One of our dogs is epileptic and has survived several trips to the emergency vet’s office.
He’s had surgery to remove an obstruction, and one scary night, he had seizures for about 30 minutes straight. I still get sad thinking about that.
The other dog has been a perfect picture of health but his age is starting to show.
Then there are our cats. Those two trouble-makers haven’t seen a bad day and will probably outlive us all.
But in the middle of this petting zoo we have our son, a 4-year-old surrounded by pets and the life experiences they tend to bring.
How pets, kids influence each other
So, what can our children learn from our pets, and how do our children influence our pets’ lives? This is the topic before us today.
I, of course, can only draw from what I’ve seen in my house. Feel free to let me know how things have gone for you in the comments below this article.
Here is what I want The Boy to get from having pets and what I think is an inevitable rite of passage.
Attachment to each other
This is the big one for me. My son came home after spending some time in the neonatal unit and was immediately greeted by the OTHER boys (our dogs).
We took our time introducing them all to each other and made sure to let the dogs know that this little bundle of chaos would be their new human to protect and respect.
Four years later, and they’ve created this unwritten rulebook that includes our son being able to eat and play in relative peace while the dogs scan for any chances of scraps falling to the floor.
One of the hidden forms of attachment came through his speech development. Our son is autistic and his speech has been delayed but progressing.
Using the dogs as a launching pad for speech proved to be effective.
So instead of getting him to say something like “let’s go home,” we tried: “Let’s go see Ratchet and Clank.” It worked like a charm.
FYI, our dogs are named Ratchet and Clank. Yup, after the spectacular video-game series. It’s pretty rad.
As he gets older, my hope is that he’ll continue to bond with his dogs and grow into somebody who loves and seeks out that companionship.
We feed the dogs at about noon every day. That’s tied to Ratchet’s seizure meds. The Boy was learning how to read the digital clock on the microwave, so we figured it would make sense to use that feeding as a tool.
Sure enough, every day at noon you would hear The Boy: “Time to feed dogs. Time to feed dogs.”
Then he would run over to the kitchen table and squeal with delight as the dogs jumped around me and then tore through their food bowls. It’s a small start to an overall lesson of responsibility.
Walking the dogs, mixing the food, and helping to establish boundaries are all things our son can help with.
Dealing with loss
I’m hoping we’re still years away from this, but our pets are more than likely going to be The Boy’s first experience with death.
Ratchet, to be honest, has cheated death at least three times. We found him on the side of the road soon after his birth. He was hypothermic. That violent chain of seizures could have easily ended him. The obstruction that was removed took him to the brink.
So, it’s only a matter of time before Ratchet or Clank have to leave us. My wife and I will be broken by that. But how will that impact our son?
The idea of death can be incredibly abstract to children. I still remember a young cousin asking if we were going to see our grandfather again as the casket was being lowered.
Will my son be able to process that one of his pets has died and how will we help him through that life lesson?
Maybe this one is something our pets will teach us.
Louie Villalobos is a parenting blogger and digital producer for azcentral and allthemoms.com. You can follow him on Twitter @louievillalobos and find his podcast oniTunes, Stitcher and Google Play. Just search for “I am your father.”