Kids and Pets: A Love Story
My father has a story he likes to tell about me as a child:
When I was five, I decided that I wanted a dog more than anything, more than I wanted to be alive. And so for a period of about four months, I decided if I couldn’t have a dog, I would simply be a dog.
This is a level of extortion only a five year old can really get away with. I walked around on my hands and knees. I wore belts around my neck and called them collars. I ate out of bowls on the floor. My mother finally broke down when I asked her to take me on a walk around the block - in public - and a matter of weeks later, we got Sassy, a scrappy Cairn Terrier I named myself. Sassy is blind now and has to be carried up and down the stairs of my parents' house, but my father only laughs about it. He can’t look at our golden dust mop, her clouded-over eyes and benign tumor on her left side, without remembering toddler me eating spaghetti out of Tupperware on the kitchen floor just to make a point.
When I talk to any friend about animals, they usually have a story or two to share. Almost everyone had a pet, or some experience with someone else’s animals growing up, that they can recount with a smile.
Kids and pets make more sense to me than just about anything else. Learning diligence and consequence of action comes when you involve a child in choosing an animal, selecting what the animal needs together, letting the child name it, and encouraging them to take responsibility for the little life they wanted. Having pets is an opportunity to learn about research, about obligation and yes, about love.
But having a pet does even more than that. Everyone remembers when their first pet died; for me it was Goldy and Swimmer, the two giant goldfish we killed ceremoniously within the first week of our fish tank venture. Kids who encounter grief and cope with loss when Nugget the hamster dies might find it just that much easier to recognize their emotions and work through them when it’s a family member, a teacher or a friend later on in life.
Everyone had some sort of experience with pets and learned from it. But when I talk to my fellow Pet World staff, there is something different. Our employees in our younger days had an entirely different level of pet keeping. We had cats and dogs, parakeets and geckos, goldfish tanks and frogs we caught at the creek. We had finches that wouldn’t stop laying eggs, that turtle that bit our little sister, and went through more hermit crabs than we can remember. We kept bunnies that our dogs found in the backyard, sparrows that our cats caught in the spring, and routinely brought home lost dogs on our walks home from school that our parents always had to remind us had owners we needed to hurry up and call. Like, now.
The past selves of the Pet World staff were experts at begging, at presentations with sub-points illustrating why we needed our newest pet, experts at arguments for the pets we would love, nurse to health, drag around, and eventually lose and mourn. As kids, our staff was the same as the kids we help now - eager, passionate, and very capable extortionists.
So just know that when any kid sighs wistfully after holding a bearded dragon and says the words “my mom won’t let me,” we get a twinkle in our eye. There are, as my father will tell you, only so many ways to say “no” to a girl and her dog.
Click any of the pictures to see full sized versions of some Pet World employees and the pets that helped make them who they are today!