For many families, the tween years are the first foray into pet ownership. After all, taking care of a pet teaches tweens many important life lessons, including responsibility, selflessness, empathy and unconditional love.
No doubt you’ll read countless articles about how it’s a bad idea to get your kids a puppy for Christmas. I, however, think the holiday season can be a great time to get a dog. With everyone home from school and work, it’s a good opportunity to bond with a puppy and start training in earnest—as long as you’re willing to make a few adjustments to your usual holiday routine.
Get a new pet during the holiday break if:
• You really want a pet, too. Let’s face it—no matter how much your child promises to take care of a puppy, you’re the adult and ultimately responsible for the critter’s well-being.
• You can keep your Christmas holiday low-key. A puppy requires all of your attention on Christmas morning. He will try to eat ribbons, wrapping paper, ornaments and toys, and drink water out of your tree stand. He will go potty on all of the above, too. He will be overwhelmed by lots of noise and rushing around and could become shy or aggressive. Don’t overdo it."
• You’re not traveling or entertaining. A puppy, like a baby, needs to settle into a routine. Don’t go anywhere or have a lot of guests that will interrupt your routine.
• You don’t mind trips in the snow in the “wee” hours of the night. Small dogs have small bladders. If you’re crate training the puppy, you’ll need to provide a break in the middle of the night. If you’re not crate training your puppy, he will simply relieve himself on your nicest rug and your training will take two giant steps backward.
• You’re willing to fall utterly in love. As a lifelong dog lover, I know how irresistible a puppy can be. After all, in a few years when your teenager is barely talking to you, your dog may become your closest ally.
CONSIDER OTHER OPTIONS
• Older pets. If the idea of a puppy is overwhelming, there are lots of adult dogs looking for homes. Check out the “Available Animals” tab on the Wisconsin Humane Society website (www.wihumane.org). Adult dogs need the same quiet and calm introductory period as puppies (as do cats), so they have time to adapt to their environment, too. Keep the fuss and field trips out of the house to a minimum.
If the time commitment, allergies, shedding or other issues make a puppy, adult dog or cat unrealistic for your household, consider these fun pets:"
Rodents. They require minimal care because they happily stay in their cage while the family is at work and school.
• Bunnies are smart and clean and can usually be litter trained. This means they can be out while you’re home, although they still need supervision so they don’t nibble on cords or furniture. Be sure to give them hard treats to chew on to keep their teeth from growing too long.
• Guinea pigs are surprisingly animated and fun. I remember the delighted squeals of my daughter’s plump piggy any time I opened the vegetable crisper. They don’t cost much, but they do require an investment of time to clean their bedding every day or two, and weekly cage cleaning. Guinea pigs can go outside with you in summer—with supervision—and learn some simple tricks.
• A gerbil or hamster can be a great starter pet because they are low-cost and require limited care. Buy one from a reputable store and handle them before the purchase to make sure they don’t bite. Remember they are primarily nocturnal, so they may keep a light sleeper awake."
Birds, reptiles and amphibians. A responsible tween should be able to handle a small caged pet. Do your homework so you know what they eat (we had a strict “no live-food” policy in our house) and how long they live. We gave our daughter a Grow-a-Frog in the first grade and she finally passed it on to a pet store when she started college. That was definitely a longer commitment than we bargained for!"
Whatever pet you choose, look forward to years of unconditional love and entertainment.
Maureen Connors Badding is a Wauwatosa freelance writer, mother and habitual volunteer.
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