Life’s Little Things

The pros and cons of having a family pet

One of the joys of living in a small house with a miniscule back garden is that any discussion spearheaded by my children regarding the acquisition of a pet are avoided. I know from watching my own children playing in that tiny space that I couldn't inflict that torture on an animal.

I was not brought up around animals and believe that if you are to have a pet you really need to love it and care for it, and I know without doubt that I would not. My only meaningful childhood encounter with a pet involved feeding the next door neighbourís dog a head of lettuce and a pork chop intended for my fatherís dinner.

My children were dizzy with excitement when our friends announced that after a visit to the local pound they had succumbed to puppy love and were getting a dog. Their son is pathologically afraid of dogs and the hope was that both puppy and son could grow in harmony together.


The transformation in their son is miraculous. When I saw him last he had his hand in the dog's mouth removing what turned out to be his older sister's mp3 player. His fear of other dogs is evidently lessening and the family are delighted with their new pet. It is a huge success story.

The procedure to get the dog however was more costly than having their son in the first place. First there was a bed for her to sleep in when she is indoors, next, an outdoor insulated kennel with fenced-in run, toys for indoors, toys for outdoors, vet bills, collars and leashes, the list was endless. As if the expense was not enough of a deterrent the 6am whining and scratching which signals the cue to let the puppy out for its early morning ablutions left the household bleary eyed and praying for respite.

That said, the benefits of pet ownership seem to outweigh the necessary adjustments to family life and the financial costs. In learning to integrate and care for their puppy, our friendís children are learning personal care, consideration of anotherís needs, deferred gratification and doing without trips or treats when puppy cannot come along too.


As the puppy grew bigger, the question of kennelling the dog when the family went on holiday arose and my friend was riddled with angst over leaving their little morsel with strangers. They found a superb and not too costly kennel, and as their dog leapt joyfully into the arms of the surrogate family, my friend felt a stab of jealousy and worry; will she remember us are we abandoning her too soon?

The kennel suggests training the dog in the near future so it seems the responsibilities keep growing. Just as I am beginning to question the sense in all of this, I happen upon a piece of research which highlights the varied physical and social benefits which accrue to children with pet ownership including higher teenage self-esteem.

I tell my friend that in case she doubted her decision, there is also research which indicates that physical well-being and extended recovery and survival following coronary disease have also been associated with pet ownership. My friend is all the more delighted to see although the children's initial enthusiasm has been sated their newest addition is now just another loved family member.

As I watch my own children joyfully roll around the grass with their newest friend my rationale and scepticism fall away. I realise that sense and reason have nothing to do with it, I am a helpless victim of puppy love too, and it feels wonderful.