases no matter how busy you are. Later, you can talk to your daughter about the problem and prescribe the appropriate consequences if they are warranted. Nevertheless, the consequences do NOT belong to the pet and it should not be ignored if your daughter overlooks its care.

Of course, before you get any pet, take a trip to your local library and check out books on fish or hamsters, or peruse the Internet. Find out together what they need and how to handle them. Fish are not as easy to care for as most people think. Water temperature needs to be maintained, as well as pH levels. Special food is sometimes required as are supplements that keep fish healthy. Hamsters need to have cages cleaned on a daily basis. They need to be handled regularly or they can get a little “testy.” There is so much to learn. But this will be a wonderful FAMILY project.

I know, you said you don’t really have the time. If this is absolutely the case, then perhaps you should wait until YOU are ready. Your daughter and your potential pet will need your involvement. In the end, the answer to your question is probably already known by you. Good luck.


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