To Buy a Pet, or Not To Buy a Pet

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in my neighbour’s dining room performing a community service: neither she nor her husband drink red wine, so when they have some I drink it. Anyway, we were talking about pets. They’re planning to get one; we’re not.

At least, I don’t think we are.

My kids think we’re going to get a dog when they’re ten. We’ve been telling them this since they were three. It is one of my favourite parenting strategies: I tell my children something just so they shut up and then hope like hell they forget what I said.

They still remember. At least once a week, one of them says something like, “What should we name our dog?” or “How long until we’re ten?”

It’s not that I’m anti-dog. I loved my childhood mutts, Caesar and Rebel; it’s just that they were farm dogs, which meant that they didn’t step a paw in the house, we didn’t have to walk them, and we didn’t own a leash. Essentially the dogs took care of themselves and once a week I’d pet them.

Raising a dog in the suburbs is another matter. I still remember house-training my twins; I can’t cope with one more mammal who can’t use a toilet or cook.

As I babbled about all this to my neighbour, she poured me a second glass. “Have you taken the kids to the pet store?” she asked. “You know, to play with the animals.”

A Pet Store That Sells Pets

I took a sip of my wine. “They have animals there?” I asked.

She paused, taking her time to refill her own glass with Sauvignon Blanc. “What did you think they sold?”

I could tell she was reining in the sarcasm.

“Dog food? Leashes?”

Who knew they had animals there.

So on Sunday, needing an activity before the kids returned to school on Monday for Journal Day, I drove five minutes to the pet store.

I can confirm that Petland does indeed have live animals. The kids and I watched a bird squawk, pet a puppy that looked like a mop, and explored the aquarium section.

“Can we get a fish?” William asked.


“Why not?” said Vivian.

“Because I can’t even keep a plant alive.”

“We’ll take care of it.”

And then I saw it. The writing on the wall. Literally.

How To Return A Dead Fish

I laughed. The image of me returning with a dead fish, ½ cup of fishbowl water, and a receipt was too vivid.

“Let’s go,” I said.

And out we skipped, empty handed.

*             *             *

Any strong opinions for-or-against pets out there?


  1. Kim Smith says

    As the owner of two long-haired cats (one of which is a diabetic that requires twice daily insulin shots) and the mother of a fairly obsessive nearly-two-year-old daughter who spends an inordinate amount of time picking cat hair off of her hands, toys, and socks, I can unequivocally say that I am anti-pet. If anyone would like a diabetic, fairly neurotic, heavily shedding cat, please contact me…I know where you can find one.

  2. says

    There are two bad things to mix with children: 1. Yo Gabba Gabba and 2. Pets. I’ve always been a dog person, and we have an awesome border collie that we have had since before the kids were born, so she is really the alpha child. She is great with the kids, but she’s old and not very interactive with them, and honestly, they don’t pay her much attention. Poor girl. They even ask me stuff like, “Can we get a dog? We want a puppy!” And I’m like, are you kidding me? Hellllooooo, we have a dog. We absolutely will not throw another pet into the mix now and when Millie goes on to the big pasture in the sky, we probably won’t get anything else for a while. Pets are a huge responsiblity and although the kids are at first giddy with the thought of taking care of their own animal, that wears off pretty quick and before you know it, you are not only taking care of your kids, but also their pets. I say, pets are great, but the lower maintenance the better. Get an older dog/cat, no babies. Make sure your house is set up so you can just open the door and let the animal out when they need to, or you will be making midnight trips around the block. Hope that helps!

  3. says

    Our dogs moved out before the baby came. Now they don’t set foot in the house. They don’t get walked. They are like farm dogs. They do go to the lake with us so they are not totally mistreated.

    I am laughing thinking about an angry customer plopping a dead fish on the check out counter and demanding satisfaction. I hope this happens sometimes.

  4. says

    We have both. At one point (don’t judge/laugh), we had three cats, two dogs, and two kids. It was a zoo. Literally. I find that the pets (oh, the shedding!) require just as much upkeep as the kids and are easily neglected because they can’t throw a tantrum quite like a toddler. I’m hoping as the kiddos get older, we’ll reach a better equilibrium, like, say, walking the dogs more than once a month.

    (Dropping by from Scary Mommy. Nice to meet you!)

  5. says

    I’m in the pro-pet camp. Be careful of your avoidance strategy. My father answered my begging for a pony as a kid with, “we don’t have a place for one. That’s too bad. If we had a place to keep one you could have one.” That went on for years and he probably thought he was smart until my neighbor built a barn and offered me stall space for free. The pony followed soon after.

    • says

      That’s a good point, Heather. Reminds me of my brother, who cautions against using the word “never” (like, I’m never going to drive a minivan – ha!).

  6. says

    I have told my girls that we will get a dog when the older one (Flora, now 5) is 7.

    I am regretting this. She wishes she were 7; she wishes on stars — sometimes that she get a puppy, sometimes that she BE a puppy.

    Furthermore, I’m a little worried that my daughters’ longing for a pet has sent them around the bend. Last summer, Flora was determined to adopt an ant (and name it “Andy”); this year, it’s their cooing over worms.

    A guinea pig wouldn’t be that bad an idea, would it be?

  7. says

    Love the dead fish return policy. Do not make the mistake of returning the dead fish floating in the dead-fish water.

    Our son turns 7 next week and wants a turtle. Actually he first asked for a monkey, then a snake, then a rabbit. We compromised to agree on a turtle.

  8. says

    Hi! I’m new to your blog, which is wonderfully funny/real/oh-my-goodness-you-have-twins! I have one baby and two dogs, and let’s just say, I love them all, but NO. I am totally a dog person, but sometimes I think if there were a convenient way to unload one or both of the dogs on a nice friend just for a couple of years, while I figure out how to deal with this whole motherhood thing, I WOULD DO IT. In a heartbeat!

    Which is to say, I do not recommend that mothers of twins get a dog. I mean, unless you’re feeling like your life is way too easy, and what you really need right now is ANOTHER NEEDY CREATURE who demands your attention pretty much 24/7.

    Also, as a dog lover, I have always felt that the only sound reason to get a dog is because YOU love dogs. I’ve seen people get dogs for their children (feeling so-so about the venture themselves) and live to really regret it. Dogs are a 10-15 year commitment. Children don’t have the patience to care for, let alone discipline and train, a dog, and they soon grow out of their obsession. Puppies grow up to be big, boring dogs. Sorry, kids!

    (My parents told me I could have a dog as a kid, then my dad got a sudden “allergy” that he didn’t have before, and I never got the promised animal. I’m not recommending this approach. Just saying. In retrospect, I’m glad my parents didn’t get a dog just to please me, for the reasons explained above.)

  9. kootnygirl says

    We always had a dog growing up. My dad was a game warden, and his big yellow lab worked with him in the bush. We also had a big yard, so the dog could be let out to do her ‘business’ and that was that. I just about died laughing the first time I saw a suburban dog owner following Fido around with a plastic grocery bag to pick up his ‘business’.

    I’d love to have a dog, but it would be ridiculous. Our house sits on .09 of an acre, husband & I both work full-time, and neither one of us has the energy to take a dog for a good run every night. So I just add it to my list of retirement dreams :)

  10. says

    I am a worker at the afore-mentioned Petland, and owner of a zoo of my own. Here are my reflections on kids & pets:
    Ferrets: Just no. The youngest a kid should be to care for a ferret is, maybe, fifteen. I got my first two at sixteen, and they are the best pets in the world, but not for beginner pet owners.
    Hamsters: Good for a first pet, since they don’t particularly care if you play with them every day or leave them in the cage for weeks, as long as the water and food are full and the cage is clean. Careful- you’ll end up being the one cleaning the cage, no matter how much they promise.
    Fish: I am the owner of over a hundred different types of fish, and I will just say that they are fantastic pets, but not very much “fun” after the initial “cool factor” has worn off, and the maintenance is actually quite a bit (only one type of fish, the betta or siamese fighting fish, can live in a bowl- the rest need a full tank, heater and filter setup).
    Dogs: Don’t kid yourself- the kids won’t lift a finger except to grab onto doggy’s tail for a ride around the floor. If you want a dog, go for it. If the kids want a dog and you do not, DON’T.
    Cats: Not good for kids, as they really just don’t care if you want to cuddle- they most likely don’t!
    Hedgehogs: Too “scary” for most kids (and adults) even though they can be very sweet and rarely spike up. However, they stink to high heaven, and your kids most likely won’t play with it after the first day.
    Birds: Finches and budgies make great low-maintenance pets if you don’t mind the noise (you already have kids- can’t get much louder!). You clean the cage once a week, make sure they have food and water, and that’s it! Fun to watch, but I don’t reccommend trying to handle them. Perfect if you want a hands-off pet!
    Turtles/tortoises: Lots of work, need lots of space, and they eat a freaking lot. They probably cost as much to keep as a dog. And you can’t handle them (except every once in a while to make sure all is well).
    Reptiles in general: In a nutshell, they’re reptiles. They are unpredictable, can move very quickly, and are at greater risk of being put in the mouths of children than fuzzy alternatives.

    I suggest frogs- aquatic or terrestrial. They have hilarious personalities, are low maintenance, don’t smell, and are pretty hard to neglect as long as they’re kept fed and clean.

    In my (not so) humble opinion, pets are the backbone of a family. They teach everyone how to speak quietly, treat others with respect (you don’t wake up the hamster, you don’t wake up mommy at 2am), handle living things gently, see something grow up, and get a beginning sense of responsibility. My parents did the same as most: promise the kid that they can have a pet when they *insert anything here*. Mine said that I could have a hamster if I could research it enough to prove that I’m an “expert” on hamster care; they thought I’d get bored quickly (I was 6 at the time). I researched everything I could find about hamsters, and created a whole presentation on everything I needed to know. So we went to a pet store, and picked out my first pet. True to my word, I fed it and watered it and cleaned its cage regularly for its three-year-life. I was permitted to get another, and I did the same for it. Every time I wanted a pet, I did my research and showed my parents I was responsible, and now I have two horses, a tortoise, two ferrets, a hamster, a hedgehog, and nine fish tanks, all of which I care for meticulously (though I’m quite a bit older now!).

    Long story short, pets are wonderful additions to most households, and you should really consider it- they will enrich your life more than you ever thought imaginable.

    There’s my two cents! :)

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