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The Benefits of Pet Ownership for Children

Last spring, my family had to cope with the loss of our 13-year-old mutt, Zooey.  We toyed with the notion of another dog, but ultimately decided we weren’t ready yet.

Earlier today, however, I came across this startling statistic from the Humane Society of the United States:

“The HSUS estimates that animal shelters care for between 6–8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, of whom approximately 3–4 million are euthanized.”

Those numbers are likely to increase this year in response to home foreclosures and other economic woes, as more animals are turned over to shelters by owners who can no longer afford to care for them.  In my area, shelters have been offering special days when adoption fees are waived; also, they have been asking the public for donations of pet food and supplies.  Not just for the overcrowded shelters, but for pet owners who are in need of the help.

I can’t chase this thought out of my head, of all those dogs and cats in need of homes.  But if the truth is to be told, I know that the real reason that I want another dog is because it completes my mental image of home, of family.

And in a completely objective, entirely unbiased sort of way, I’m mulling over all the benefits- physical, mental, and emotional- that this potential family addition would have for my children.

There are numerous benefits that pets provide for kids:

  • Children who grow up in homes with pets have less risk of developing common allergies and asthma.
  • Playing with dogs may help lower blood pressure.
  • Kids with pets get outside more- to go for walks, run, and play- and enjoy all the associated health benefits.
  • Pet owners require fewer doctor’s visits.
  • Emerging readers often feel more comfortable reading aloud to a pet.
  • Nurturing a pet is an acceptable way for boys to “parent play”; to practice being caregivers.
  • Feeding and caring for a pet encourages childhood responsibility.
  • Children with pets display improved impulse control, social skills and self-esteem.
  • Sharing the love and care of a family pet forges an additional common bond among siblings.
  • Pets offer security and stability.  Nearly 70% of children confide in their pets, confident their secrets will not be betrayed.
  • Cuddling a pet reduces stress, loneliness, and anxiety.
  • And pets provide a natural gateway into the animal kingdom- love for one’s pet as a child often translates into an adult belief that the relationship between humans and animals is one of mutual support.

I’m not quite committed yet to the responsibility of a new dog. I’m not crazy about having to go through training a dog again, or being on poop patrol. Maybe to begin, we can be a foster family for a dog or aid homeless pets in some other way. But more and more I find myself thinking- kids and dogs, they belong together, right?

What do you think? Talk me into it or talk me out of it!


Photo Credit: Orin Optiglot under Creative Commons


  1. I never imagined how enriched this little rascal http://www.flickr.com/photos/dan_and_lisa/2213018185/in/set-72157603609095197/ would make our lives. We are so happy we have her.

  2. a great solution to some of your issues would be to not get a puppy. My humane society here in Nashville, Tn always has lots of dogs that are between 1-2 yrs old, most of whom are housebroken or at least paper trained.

  3. I agree, Melanie. I adopted a 1 1/2 year old dog from a breed rescue group 5 years ago. His previous owner had either passed away or gone into a nursing home. He came with the most beautiful manners I’ve ever seen in a dog — and I didn’t have to teach them to him.

  4. My family adopted our first dog from a shelter. He was about 4 weeks old when we got him. He gave us 14 1/2 years of pure blessing. We enjoyed every minute of it.

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