Home / Responsibility — Teaching Children About Proper Pet Care

Responsibility — Teaching Children About Proper Pet Care

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It was a common occurrence at the shelter: people turning in animals because their children were not caring for them. Most of the time the animals were in fairly good shape, but sometimes they were emaciated to the point where we would make sure to get all the surrenderer’s information, in case it was a cruelty case. (Usually not since we went easy on people who turned in animals, as opposed to having them confiscated.) Often the animals were poorly socialized.

Sometimes the parent would make the child tell us why the animal was being turned in. I suppose they did this as an object lesson — to really pound the lesson home. Usually it came across as just plain cruel. These weren’t my kids and yet their tear streaked little faces as they told me why they couldn’t keep Bingo would break my heart.

That’s right…little faces. The kids ranged anywhere from 5 on up. How anybody expects someone who just learned the alphabet to have someone else life in their hands is beyond me. And how anyone can turn in an animal who is starving to death and say this was a child’s fault — well, it makes me understand the story of Noah’s Ark. (Save the animals, but other than that…let’s try this again!)

They were punishing their kids for not being responsible, completely missing the irony of the fact that they — the parents — had foisted their own own responsibilities on their children and then on a non-profit organization. Where were these children supposed to learn responsible behavior in the clear absence of role models?

Sometimes when going through the application process for adoption people would say that the pet was for their child. Most of the time, when asked if the children would be expected to be the sole caregivers, people would look at me like I was mad. (Thank God!) However, a lot of parents really expect children to take on the responsibilities of an adult.

It goes without saying that, if an adult does not feed their young child, they will get into a lot of trouble. They can’t say, “The kid is eight — she can feed herself!” An eight year old needs to be parented. How can you expect a child — who is not expected to care for herself — to keep another creature alive.

You teach a child responsibility by being responsible. A child learns to care for a pet by parents caring for the child and by seeing the adult care for the pet. At 5, the limit of what you should expect is having the child “help” by working the can opener or setting the dish before the pet. Even when a child really is old enough to feed the pets you remind them, and you ask if they did it, and you certainly notice your pet is getting thin.

You don’t wait until you have a fur covered skeleton in your backyard.


If you’re thinking of adopting a cat or kitten this is a fabulous time of year to do it! Starting in late spring, and throughout the summer, the birth rate spikes and shelters begin the tragic task of making hard decisions when all the cages fill and the rescues can’t take in anymore either.

June is adopt a cat month! This means many shelters have special adoption rates!

A lot of people like to wait until Christmas, but that’s about the slowest time of year for cat birth rates. Now you can save multiple animals by adopting one — the animal you adopted and the animal who can know go in that cage (and up for adoption!)

Want to know what the shelters (and rescues) in your area have up for adoption? Try Petfinder!
Since I’m on a roll (downhill): anyone with a growing puppy needs to check the collar occasionally for proper fit — you should be able to comfortably fit two fingers underneath the collar.

A too tight collar can become embedded — actually grow INTO the neck. In fairly minor cases this can lead to sores and maggots. In severe cases it can sever the artery in the neck, causing death.

Too loose however, can cause the dog to slip his collar during a walk or if lost…and there goes the id and the main way a good Samaritan can secure your pet!

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About Nicolette

  • Nancy

    Thanks for the article. Far too many people ‘adopt’ pet who should never be allowed to go near an animal, let alone have custody of one – and I’m talking adults! It’s a pity government won’t or can’t ban some people from ever having pets. I’ve rescued several cats, and currently have 5, all fixed girls. It’s like having a barrel of monkeys, or 2-year-old quintuplets. It’s also a lot of money to keep them all in vet checkups and dental appointments, but it’s what I ‘vowed’ when I adopted them. I may not eat, but they will.

  • Exactly Nancy — and that’s really the point. It’s valid to decide that a pet is too much responsibility to have, but that’s a decision you make before you bring the animal into your home.

    Once you have the animal, it’s up to you to provide care and work through all but the most severe of issues.

    Another common reason for surrender was “moving.” Sometimes we knew the people weren’t really moving, but sometimes it was the truth. Often they were only moving a matter of miles!

    My husband and I are in the process of moving several states and I can’t help but wish I were the type of person to keep it simple by surrendering my animals — but that’s just not what we are about. Instead we’ve tried to figure out how we are moving 4 dogs, 3 cats, and a guinea pig. My husband has made multiple trips to our new home so he came drop off things and make room for the big trip WITH the animals. He’s there know dropping off the unneeded seats so we can fit in all the cages.

    We also have to sedate the cats for the trip and the vet wants to run bloodwork first because they’re all seniors. Bye-bye several hundred dollars!

    Anyhow, people often adopt animals in a state of fantasy. They have the spouse and the kids…now they need Lassie and Fluffy. And the animal pays for not knowing there’s a script they’re supposed to be following!

  • Nancy

    I hear ya. I bought my house so I wouldn’t be put out of a rental for having my girls. I also bought one w/huge floor-to-ceiling windows so they could all watch the birds, squirrels, etc. w/out going out, since they’re strictly indoor kitties. But I know I’m a tad extreme, in that when my eldest didn’t like a new toothpaste I got, I switched back to the ‘old’ one, LOL! Don’t know too many nutcases who go that far. But I digress: I was told by my dad that in adopting an animal, it’s for life – yours or the animal’s, whichever comes first; and should hard times come, you may go hungry, but they must eat, because you understand why you’re hungry, but they don’t. Bless him, he had his priorities & attitudes right!

  • One of the few things I like about the house we’ve had for the last several years is the enclosed back porch where the cats could watch the birds.

    Eventually, when we get settled in the new area and get a place of our own (we’ll be renting initially) I want to have a similar set-up

    Several years ago one of our dogs had cancer. It was expensive and time consuming — she needed radiation, but she got well. She turned 16 last month.

  • RJ


    My parents have a wonderful cat (11 or 12 years old) with cancer. The poor thing has numerous small tumors under her fur.

    I didn’t even KNOW they had cancer treatment for cats!

    It’s been quite a while since she was diagnosed with cancer, so it may be too late. But I would gladly pay for some treatment, if it was still possible.

    Any links to help me on this topic would be appreciated…

  • Their vet should be able to advise you and I would recommend listening to him. If he or she thought treatment were possible, they could suggest a specialist in your area.

    Has the cat been diagnosed with cancer or could they just be fatty tumors? If cancer was diagnosed, I would have guessed the vet you have went over the options with your parents.

    Good luck.

  • RJ

    Well, I do not know everything that went on, but, the cat had a very large and ugly ulcer near her ear, so my folks went to the vet. The vet removed this tumor, with the stated hope that it would not spring up again elsewhere.

    Well, now there are like a dozen of these tumors on her body. Not in the same spot though, and none of them are ulcerated like the original one.

    But she has slowed down over the last year or so since the surgery took place. Still eating, no bloody stools or vomiting. But just less playful and jumps onto furniture in a more gingerly fashion.

    Purrs a lot, too. Which I believe could be indicative of chronic pain.

    Or, maybe she’s just getting old, I dunno…

  • Nancy

    I’d take the cat to a second opinion, preferably a kitty specialist (in my area, at least, there are vets who do nothing but cats, but this may not be an option for you), but at least just to perhaps pick up what #1 may have missed. If it’s warranted, s/he could then refer you to a specialist practice that addresses animal healthcare problems with the technology they use for people, such as MRIs, CAT scans (no pun intended), sonograms, etc. – but be forewarned: I had a kitty w/a rare melanoma; we battled it for 4 months, and it ended up costing about +/- $4,600. I didn’t grudge a penny, but in the end it didn’t save her life, and I ended up just prolonging her pain. The ‘gingerly’-ness may just be old age and arthritis; my 15-year-old is less agile than she used to be (the toothpaste freak). For that matter, so am I!

  • Right…another vet visit wouldn’t hurt.

  • Hello,

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I enjoyed your articles that you have written. I can’t wait for the next one. You have a talent.

  • My daughter and I did research on the internet about caring for a rabbit. she made a video about what she learned.

  • canine

    You are so right on teaching children the proper way to take care of a pet. So often, I see parents just give up and start looking for a way to get out of the situation. These parents did not even consider whether the children were taught the proper and humane way to handle the responsibility of taking care of a pet.

    Good Job.