Pros and Cons of Family Pets

It often feels, at the outset, as if there are mostly cons when you consider adding a pet to the family. These animals depend on you, have little/no survival instincts, and often live a lot longer than you wish they did after your kid doesn’t like them anymore. Add in a love for camping or vacations, and it’s a lot to consider.

It’s too late for us, but if you enjoy freedom and autonomy, you should definitely reconsider owning a pet. We currently care for one dog, two cats, three crested geckos (plus several of their eggs), one gerbil, and four chickens.

We love pets, and yet we’ve also re-homed a dog (medical issues beyond our resources), mouse (allergies), and milk snake (biter). Hamsters, gerbils and one gecko have died here – there’s a burial plot out back. Our dog has killed chickens. So there’s the circle of life thing that’s inevitable, and an early learning curve in pet care. I’m not certain that’s a pro or a con, or just what is.

The science of lifespan and myriad pet medical issues weigh heavily on our google search history and/or veterinary files. We spend countless dollars maintaining our menagerie and managing their care in our absences. And that’s on top of the daily time we spend to properly feed, clean, water, and lovingly enjoy our pets.

My partner and I, growing up, each had dogs and hamsters. His family had lizards, fish and snakes. Mine had horses, ponies, cats, guinea pigs, chickens, rabbits, and a cockatiel that showered with me. My sisters and I also had secret snakes, turtles, frogs, and salamanders that weren’t allowed in the house. (I’m not sure garage pets should count, but if they do, we also had a horse trough filled with baby pigeons that we “rescued” at one point.) When I was 12, my mom bred Norwegian Elkhounds, and when I turned 16, she started a horse farm. All this to say, I have experienced both the work and the joy of caring for all kinds of animals.

If pet care didn’t have a pro side, then we’re obviously a pile of sadists.

Sometimes it’s responsibility.* Caring for another being is a privilege, an honor, a weight and a learned behavior. It teaches us to be aware of others, and that we each have the power to impact a life. Even when my kids are in a hurry to get out the door, or so tired they could collapse in the hallway, we still have pets. There’s also a grounding to the rhythm of their care, and an ego boost in the accomplishment of completing daily tasks. That checkmark on a mental list adds up over time.

Sometimes it’s solving a problem. When a pet has a medical or behavioral issue, we’re on the case. Sometimes it involves adding a professional to our team, or a simple Google fix, or a trip to the vet. However it all ends, being able to jostle yourself into detective mode and paying careful attention is beneficial too. Life isn’t all about us, after all, and here’s a random reminder.

Sometimes it’s mutual comfort. Both of our cats and our dog (occasionally) enjoy petting, and the lone gerbil adores attention all day long, from anyone. I used to sit on a fence rail and pet horses to calm down after a hard day, too. Anyone with a dog knows how you bury your face in its scruff to hide tears, and how the dog never judges you. My oldest talks to his gecko when he’s mad, and feeling its cold body slowly warm in his hand cools him off inside.

Sometimes it’s just company. This batch of chickens – our third after the dog incident – follows any family member around the yard, crouching for pets and begging for scraps. Our geckos enjoy the cardboard “homes” our kids make for them to explore, each one a playground of jumps and climbs. Our dog follows us from room to room. She’s clearly introverted and not big on affection, but even she wants to be nearby. It’s flattering.

Both of my kids and my partner want even more pets. George wishes for a gecko or a tarantula and aspires to be someone whose fireplace houses a tropical fish tank, something I think he saw on HDTV. Wilder wants another kind of reptile, always changing. Rosetta vacillates between a parrot and a rabbit.

I am good. “When these pets die,” I say, “we’ll just chill for a bit before we decide on the next family pet.” I repeat this, certain of my doom. We’re definitely pet people.

*Adults chip in if we see a lack of care – we don’t go in for deprivation – and we definitely help with larger tasks like cleaning cages. That’s why all of our pets are classified as “belonging to the family.” I’m willing to let my kids learn lessons, but not at the expense of another being.

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