Parents must gauge their children’s maturity, their ability to commit to the chores and the willingness of the family to share the load.
It is a common story: A child clamours for a pet and is initially enthusiastic about the cuddly creature. But, within months, the care of the animal is left wholly to the parents or the family’s domestic helper.
Some parents, however, hope to bring about a happier ending by getting their children involved in daily tasks and making them see that a pet is a long-term commitment. While children should help care for their pets, age-appropriateness is important, say animal welfare experts.
Ms Chong Poh Choo, executive manager for community outreach at the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) shares some important tips.
Before getting a pet, parents should ensure that their child shows “an understanding of the pet’s needs and an appreciation of an owner’s responsibilities.
She adds: “Generally, children who are aged four to five are too young to have a pet as they lack maturity. Older children may be developmentally mature, but may not be ready to commit to caring for a pet if they are busy with schoolwork and a developing social life, for instance.”
Ms Chong suggests that younger children, from pre-school age to about nine years old, take on simple chores such as feeding the pet, ensuring it has enough water and brushing its fur. Older children can help clean the cage or tank.
She emphasises that the whole family should be involved in the care of pets, with parents taking the lead. “A pet is for life. All family members should be willing to contribute to the upkeep of a pet before getting one,” she says.
“Parents should not expect children to be the primary caregiver of any pet. Children need the support of their parents in many ways. They will be unable to tell, for instance, if the pet is unwell.”
Children often need to be reminded to take responsibility for their pets.
Ms Chong recommends a hamster as a family’s first pet. “The time commitment is not long as they live a maximum of 31/2 years. Their cages require cleaning only twice a week. Keep only one hamster in each cage to prevent accidental breeding. Wash your hands before and after handling a hamster. Interactions between the child and the hamster must be supervised to avoid rough handling.”
By Venessa Lee, The Straits Times, May 28, 2017 / Updated by Muneerah Bee, March 2019
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