Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager, Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and (now) one dog in New York City.
When our 14-year-old dog, Dexter, became ill a few weeks ago, we started researching how to talk to a toddler about a dog’s death. We learned that it’s important to be clear, honest and simple. We read that it’s best not to talk about it like “going to sleep and not waking up” because that may make your child fearful of sleeping.
So when he died and our daughter asked, “Where’s Dexter?” we responded with something like, “Today Mommy and Daddy are feeling very sad because last night Dexter died. He was very old and he was sick and his body couldn’t support him anymore. So he died. And that means he’s not coming back and we’re not going to see him anymore which makes us very sad. You may see Mommy and Daddy crying because we’re sad that Dexter’s not here anymore. But we can think and talk about Dexter, look at his pictures and remember him. And that will make us feel better.”
She didn’t have too much of a response to that but then later asked “Where’s Dexter?” and we repeated some of what we had told her earlier. Then later she would ask “Dexter’s on a walk?” or “Dexter’s at Gaga and Papa’s house?” And each time we told her again. Two weeks later she still says she wants to give Dexter a hug before bed. Death is a difficult concept for all of us and in many ways I’m sure it’s easier that she doesn’t understand and isn’t grieving Dexter’s loss along with us. But it’s hard that she keeps asking. It’s like picking a scab. But it’s still so fresh for me that thinking about it and crying about it still feels good and therapeutic.
We made a video slideshow of our memories with Dexter that we watch with our daughter to help her remember him. And we talk about how soft he was, how she loved to hug him, how he loved to lick her, and how gentle he was. It hurts to talk about him in past tense, but at least we get to talk about him. I think the real pain for me will be when she stops asking about him. So, we’ll just have to keep reminding our daughter what a great furry brother Dexter was to her.
Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor toVetstreet.comand other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site,Crayons and Collars.
Pets that have never been around children have good reason to be wary. Kids can be loud, unpredictable and grabby. So, I was little apprehensive when we decided to add human children to our family. How would my two cats react?
After some research and a bit of instinct, we used a few simple methods to create good kid-cat relations:
Give Your Cats Plenty of Love. Pets may receive less attention when a new baby arrives on the scene. Making an effort to spend time with the cats, petting and playing with them, seemed to go a long way in keeping the cats happy. Treats didn’t hurt, either!
Also, consistently adoring your cats around your children is a great way to model how cats are beloved members of the family and treated with respect.
Teach “Gentle” at an Early Age. You can never start too early to teach your child what a “gentle” touch is and where they can and cannot touch your pets. Even when our girls were babies, we’d hold their hands and stroke the cats where they most liked it. As they grew, the girls learned how to touch the cats and the cats learned these little human creatures seemed to be okay.
Encourage Age-Appropriate Play Time. Once my daughters learned how to properly play with the cats, their relationship blossomed. When she was three, I gave my oldest daughter the cats’ favorite wand toy and showed her how to wiggle it through the house. The cats loved it! Of course, I supervised this activity. But I noticed after introducing fun to the mix, the cats sought out my daughters more.
Not long after they started playing together, the cats began sleeping in my older daughter’s room. Now, they cuddle close to both of my daughters on the couch and don’t seem too concerned when they’re in the middle of kid-led chaos.
Supervise! I still carefully watch what’s going on. Kids may not always recognize situations that cats might not like. While the cat may not be in danger per se, he may be in a situation that could create fear.
For example, my girls like to create “forts” out of boxes and blankets, and want to bring the cats in with them. I remind the girls that cats need to be able to leave the game when they want to. Sometimes when I’ve intervened on their behalf, the cats have gratefully scurried away, but more often they stay put, content to be where the action is.
Every cat and household dynamic is different, of course. But from my experience, the above tactics worked extremely well in creating a household of kid-cat harmony. What are your strategies? Please share in the comments.
Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
Before I was a parent (of a human), I remember nodding in agreement when parents told stories about their children, saying, “Oh, totally, my dog does that too!” And after seeing the expressions on their faces, I’d qualify, “I know that having a child is different than having a dog. But, still, I get it.” But I see now that I didn’t exactly get it. Having a dog is a lot of work: Three walks a day, no matter the weather. They might wake you up early on the weekends to go to the park. You have to take them to the vet, and in some cases, the groomer. You need to feed them and be responsible for their general well-being. Training them is of paramount importance, in order to have a dog who doesn’t eat your furniture, pee on your floor and who generally fits into society.
I went to dog training school about ten years ago and worked as a private dog training instructor. Most of my job was training people to train their dogs (people are much harder to train than dogs). I used positive reinforcement methods whereby you reward behaviors that you want to see again. At the time, I thought that having these training skills would mean that, later in life, when I became a parent of a human child, I would already have all the necessary skills. How different could it be, training a person and training a dog? After all, I want my child to fit into society and refrain from eating my furniture or peeing on my floor.
Raising a human child, like training a dog, does require patience, love and consistency. And some form of positive reinforcement. But the main difference is that you have to explain more and teach them about feelings. I now find myself giving the dogs more explanation than they need. I’m glad I have the opportunity to be the mom of furry children, and of a bi-ped, too. They get to be “siblings” to each other, which helps my daughter build character and empathy. And I like to think that my practice as a dog trainer was a good foundation for parenting.
Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor to Vetstreet.com and other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site, Crayons and Collars.
It’s amazing the things that once seemed strange but became normal over the course of my years living with kids and pets. Here are 11 things that may seem perfectly normal to a parent like me:
You’ve told your sick child that you’ll “call the vet” to see if they can get her in.
You yell, “Get that leash off your little sister, NOW!” and it doesn’t even phase you— it’s just a typical day in your household.
You’ve asked your kids if they want dry food or wet food for dinner.
After using the bathroom, you’ve reminded your kids to “scoop.”
You call your kids by your pets’ names and vice versa. Every time. Sometimes they answer.
There’s always someone or something sitting in your favorite chair.
Easy-to-clean furniture and flooring. Enough said.
You know that “puppy dog eyes” are a tactic used by every species. You also know they’re effective.
Someone’s always hungry. Even if they just ate.
No matter what you’re wearing, you’ll end up with fur, drool or chocolate on it within minutes.
Privacy does not exist.
I have found that the key to handling all of these things is to adopt a more relaxed attitude, which is probably good for us anyway, don’t you think?
Keri Matthews, a mom of two, has worked in the ASPCA’s licensing department for more than five years. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Tom, her children, Gabriella and Tommy, and their Greyhound, Clyde.
We know our kids love our dog Clyde, and with Valentine’s Day on the way, we recently asked our daughter Gabriella what she loves best about having Clyde as our pet. Here’s what we heard:
“He plays with me.” This was her first response and the most touching. It showed us that she really does think of him as a friend—and that their bond is strong.
“I like to give him treats.” If Clyde could talk, this would be at the top of his list as well.
“Brushing him is fun.” Clyde loves to get brushed and Gabriella takes this job very seriously. Her toy hairdryer often makes an appearance.
“Going for walks.” We love to take Clyde for walks—Tommy laughs at Clyde walking most of the time, and Gabriella likes to help us put Clyde’s coat on.
In our house, love is having your dog on his bed next to you while you play. And for Clyde, love is spending his later years with the little people around him, weaving him into everything they do.
We can’t wait until our son Tommy is older, so he’ll be able to tell us what he loves best about Clyde, too. We will probably hear similar answers to Gabriella’s. And to us, that means we are teaching our kids to love and respect our animal friends. Happy Valentine’s Day!