Rusty, Cindy, Lucky, Tiny, Mickey, Minnie, Chico, Josie, Roxie, Cooper, Kaiser, Zula, and Vader. What do all of these names have in common? Each of them belongs to a dog who holds a special place in my heart, and these are just the ones who have lived with me. I may be biased, but I whole-heartedly believe in the social-emotional and developmental benefits of children growing up with pets.
I know, they are a lot of work. Pets can be messy, noisy, expensive, demanding, and time-consuming. However, if you are able to look beyond all of that, they can also be the greatest teachers, confidants, and emotional support for your child. Pets provide many unique opportunities to influence a child’s growth and development.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) says, “Developing positive feelings about pets can contribute to a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy.” Couldn’t everyone benefit from the contributions of future empathetic adults? The AACAP supports this notion with a list of specific ways children benefit from having pets. They:
- Can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts–children often talk to their pets, like they do to their stuffed animals
- Provide lessons about life; including reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement
- Can help develop responsible behavior in the children who care for them
- Provide a connection to nature
- Can teach respect for other living things
- Encourage physical activity
- Give comfort contact
- Teach and give love, loyalty, and affection
- Provide experience with loss if a pet is lost or dies
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) provides further insight by pointing to educational benefits. Studies support that pets in the classroom contribute to educational success, as children enjoy reading to pets as a non-judgmental listener. HABRI also suggests that dogs destress families of children with autism; early diagnoses of and interventions for autism are more likely to have long-term positive effects on symptoms and later skills. According to HABRI, research strongly indicates that human-animal interaction is an example of an intervention that can benefit children with autism.
Rescue and adopt
If you’re looking for a sign to find your next companion, this is it. You may be surprised to learn that you need them just as much as they need you. Adopting a pet from a shelter is a great way to provide a second chance for an animal in need. So many times, shelter pets are overlooked, discounted, or not considered because potential pet parents believe they have “issues” or it is the pet’s fault. However, animals find themselves at shelters for many reasons including: family relocation or new living situation, owners not finding/reclaiming after losing their pet, a stray having puppies while in shelter care, and the list goes on. Adopting a pet can be as rewarding for you as it is for an animal with so much love to give.
So, the question is… Can we get a dog? (or cat, or guinea pig, or any pet!)
-Kelli Steder, CCAP Supervisor