Most people who share their life with a pet enjoy talking about how strong their connection is with their animal. They like to discuss how much they delight in spending time with their pet. They share stories that illustrate how well their dog or cat understands them. I’m one of those people; I can talk about the power of the connection I have with my dog and my cat for hours. I am completely convinced that living with pets is good for my mental and physical health. What’s more, I know living with a cat has helped my mother-in-law tremendously. My husband and I are amazed at the positive influence a little gray tabby cat from the local animal shelter has had on his 87-year-old mother’s life. It’s as if she’s awakened from a long sleep. She and ‘Skeet’ are a perfect match, and getting her this cat is one of the best things we’ve ever done for her.
With this in mind, it’s not a far leap to believe that being around domesticated pets can be a helpful, positive and enriching experience for children with autism.
How animals help autistic children
First hand testimonials from parents and documented reports from clinicians confirm that interacting with animals (sometimes called animal-assisted therapy) offers emotional and physical benefits to autistic children. Structured programs like horseback riding or swimming with dolphins are beneficial, but the animal interaction doesn’t have to be that organized to be helpful. Something as simple as having a dog in the house can have a positive influence on a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder; it helps with their physical development by improving their coordination and strength. Additionally, a joyous relationship with an animal will help an autistic child develop more self-confidence and a deeper sense of well-being.
Colleen Dolnick, a Missouri mother who has a 10-year-old son with autism, tells Everyday Health: “Animals can be amazing for children with autism. Animals can relate to these children. And these children, who have a hard time relating to peers, can really relate to animals.”
There’s never been a time in my life when I didn’t have a pet in my home. As a kid, I loved being around any animal. Living in the country where we had cows, pigs, chickens and outside cats and dogs, was great. One of my favorite things to do was get up at dawn and head out with my dad to do morning chores, especially in the winter when there was snow on the ground. That’s when it was the easiest to see deer in the cornfields digging through the snow looking for corn left over after the harvest. Sometimes, a red fox, coon or possum would pass by. Our dog, Trixie, was always by my side. Together, she and I explored every nook and cranny we could find looking for “treasures.” My brother and sister weren’t as adventurous as I was, so Trixie was my friend, my playmate and my protector.
I didn’t understand how important Trixie was to me until my folks decided to move into town and give Trixie away. My best friend was given to an older couple in another town who wouldn’t take her out running in the fields. I was assured, “She’ll be fine and we still have another dog and cats.” But to me, it wasn’t fine nor was it fair. I was 12 years old, and my heart was broken.
It’s what we learn as kids about life and ourselves that shapes us as we grow. I’m sure my parents had a good reason for giving Trixie away, but I never knew what it was. The lesson I learned was to love each pet every day and never take them for granted.
There are general differences between male and female dogs, but the honest answer to the question of whether gender matters when adopting a dog is: it depends. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, popular among dog breeders, trainers and veterinarians, which answers the gender question like this – If you want a good dog, get a male. If you want a great dog, get a female and cross your fingers. That common adage is not terribly helpful but completely true.
The Dog Pedigree Database, Your Dog magazine and other resources state that the breed, upbringing, personality, training, handling and parentage are more important considerations when choosing a canine companion than the sex of the dog. You should clearly asses your lifestyle, your current (and future) household conditions and your expectations of a pet before making any decisions. Once you’re sure of your desires, study different breeds to develop a list of appropriate dog types. Remember that shelters are full of dogs that will meet your criteria. Expand your search to include breed specific rescues as well. It’s true that you won’t know a shelter or rescue dog’s parentage, but you will be given an opportunity to assess their personality. The training and handling is completely up to you.
The only thing that dog experts seem to agree on is that personality differences between individual dogs makes a bigger difference than the gender of the dog. Because there are slight agreed upon differences, this overview will be helpful in guiding your final decision. Please remember, however, that these are general terms. While a male or female dog may exhibit a specific trait, this doesn’t mean that all males or all females act that particular way.
The old saying, “Every little bit helps” is true when it comes to helping pets in shelters. Teaching kids about giving and sharing are lessons that will stay with them for a lifetime. If you have a child who wants to do something to help their local animal shelter, there are small things they can do that will make a big difference in the life of shelter pets, and help the shelter, too.
Working with the animals. Most shelters have a minimum age requirement for working around pets. Many cannot allow children under age 16 to volunteer, because of their insurance. However, some shelters will let children help with feeding and socializing if they are with a parent or guardian who volunteers at the shelter. Ask your shelter what their age restrictions are. If your child is too young to work with animals, they can still help in other areas. Volunteers are always needed to stuff envelopes, unload supplies or help with other chores around the shelter.
Make toys, beds and blankets. Simple homemade dog and cat toys are always welcome. Kids can talk with local vets to see if they would be willing to display the homemade items and sell them. Mom and Pop stores are good places to contact, too. The money from the sales could then be donated to a shelter. Pet beds can be easily made out of foam or bed pillows with a homemade cover. Pet blankets are quick and easy to make. Homemade toys, beds and blankets are simple things kids can do to help out their local shelter.
Bake sales are fun for kids and can bring in much needed cash for shelters. Bake sales can be done with the help of a parent, church group, school or any other organization your child is involved with. Help your child make up posters to advertise with the shelter’s name included so people know who the bake sale will benefit. Homemade toys, pet beds and blankets can be included with the baked goods to encourage more sales. If you have a farmer’s market or flea market in your area, both are good places to sell the homemade products.
If you’re not a dog lover, then more than likely you are a little overwhelmed when you visit the home of someone who considers their dog a family member. I encounter this regularly. It’s almost funny to watch how other people react to how we treat our dog. Julia Williams has written a great post about being a Crazy Cat Lady, so I figured this would be a look at things from the doggie side of the fence.
Our dog truly thinks she is a person most of the time. When I chat on the phone with people and mention needing to run the vacuum again because Bear is shedding, I hear comments like “Dogs belong outside. How can you stand having all that hair everywhere?” or “Put her out until she stops shedding.” These people don’t understand that she’s never lived outside and she would be miserable if she wasn’t in the house with her people.
When I cook, she stands guard to make sure that no crumbs or tasty bits of our dinner hit the kitchen floor and yes, sometimes I drop a morsel here and there for her. Once the food is ready and we are all eating, she usually positions herself as close as she can get to me, often drooling on my leg while she waits for me to finish. She knows that I will save her the last bite and give her the plate to lick clean. Some people have serious issues with that too. It’s not something I even think about.
Most kids are drawn to pets like a moth is to light. We’ve all seen the cute videos of kids playing with dogs or being overrun by a litter of puppies. Screams of delight erupt from the child as they’re covered in puppy kisses and wiggling bodies. Kids can and do accept caring for pets all the time, but like anything that’s learned, taking good care of a pet depends on the age and personality of the child.
I’ll never forget the night my mom brought home my first puppy. I was only about 3 years old, but I remember that night as if it was yesterday. My mom wore a cream colored winter coat with huge, deep pockets. It was a cold night, and the smell of fresh winter air clung to her coat. She called my brother, sister and me into the kitchen. Grinning, she dug down inside her pocket. As she withdrew her hand, tucked inside her palm was a pure black, purebred Rat Terrier puppy with eyes that sparkled like stars. We named the puppy Susie and she, along with four wild kittens that came three years later from my Grandma’s house, taught me how to be a responsible pet owner.
Children have a lot on their minds; growing up is hard to do after all. Being a responsible pet owner isn’t usually on their agenda. But it is for some kids. Susie wasn’t the best dog breed for small children and she put up with a lot from my siblings and me when we were little. But as I grew older, I started to learn who Susie was as an individual dog and discovered the joy of interacting with her. Taming four wild kittens taught me how to be patient and gentle.
Being a responsible pet owner means making a commitment to a pet to attend to their needs, care for them in sickness and health, and love them. Some children embrace responsible pet ownership from the day an animal enters the home, even if they don’t realize it. However, most children need a chance to mature before they’re ready to assume a responsible role in the care of a pet. Kids become responsible pet owners when they are ready to understand what the needs of a pet are.
Tamara Waters’ article, “How to Help Kids Learn Responsible Pet Ownership,” is filled with excellent suggestions for teaching kids about caring for a pet. All kids need a mentor to help them learn what it means to be responsible for another living being. It’s up to parents to teach kids what it means to care for a pet as they embark on a journey to discover who their pet is. Caring for my pets was never a chore for me, because I wanted to play with them, and I loved to feed Susie because she did tricks. But just playing with a pet doesn’t make someone a responsible pet owner. I had to learn about commitment, the proper way to teach a pet, and why it’s important to treat them with respect.
When you love a pet or person, you want to protect them and make them happy. You learn to respect them as you earn theirs and a bond grows no matter which kind of relationship it is. Some kids are ready to be responsible pet owners at a fairly young age, while others may not be ready until they are older. It depends on the child and their level of understanding of what it means to be a responsible owner. It also depends on their ability to take the initiative to do something for the pet without having to be told.
A pet should never be brought into the home for the sole purpose of teaching a kid how to be responsible. Sit down with your child before getting a pet to make sure they are at least willing to learn how to care for a pet and take on some of the responsibility. If they are, then you can decide as a family what kind of pet to get.
Looking back, Susie and our four wild cats we tamed (Smoky, Cinnamon, Taffy and Coco) were my best friends. Learning how to be a responsible pet owner is a process we all have to go through. Some children learn at an earlier age than others. The important thing is moving from feeling like you’re doing chores, to giving a pet what he needs without thinking about it. When it becomes an automatic reaction instead of a forced response to doing chores, this is when a child is on their way to becoming a responsible pet owner.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.