Should We Get a Pet?

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  • Child wants a pet but I don't

    (33 replies)

    My 9 year child wants a pet. I do not want a pet. I am allergic to cats, dogs, and hay, among other things. I have an epi pen due to a number of allergies. Our house is small. I am also very stressed out from the crushing load of daily responsibilities of work, kid, meal planning, cooking, household chores, family finances, home and car maintenance, among other things. I told my child that I cannot add the responsibility of taking care of a pet. I also don’t want additional expense, as money is tight already. Child keeps begging and I don’t know how other families manage, but my kid is the only child in their class without a pet!  From their perspective, all of their friends’ parents are fine with a cat, dog and many having 2-3 pets. Child understands my allergies and has requested a fish or a tortoise. How do I help the child understand that I do not have any reserve in me to add fish care to the list of chores. Of course, child says they will do the work but I know that it will be on me to maintain the tank, keep the water balanced, buy food and supplies. Child will help but it will be on me to turn fish care into a learning experience. I need to unload duties and not add more. Spouse does not want a pet either, so neither of us is willing to be the pet co-parent with the child. I am trying to offer free pet sitting/dog walking services to neighbors as a way for my child to have some animal time. I can take medication and deal with occasional pet encounters at someone else’s house. I am also considering buying a robotic dog but there is a very long waitlist for one. What should I do?  I wish I could be more like other people who seem totally fine having a pet. Having a pet seems so normal but it feels daunting.  Right now I am holding firm and just letting the child know “no pet” which is creating a lot of tense moments at home. 

    I just want to voice my support for your position on this, and encourage you to keep trying to find your child a pet sitting or dogwalking gig to satisfy their need for animal companionship.  Pets are a TON of work and even low maintenance pets like fish and turtles are time-consuming (and frankly, not all that rewarding).  Have you tried offering yourself as a dog walker (your child could accompany you)? Even doing a 20-min. walk a day would be less work than owning your own pet.  Or any of those friends with multiple pets -- seems like they might be willing to let you take their dog on walks. 

    I hear you, although we have had dogs and fish, I totally understand the feeling of overwhelm and t's just more responsibility. However, I would suggest you let them get a beta fish. It just requires a SMALL tank, a small pump/filter and is virtually painless to take care of. Seems like that might solve the pet problem with as little work on your part as possible. Good luck!

    We are living with four dogs and fish and I completely support your no pet boundary! They bring joy but also so much extra work. The Berkeley animal shelter used to let kids over the age of 5 volunteer with a parent. You don’t have to commit to a schedule after the initial training and just come and go as you please (this was pre pandemic so you’d need to double check). You can play with the animals or walk them. Might be a great compromise if you can take them to play with dogs or cats for an hour or two every couple of months. 

    Hold the line. I had these discussions with my kids, finally got them a couple guppies. They almost never cleaned the tank or fed them. Guppies eventually died and I had to deal with clean up. Not to mention time and money wasted getting the tank all set up. I regret getting the fish. You kid can buy themselves a pet and take care of it when they are older. It's a good opportunity to learn that just because everyone else has something doesn't mean you should too. On the other hand, as someone noted, it is SUPER easy to have a beta fish. Even though it's sad to see them in their little bowl and it will probably die eventually. Much less hassle than other fish though.

    I would let them get a fish (like a beta or other similar small fish or fishes) in a small bowl to take care of themselves, and it if dies, they will learn something new. It seems like 9 is old enough to take care of a very small fish tank themselves, but it definitely depends on your kid. Also, the dog-walking is a great idea, especially with a group of supportive neighbors, as they would likely learn a lot of new things and skills there. But I wouldn't expect it to replace the desire to have their own pet in their own home. I wouldn't get a robot pet because it's not a good substitution if what your child craves is being with and taking care of real animals. I wouldn't underestimate the pleasure watching a fish tank could bring your family, but they aren't going to be as dynamic and interactive as something your child can hold and play with. There are also other things your kid might to, like horseback riding, or volunteering at a zoo, but these activities might be out of scope of your financial and time budgets. I used to work at a children's zoo that helped recommend suitable pets for kids and families, and turtles are not really recommended as pets for kids because they are hard to take care of and give very little signal to us when they aren't doing well. They tend to need more experienced pet owners. Some small snakes and lizards are OK depending on your regional location, like corn snakes and geckos. Small furries like guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits are also good pets for kids, but not sure how they would impact your allergies (noticed you mentioned cats and dogs are out). 

    The answer to your child’s request is a hard no. You just can’t. His requests aren’t practical. He isn’t old enough to care for a pet and neither you nor your spouse wish to. His requests are impractical - tortoises grow enormous and live forever. They prefer warm environments and, if that’s not enough, they’re really incredible escape artists. Fish, ironically, are way more difficult to keep in small tanks than big ones. A betta fish can live in a fish bowl, but that bowl will still grow algae and you’ll still have to maintain it. I also doubt he’d be satisfied with it.

    You don’t owe your child a pet, and he won’t be deprived without one. I always wanted a cat when I was a kid; my parents said no. So when I grew up and got my own place, I got my first cat! That’s the nice thing about being an adult; no one gets to tell you what to do. But until then, it is evident that he can’t have a pet. You do not need to justify it and you should not feel guilty.

    I totally understand your reasons for not wanting a pet. My only thought to perhaps help ease the tension is to consider a negotiation where she is able 'earn' a pet. Since a pet is generally long term commitment (especially a tortoise) she would need to agree additionally chores / responsibilities.  Something that can actually lighten your load (cleaning, easy meal prep, folding laundry etc). If she can prove she is responsible for those added chores for many months then she can get a pet. And when she gets the pet she has to continue added chores and new pet chores. And perhaps having the responsibilities will help lessen her desire for a pet. Just a thought. 

    I would say definitely don't get a pet if neither parent wants one! The well-being of a creature with no say in the matter is at issue here, for one thing--pets shouldn't be brought into a household that's not full-heartedly entering into the responsibility. With respect to your child, this is a chance for them to learn that all families are different, and some families have some special features (like a pet) and others have other special features (insert here lots of whatever is special about your family in terms of what activities you do, what treats you eat, what traditions you have, etc.). Help your child explore options for fulfilling their need for animal love some other way--through visiting friends' pets or, when older, pet sitting or volunteering. For now, you are the parents and it's your house, and it sounds like household harmony--and your health and parental sanity--trump the child's desire to own a pet. 

    Do you have a yard?  Would a birdfeeder work?  It's not the same, but it does provide a lot of opportunities to watch animals.  We have a hummingbird feeder, which needs to be washed carefully (to prevent disease transmission) and refilled regularly -- seems like the kind of responsibility a 9-year-old could handle with parental support, and would get you a sense of how serious your kid is about this.   

    I also wonder if you could think a little further ahead to the teen years and see about volunteer opportunities at your local shelter.  Berkeley Humane allows volunteers age 12-15 with an accompanying parent (I know, not what you're hoping for...).  Maybe there are other shelters or rescues that have options for teens to get involved more independently?  Maybe someone in your neighborhood fosters puppies and could use help socializing and cleaning up after them?

    Wow, I think that's great that you're offering free dog walks. That's a great solution. Maybe also check out point Isabelle or go to MLK park where there's a lawn for dogs to run and also a playground. We had a Beta fish for a while, and the first two weeks were great. But after that it was boring and laborious to clean out the tank (we didn't have a pump). I'm getting allergy shots for various allergies but I asked them (Kaiser) to throw in dog and cat allergens. Maybe in a couple years we will get a cat. Agree that this is more about the mental load rather than allergies. Have you checked out the realistic robot cats on Amazon? They are targeted for older adults but I think it would be a great place holder for kids. 

    The SPCA has camps and volunteer opportunities for kids that age that you could look into:

    I get where you're coming from about not wanting a pet but I do wonder, what if you're wrong about your kid? They're 9 so in theory totally capable of taking care of a fish. What's the worse that happens if you get one with the understanding that you and your partner will have nothing to do with keeping it alive? Either it dies and that's the end of it, they have proven they won't take care of an animal, or they take great care of it and you learn something new about your kid. Good luck! 

    I also firmly support your standing firm on this. We don't have any pets for similar reasons, although my children are younger (and therefore even less reliable), and they do have access to a dog at their grandparent's house so they haven't been so desperate. But even if you stand firm in your decision, it sounds like you are contending with the ongoing tension of having to repeatedly say no and be the bad guy, which is never fun (although definitely necessary). Maybe there is some more middle ground to explore to help ease that burden on you.

    Sometimes sinking deeply into the empathy of how hard it is to not be able to have that thing you want can also diffuse some of the tension. We ALL know how hard it is to long for something we just can't have (two extra hours in the day? an extra hour of sleep every night, anyone?). So just sitting and being present (not trying to problem-solve it away or minimize it) with that feeling alongside your child can be powerful for them. Be sad with them that they can't have this pet they desperately want, even though the thought doesn't make YOU sad for yourself.

    You may have already done this also, but another thing that might be helpful is to talk with your child about what underlies the desperation for a pet (with true curiosity). I wonder what parts of pet ownership is your child most anticipating? Is it cuddling with something warm and furry? Is it being able to regularly take care of something? Is it just being able to fit in with friends who all have pets? Maybe if there is a particular aspect of pet ownership that your child is longing for, there might be a way to problem solve for that underlying need/longing more accurately. Maybe they could volunteer at the humane society, have regular visits at a friends' house to cuddle their animals (depending on Covid considerations), visit a neighbor's animal. It sounds like you are thinking about a lot of these options already so this might not be the most useful, but it might just be that you persist in this path for a bit until you hit on a good option that works; in fact, maybe you give this job of researching and brainstorming ideas to your child - "We are not going to get a pet ourselves, but if you would like to have regular visits with animals somewhere, I am okay with that. If you come up with a list of ideas (talk with your friends, maybe do a supervised web search, etc), I will consider which of them might work for us." Maybe the vivarium wants some help with feeding the lizards every Thursday afternoon. Maybe, if finances are not prohibitive, they get to go to the Oakland Zoo camp in the summer, or something similar. 

    Maybe there is a way that your child could prove to you that they would take care of a pet independently so that you can have some faith that at least the regular maintenance wouldn't fall on you. Some responsibility they have to demonstrate complete independence in *remembering to do* AND *doing* before they can ask again for a pet (but only if you are considering getting something - a beta fish, perhaps?). Then you can refer back to that condition/expectation, e.g., "We are not going to get a pet until you have shown you will be completely responsible for it. You are getting better at x when I ask, but you need to be able to do it without me reminding you. Let's talk again when you've done that for two/three/seven days/weeks/months in a row."

    Having grown up with many pets, all of which my parents ended up caring for at points, and when I went to college, I am firmly of the belief that all pets should be family pets. If the parents aren’t able to take on a pet at this time, then the kids can’t have a pet. You are allergic and you and your spouse can’t handle the added responsibilities of a pet you aren’t allergic to right now. No shame! Parenting is overwhelming in good times, and we’re still in a pandemic.

    As to how to deal, try reframing this as an opportunity to help your kid deal with frustration and anger and jealousy. Your boundary of “no pets right now” is a reasonable one. So stick to it. And help your kid. They are allowed to be angry, disappointed, sad, jealous, whatever they feel. Those are overwhelming feelings even for adults! And they’re only 9. It’s a lot to deal with. Help them deal with their feelings. (That doesn’t mean allowing constant whining or screaming or other name calling or such, though).

    The book “how to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” would be very helpful here.

    Finally, how do other parents do it? Some people have more external support, others have less on their plate, and also, many family pets are borderline neglected with only their most basic needs met at the most minimal level but not really given the care to thrive.

    If you do decide to get a pet, I highly recommend a beta fish. They cost around $10, don’t need much space and are very easy to care for. Amazon currently  has a beta fish tank- the white one is on sale for $7.97. It’s called the Marina EZ care beta kit. It’s a self cleaning tank.  They are solitary fish- one to a tank. In the stores they are kept in jars the size of a small cup. This is something a 9 year old could manage.

    I'm going to encourage you to hold the line. You know pet care will fall on you, and you're right. We've been there, with dogs, beta fish, and a bird. We couldn't keep the beta fish alive, even though they are supposed to be easy. The bird was supposed to be my husband's and son's thing (my son's pet with my husband's help...he had birds growing up), but guess who was on the hook with the bird? Me! And damn was that bird a screamer. Our two dogs turned out to be my responsibility, too, even though the kids swore up and down they'd walk and feed them. I love my dogs, but I'm probably not getting another when this last little guy goes to his reward. Enough with the responsibility! Also, don't engage, explain, bargain with your son anymore. You've said your piece. He needs to accept it.

    I think first and foremost you have to set a boundary that you feel good about. In this case it sounds like “no pet” is your answer. But you have to gently and consistently enforce it while deeply empathizing with your child’s sadness over it. It is much harder for a child to hear a bit of “maybe” in your response so just make a final decision and then calmly repeat that it is final and that you won’t be changing your mind so that she can move on. 

    I hear your valid concerns (I had the same overwhelm, allergies). I wonder what's behind your child wanting a pet—being like the other kids? having a companion? having responsibility? 

    To avoid a power struggle, I wonder what part you can say yes to, as an experiment (literally tell them it's an experiment, one step at a time, see where it goes). When my kids were young (they are now young adults), they collected bugs and kept them in jars that they added twigs, fresh leaves, etc. to as well as dribbled in water with an eyedropper now and again. W considered these bugs pets. The bugs didn't last long, about as long as the kids' attention spans. It was a start at taking care of a living being. One graduated to having a goldfish in a bowl in her room(paid for with money she earned). She talked to it every day. She cleaned the bowl for a while, until she stopped. The fish died shortly after that, and she got over it. She also took on cat sitting jobs (and realized she was fine with the responsibility for a few days, and not much longer).

    The nice thing about an experiment is you can hold your boundaries around what you are willing to take on, and show your child you hear and acknowledge them by letting them have a a go at some part (skip the zero to sixty!). It may just fizzle out or they may prove to be responsible and might be able to move onto something more, like a hamster, when you're both ready.

    You might try putting off the discussion for a year or two until they demonstrate they are mature enough to take on some of the responsibility of a pet and hopefully you will be less overloaded. Is there something around the house, for ex., they could take care of (and keep alive) to show they have the stick-to-it-ness to care for an animal? The allergy thing is real and I wouldn't give yourself the burden of medication in service of your child's request; no cats or dogs is just something they have to come to terms with as being part of a caring family. But the desire to have a pet is a real thing too, so I guess you'd have to weigh their desire and the depth of that desire with what you can manage, if at all. Because you're right, the burden of care (= keeping alive!) probably will fall to you as parents. If you're looking for suggestions on pets: you might consider a reptile like a snake or lizard, or even a hermit crab. They of course require care (feeding, heat, cleaning their cage) but they could check some of the boxes for you and your child. Some reptiles can be quite friendly and fun. A visit to the East Bay Vivarium might be a start. Reptiles were a part of my kids' growing up (bearded dragons, geckos) and cats (to which I was allergic for all 20 years) but loved. Another somewhat out of the box idea if your child likes horses and there's the time and budget for it, might be for them to take horseback riding lessons which include learning how to groom and care for them, which could give them that connection they seem to crave. Good luck!

    I went to a parenting workshop long ago when my kids were little, and the facilitator (whose name I don't remember!) presented a framework that I found very helpful. She said there are red light, yellow light, and green light issues. Red light - you will never allow your toddler to cross the street alone. This is an easy rule for you to enforce as a parent (of course, they may still run away from you, but it's not up for discussion). Green light - your kid can have as much broccoli as they want; again, no thought/conflict needed. Yellow light - all the in-between stuff - can I have a sleepover? can I have another piece of candy? etc - and this is where conflict comes in because you have to decide how you feel, where you stand, and your decision may vary from day to day (which is allowed!). From reading your post, it sounds like this is a red light issue for you, but your kid thinks it is a yellow light issue. I think you will have a much easier time if you get very clear in your head that the answer is no, and then you will be able to communicate that more strongly to your kid. They don't need to understand your reasoning! Just tell them they can have a pet when they are a grown-up and it is their decision to make.

    And, your kid will be fine without a pet!! This is not a necessity of life. Hold strong.

    My 8-year-old has wanted a pet since she was 2 and we (parents) have zero interest in having a pet or investing time and financial resources in pet care. Yes, almost everyone we know has a dog or cat or several creatures, and it's unfortunate that our animal-loving child was born to parents who do not share this love of furry creatures. I guess I don't feel bad about it, because I truly have no interest in having an animal in my home. I don't think it would be fair to the pet, either, and would probably cause a different set of conflicts with my child. I DO feel bad for my child and we talk about it regularly - what kind of dog she'll have when she grows up, when we get to visit our friends and family with pets, how this is not fair and what feelings she has and how we are differnt people. We have been pet-sitters for neighbors when they travel (pets stay at the neighbor's home, we go feed and play with them) and as my child gets older I would also consider flyering the neighborhood to offer free dog-walking services. We also have a toy dog that barks and is really annoying but thankfully it doesn't get played with too often - I don't know about robotic dogs but I don't think I'd want that either. It's okay to say no and remember all the other wonderful generous things you DO give your child. They can have a pet when they are independent of you!

    We have a dog and a beta fish. They are basically our pet and not my daughter pet. I take care the dog, and husband takes care the beta fish. The beta fish needs a lot of work. Husband has to clean the tank, etc., and  my daughter only feed the fish twice a day. We started with free small bowl, then beta fish and end up with new tank with water filter and fish feeder for when we are out of town. This post is to confirm that yes, pets need a lot of works and money. 

    Speaking as a parent who recently caved and got a dog, I support your decision! It's a LOT of work. Recently saw that the SPCA has camps and volunteer opportunities. May be of interest to your kiddo?

    I totally understand your reasons for not wanting a pet. My only thought to perhaps help ease the tension is to consider a negotiation where she is able 'earn' a pet. Since a pet is generally long term commitment (especially a tortoise) she would need to agree additionally chores / responsibilities.  Something that can actually lighten your load (cleaning, easy meal prep, folding laundry etc). If she can prove she is responsible for those added chores for many months then she can get a pet. And when she gets the pet she has to continue added chores and new pet chores. And perhaps having the responsibilities will help lessen her desire for a pet. Just a thought. 

    Stick to your position!  We went thru the same thing.

    Like you, I have allergies and was already exhausted and overwhelmed with chores. Our daughter begged incessantly for a dog. For years! I am not a dog person, and detest cats.  I like birds, but they are dirty and smelly, and it is cruel IMHO to keep them caged. 

    No nine-year old child would be mature enough to take responsibility for a pet.

    Pet fish have a high mortality rate, so then the Mom gets to deal with a decomposing, slimy dead fish on her day off.

    Finally our daughter went off to college, where she and eight housemates occupied a three bedroom flat with untrained, un-cared -or dogs and cats. Our daughter began to get a glimmer of what pet guardianship entails.

    Now, at age 30, she is living at home with us, with her large German shepherd.  The dog has won me over with his intelligence, good manners and devotion to my husband as he recovered from injuries in a car wreck.  Our adult daughter and my husband do ALL the dog care and cleaning up after him, and my allergies are not bothered by him.

    Beyond saying "Hold firm",  my advice would be to offer her a reward for every week she can forbear from begging and whining for a pet.

    If you and your husband present a united front, she will eventually give up on the overt begging.

    I’m here in solidarity. No pets. Life is hard enough. Ex husband showed up with pets (fish, cat) for our son several times to MY house (I had 80% custody back then), and it never went well. Nope. 

    My friend's 10 year old child wanted a dog, and the parents (similar to your situation did not...)  The parent decided that the child could have a dog if the child could walk her stuffed animal every day for an hour without complaint for six months.  The child did not walk the stuffed animal after two weeks, and then the decision was less about the parents not being willing to get one.  Maybe something similar could be helpful for you-such as getting an empty fish tank and having the child do maintenance on it without the fish for a period of time...

    Just say no. Even 'easy' pets are work - and it's not just what you need to do to care for them every day, but also figuring out care when you go out of town. Perhaps you can tell your son that you may reconsider in a few years, when he is a teenager and ready to take on more responsibility.

    I feel for you! I totally appreciate and understand how overburdened you already feel without adding a pet to the load. I also understand the desire of your child to have one - it seems to be almost all kids. I want to give you encouragement to explain warmly but firmly to your child that you just can't do it right now. I'm sorry there have to be tense moments because of this issue and I'm hoping you can diffuse them with caring boundary setting. It's hard with a nine-year-old, but if you could convey it with something like, "I totally understand how you  want a pet and I very much wish we could have one, but we just can't right now. Your dad and I (or whoever the other parent is) use up all of our energy and money with what we already have to take care of right now, and I'm sorry about this, but it's the reality. How about we consider this again in about two years? You'll be 11 then and better able to do more of the caring and work for the pet.  And we can see how we as parents are doing - maybe you can start learning a little cooking by then and we'll feel like we have a bit more time and energy. I love you so much and want you to have a pet to love, but this is what we can offer right now." 

    If your child compares your household to other households, just nicely say Well, we don't know the details of their situation or something like that.

    Hope this helps. All the best.

    This is simply a question of your health. I am allergic to cats, dogs, rabbits, lab rats.... and living with my then boyfriend's cats led to 10 years of asthma therapy. When they were young, my kids had a babysitter who was also a dog walker and they loved that. They asked me once, "Mom, if you die, can we get a dog?" And I said "Of course" and then they said - "Not that we want you to die, mom." My now adult daughter, who lives out of state, has two indoor cats.  Its just a fact - you have allergies and it's a matter of your health. If you can unweight the topic, so it is not a power struggle, that would help. I wouldn't argue about your workload which brings up how overwhelmed you feel and inserts an element of resentment which is beyond the ken of a 9 year old.  Maybe the teacher could help with your child feeling isolated for not having pets. We took some of the classroom reptiles home every summer. Having a pet is not normal in lots of other cultures where animals work - they keep down rodents, they guard sheep. they provide food and milk, and they live outside. Americans are particularly cultish about pets which I believe reflects how lonely we are. Maybe your child could visit the Tilden park farm and the Steinhart aquarium and extend his/her interest in animals to ecosystems and habitat. Enjoy animal encounters outside of your home. Nova, science shows. 

    Okay, this might seem like an odd suggestion, but try to have an open mind: There’s a whole community of people whose favorite pets are (drumroll)—tiny Jumping Spiders. They are legitimately adorable and personable, cheap, easy to keep, and need to be kept solo (more than one in the same enclosure will result in territory battles). Yes, you can hold them! They don’t bite. Loads of information online about them, pet jumping spider groups on Facebook, etc. This shows how to make a little enclosure for them:

    Good luck! 

    Just chiming in late to say that OP, you seem really stressed and unhappy, and the pet nagging is maybe not the root issue. I would suggest sitting down with your spouse and reviewing the division of responsibilities that are "crushing" you. That sounds very serious and you might be depressed, or have other things going on.

    On the pet front, I also am very very allergic to most furry things including the preschool guinea pigs as became obvious when we brought them home for a weekend some years ago! I thought this included ALL dogs and cats (had the skin test that showed it was). But guess what - after years of whining from my kids, we got a wire haired shelter dog, total mutt but with that clear trait, and he doesn't trigger my allergies. However, I am beyond happy that we waited until my eldest was 12 and could actually be helpful with walking the dog and cleaning up after him. There is a reason why most animal rescue agencies will not consider homes with children under 10/11/12 - my then 9 year old was useless with the dog, actually detrimental to his training. So you could definitely buy some time with your child by pointing this out to her on animal rescue websites, and shrugging it's out of your hands.

    My final thought - I'm pro-pets for old-enough kids, especially only children, like I was. I had fish and cats as a child (before knowing I was allergic to cats), and fish are just disgusting. I would never encourage fish as a pet; in fact, I think having a couple of fish that died revoltingly left me with a fish phobia for 20 years, couldn't go to acquariums, etc. NO FISH.

    I suggest a caterpillar. Easy, cheap, and best of all, temporary. It is a great learning experience to find a butterfly egg, watch a caterpillar grow, observe the chrysalis, and release an adult. You could contact the Pollinator Posse for help. Best time to get started is in the spring. It does take a little  bit of time to keep the enclosure clean and feed the insect. But, it only last for 2-3 weeks. 

    Hi, everyone gave some good thoughts! I want to add Please, Please don't take on ANY  living creature as a "test" to see if your child can do it, whether its a fish, hamster, snake, reptile, dog or cat!!! No creature deserves to die for that. This is a family responsibility. It is the job of the parents to lovingly teach a child how to take care of a creature. If you honestly can't do it, please don't. You will traumatize the child if you get an animal that ends up dying from neglect or being turned back into the shelter. Just a thought, tho, if they are an only child, they could seriously benefit from a companion animal. Also, one of the most true joys I have had in my life is teaching my kids how to care for animals and observing the love and compassion they have for their pets. It has taught them empathy, responsibility and altruistic love.