Pets and responsibility
Pets teach children responsibility. If I ever write a book, that may be part of the title. “Pets Teach Children Responsibility: And Fifty Other Lies People Tell.”
A friend recently stopped over with his two sons. The boys were enamored with our cat and dog. “We’ve been talking with the boys about getting either a cat or a dog,” he said.
“We’ll take care of it,” said the oldest boy.
We’ll take care of it. I know they believe those words when they say them. I remember thinking the same thing when I was growing up. My sister always wanted a horse. I grew up on five acres, so a horse just made sense to her. “I’ll take care of it,” she would say.
My parents were wise. We never got a horse. We had two dogs, a Siberian Husky and a Scottish Terrier. My sister was in charge of feeding the dogs. I was in charge of watering the dogs. My parents were in charge of cleaning up the results of feeding and watering the dogs. Even though my sister and I had responsibilities, I cannot say we became entirely responsible. Late in the evening, my mother would often ask, “Did you feed and water the dogs?”
With a regular frequency, we had to admit that we forgot.
Our children will feed and water the cat and dog. They will not do it by their own initiative, but they will do it if we tell them to do it. The cat will shred any paper he can get his paws on if he has not been fed on time. You might think this would serve as a signal to the children that they should feed him. Instead they will scold the cat until either my wife or I say, “Please go feed the cat.”
The dog will push her food dish across the kitchen floor, then look longingly at the closest person. Again, this signal seems obvious to me. It is not so obvious to my children. One night my son asked, “Do you think that means she wants to be fed?”
It took all of my parental restraint to say something other than, “Well … duh.”
“You’ll probably want some practice taking care of a cat,” I said to the elder of my friend’s sons, “I think his litter box might need to be cleaned.”
He looked at his dad. “Sure,” said my friend, “it would be good practice for you to clean the litter box.”
The boy looked back and forth between the two of us, trying to figure out if we were serious. “That’s okay,” he finally said. “I’ll wait until we have our own cat.”
Pets may not teach children responsibility, but they do teach children other lessons. They teach children that you never have complete control over another living thing. They teach children lessons about love. It’s up to the parents to teach responsibility.
I have been a priest for 16 years. I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010. If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.