Have you ever stood at the cash register in a pet supply store and heard a parent in front of you warning their child, “You’ll have to look after this pet now!”? One day I waited in line and observed a girl nodding fervently and vowing to her parents that she’d look after Willie and feed him every day.
“Well, you’d better,” her mother said, “because I’m not going to look after it.”
Willie, the unhappy-looking lizard plopped on the counter before us, didn’t seem to believe them any more than I did. The girl was about tennish; the vanishing point of her horizon was only a few months ahead. I suspected this lizard could live until she was a teen hanging out with a best friend, away at college or off at her job. Or until she just plain got tired of him.
We saw an ad in the paper one day for a small dog –Bichon-type– for sale. I was kind of interested so I called and we arranged a time to see it. The mother told me they were selling the dog because their seven-year-old son wasn’t looking after it anymore; he’d really liked her at first, but now he spent all his time playing video games.
I felt so sorry for that pooch. They’d had it over a year and it had bonded with their family – especially the boy – and now they were getting rid of it. (If they did. She called me and said someone else claimed it.) I had to wonder if they just using the threat, “We’re selling it if you don’t play with it” as a lever to force their son into taking more responsibility for his dog? And I thought they should rather give the video game away; it would suffer no resulting trauma.
The danger of pets is that parents believe their children are actually going to look after them. Sooner or later the truth hits home and the pet’s future is in jeopardy because no one is willing to take over as caregiver.
The danger of pets is that they are living things. Neglect can cause serious suffering and death. I think it’s great for a child to have a pet, too, but the danger of children is that they aren’t capable of long-term commitment – no matter how much they promise. That commitment is the parents’ responsibility: we commit ourselves to making sure our child cares for his pet – and if he won’t or can’t, we will.
I came across this poem in Edgar Guest’s collection; I thought it summed up the situation nicely.
Janet has a pair of rabbits just as white as winter’s snow
which she begged of me to purchase just a week or two ago.
She found the man who raised them and she took me over there
to show me all his bunnies, at a dollar for a pair,
and she pleaded to possess them so I looked at her and said:
“Will you promise every morning to make sure that they are fed?”
She promised she would love them and she promised she would see
they had lettuce leaves to nibble and were cared for tenderly.
And she looked at me astounded when I said, “I should regret
buying pretty bunnies for you if to feed them you’d forget.
Once there was a little fellow, just about as old as you
who forgot to feed the rabbits which he’d owned a week or two.”
“He forgot to feed his rabbits!” said my Janet in dismay.
“Yes,” I said, “as I remember, he’d go scampering off to play.
And his mother or his daddy later on would go to see
if his pretty little bunnies had been cared for properly,
and they’d shake their heads in sorrow and remark it seems too bad
that rabbits should belong to such a thoughtless little lad.”
“Who was the boy?” she asked me, and the truth to her I told,
“A little boy you’ve never seen who now is gray and old.
Some folks say you’re just like him,” but she looked at me and said:
“I won’t forget my bunnies! I’ll make sure that they are fed!”
And she bravely kept her promise for about a week or two,
but today I fed the rabbits, as I knew I’d have to do.