By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
Recently, the news has featured many stories about TomKat. No, not a story about a feline, but the ongoing saga of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise. One story that caught my eye involved their daughter Suri having a tantrum in a pet store because her mother would not buy her a Morkie, a dog she wanted.
In every family without a pet, there is at least one child begging for one. But for health reasons, travel, or time in the daily schedule, a pet does not always fit into the family’s lifestyle. There are, however, other ways, even without owning a pet of your own, that you can bring animals into your family’s life. Here are my top ten tips to add the fun and adventure of animals to your family without actually owning a pet:
1. Attend the local animal show. The owners of dogs, cats, birds and reptiles love to show off their pets and talk to children about responsible pet ownership. In New York City we have the annual Meet the Breeds dog and cat show, but there are smaller local shows as well.
2. Volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter or to help socialize the cats residing there.
3. Be a foster pet family. My local rescue group is always looking for host families for cats in need. I wrote about my experiences with my foster cat family last spring.
4. Head to your local library and check out some books on pet care. For the toddler set, try the series about “Sally,” a black Labrador retriever who visits the veterinarian, or for a comprehensive pet care overview, try the Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health.
5. Participate in your library’s reading program featuring certified therapy dogs to promote reading skills in children. Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) has local programs nationwide. Therapy Dogs International sponsors “Tail Wagging Tutors.” What could be better than helping your dog-loving child read better?
6. Volunteer to pet sit for a neighbor while they are on vacation.
7. Become a member of your local zoo. Many zoos have an area where children can pet the animals. In the New York metropolitan area the Wildlife Conservation Society, which includes the Bronx Zoo, the Queens Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and the New York Aquarium, has hands-on programs for various age groups, as well as educational exhibits and free demonstrations daily. Some zoos even have sleepovers!
8. If your child is an electronic wizard, there are a variety of electronic games related to pet care. Games are available for multiple game platforms and on the Internet. Try Hamsterz, Dr. Daisy Pet Vet, Paws & Claws, Pet Vet, or Webkinz.
9. Research the high schools in your district to see if they have a specialized program related to animals, such as the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, or the Kansas State University co-sponsored high school program in Olathe, KS.
10. Volunteer at a pet outreach program at your local hospital, Ronald McDonald House, or senior citizens home. The program coordinator will know of a pet volunteer that you can “borrow” for the visits.
If your child is like Suri Cruise and wants an animal, but your inner Katie Holmes tells you a full-time pet is not right for your family, offer your pet-loving child one of these opportunities until the time is right for your family to love a pet of its very own.