Back in 6th and 7th grade, I remember guys and girls splintering off into cliques to chat about fellow students. The “objects” of discussion were eventually placed in one of two functional categories: you were either a “friend” or you were for “fun.”
“Friends” listened raptly to our dream of solving world hunger or muddled through elementary algebra with us. Friends let us prattle on about things that didn’t matter and proved that they had the bigger shoulders when it came to what mattered most.
On the other hand, “fun” guys and girls jump-started our hearts. They poked us out onto the rocky ledge and prodded us to dive head first into the shallows of the lake. They blurred the boundaries between recreation and recklessness. In short, they made us feel alive.
Most of us, thank goodness, outgrew such binary thinking and eventually learned that we could share the best parts of friendship and fun - to varying degrees - within the bonds we form.
Pets give us the best of both worlds, too.
Like a tried-and-true friend, they sit through our stories and share that “Aha!” moment when we learn a new app on our smart phones. Intuitively, they cuddle close to reassure us and gently affirm those qualities we doubt in ourselves.
Pets can also encourage us to walk on the wild side by leading us down the less-travelled hiking path or releasing our own inner animal during horseplay. No one can quite help us get our “fun” on like our animal companions can.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand that the healthiest blend of friendship and fun does not magically appear simply by bringing a pet into the home. The rainbow of rewards afforded by pet parenting must be earned by consistent human nurturing and devotion.
While some children demonstrate ample maturity and may be fit to assume (most of) the responsibilities of pet parenting, others don’t understand that having a pet is work. However much the little ones plead for a puppy or kitten “because they’re so much fun,” actually getting one may be the worst thing to do for the family - and the pet - if the kids promise the world and don’t deliver. Family members may then fight over who takes responsibility, possibly resulting in surrender of the pet.
Responsible adults must utter a firm “no” if a child’s maturity or promises are in question (unless, of course, the adults are ready to take on all responsibility for parenting the animal companion).
Regrettably, it’s not just some children that lack maturity. Too many full-grown adults allow themselves to be seduced by the “cute factor” and are only thinking of how much fun it would be to post their pet’s antics on social media. Others may believe that life “cheated” them out of all the fun they deserve and see getting a pet as their way of tipping the scales back in their favor. However, both impulsive and righteously indignant people make poor pet parents and share responsibility for overpopulation in animal shelters.
Only when one can be a true friend to an animal companion can one realize all the fun that pet parenting holds.