As I sit at my computer trying to write, my powers of concentration are assaulted by constant frenetic sounds coming from our gerbil cages. I grew up with the belief that every child needs a pet. Living in the country, I was fortunate to have helped take care of lambs, rabbits, many cats, several dogs, a horse, cattle, chickens, a pet bat, rattlesnake, gopher, some fish, three turtles and a cedar wax wing chick. These experiences helped me develop a strong sense of responsibility early on. I learned that animals that were not fed, tended to get sick or wander off. My pets became my friends and confidantes.
My own children have been privileged to have cats, dogs, fish and gerbils as pets. Animals bring out the best in children. It is often a child’s first experience of interacting with something less powerful than themselves. During the ages of 2 years and up (water stage and onward), children are capable of nurturing and helping to take care of a pet. Animals help teach lessons in gentleness, kindness, selflessness, empathy and responsibility. So even though the pug curled up on my feet and the hyperactive gerbils complicate my life in some ways; even though I sometimes chafe when I have to feed and water them all once again because someone else forgot; I am well aware of the gifts they have been to my children and family as a whole. And for that, I am grateful.