by Elaine Sigal
We had to put our 18 year old dog down last week, and I have been asking myself this question since then: Is it better to have a pet or not? Do the happy times outweigh the sadness when the pet is no longer with us? Do we own pets or do they become part of our family? Is it better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all? Have I taught my children anything by having a pet? Was she another piece of their education? So many serious questions ran through my mind.
Snoopy was our first and only pet whom we adopted when my now 28 year old was 13. He badgered, cajoled, pestered, demanded, cried, begged us for a dog and finally agreed to a written contract with us. He was to have full responsibility for the dog. It would be his dog. He would walk, feed and take care of the dog. And, he actually did. He learned to be responsible for another living creature. He loved that dog. He made sure that his schedule was organized around the dog's needs and made arrangements with us in advance when he needed help. Having a pet made him aware of life around him and that in life we all need to help each other. He learned to love unconditionally and what it was like to be loved unconditionally. He learned how to take care of the dog, how to make the appointments with the vet, when to give the dog a bath and ultimately, what to do when the dog got skunked!! It was he who helped make the grown up decision about putting the dog to "sleep."
The discussions we had over the years about taking care of the dog taught him a great deal about life and eventually about death. He understood life's tragedies and disappointments in a deeper way because of the dog. At a younger age he was able to do a compare and contrast with child rearing and his dog. As his grandparents aged and needed greater care and more understanding, he was able to relate decisions we made to his dog. As he left home to continue with his life, he made the decision that the dog needed to stay with his parents and that he needed to do what was best for the dog and not just what was best for him. He acted like an adult.
Children who never have responsibilities for someone or another living creature have to learn differently how to cope, how to accommodate, how to compromise, and how to put something before themselves. Many children are lucky to have younger siblings for who they are responsible, but those siblings are not their own; they are not really their responsibility. A pet becomes a child's lifeline. I watched Snoopy console my son after a bad day, I watched as she wagged her tail and got excited when he came home, and I watched her know when he was sick and needed to be by his side. I watched as they parted for longer and longer periods of time.
When my husband and I made the decision to put Snoopy out of her constant pain, we called our son and asked for his advice. We asked him if he needed to come home and say goodbye to her. His response, "You have always taught me that we need to care for those who are in greater need than we are. You taught me that our responsibilities to others means in the good and the bad times. You taught me that I need to trust in you to always do the right things. I trust that you will do right by my dog." I question who did the teaching - was it me or was it the dog?
Pets are a wonderful way to learn responsibility, time management, organization skills, and love. I am a complete advocate of pets. They become a part of the family and in all families we have our good times and our sad ones. Experiencing the loss of our dear pet, I asked myself if I would do it all over again knowing how wrenching the loss is. My answer - absolutely. I would much rather have loved our dog and lost her than never had that wonderful joy. I believe my son feels exactly the same.
Elaine received her BA from The College of New Jersey and her MA in English from Villanova University. She is licensed to teach English, Speech and Theater in two states. Elaine founded and ran a classroom based 'brick and mortar' educational company from 1995 - 2009. Elaine has significant experience matching learners to the appropriate educators and has a large available network in the educational arena. Elaine also taught English on the university level, created adult education courses, managed a credit recovery program, managed all areas of supplemental development, and established a 501c3. She has over 35 years of experience in the education field.
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