When I was growing up, we almost always had pets. Whether it was a dog or a cat (or more) my sister and I always had a furry creature to love on. But unfortunately, not every kid gets this experience; and even more unfortunate, some kids get the experience but abuse the animals because they are not taught how to treat them.

Kids who grow up with animals are more likely to treat them with respect and kindness later in life. They are better adjusted to responsibility and are often more compassionate than kids who do not grow up with animals.

As a student at CCU, I hear a lot of horrible stories about students who try to own a pet for the first time in their lives and they end up abandoning it and abusing it. Many animals around campus are taken in as feral, then abandoned when the student realizes that he or she cannot care for it properly. Some students try to take pets into on-campus housing, which is strictly prohibited (or they try to sneak animals into apartment complexes that don’t allow pets or they take in pets without paying a pet deposit), and they cause more problems for the animal. Animals in cases like these are abandoned or sent to shelters where they are often put down.

A lot of these students have never cared for a pet before and have no idea how much care and time it takes to keep a pet. They are ill-equipped to properly care for a dog or a cat.

If you are a parent (or a grandparent) and are considering whether or not your child should have a pet, make sure you have the time to properly monitor your child around the animal. Children left to their own to take care of a pet will sometimes unintentionally abuse it. They may forget to take the dog for a walk or to add water to its bowl or to feed it. If the child is struggling emotionally or doesn’t have a healthy emotional outlet, they may hit the animal to vent these frustrations. Sometimes, the child will try to train the pet, and because they don’t know how to do it properly, they will get frustrated and “discipline” the pet for not obeying.

This type of abuse happens more often than parents think. It usually happens when the parents aren’t home or are out of the room. Parents should be addressing these issues before they happen and should talk extensively and often to their children about properly taking care of animals. This conversation shouldn’t happen in a “don’t-forget-to-feed-the-dog” way, but in a more informational and adult tone. Your child will appreciate a direct conversation rather than being told what to do.

Not only does a pet increase your child’s ability to take on responsibility, but it also helps prepare your child for a future relationship with their own pet when they are older and out of the house. They say a dog is man’s best friend, but any domesticated animal can form a loving bond with its owner, even if the owner is only 8-years-old. It’s also been proven in multiple studies that having a pet helps relieve stress, both for the parent and the child.

Pets help with a wide variety of growing pains, but it is mainly the parent’s responsibility to make sure that the child is getting the most positive experience. If the child sees the parent neglect the animal, the child will do the same. If your child watches you shoo the cat away with your foot, so will the child (and may accidentally hurt it).

A dog is a bit more durable under a child’s strength (think about a child giving a cat or a hamster a “hug”), and a dog is easier to train than a cat, which will make it easier for your child to interact with it. If you need a more economic reason as to getting a pet for your child, each cat or dog you rescue and spay/neuter may prevent the birth of nearly half a million other animals and thus, overpopulation and the spread of diseases.