Telling the Kids...Food for Thought
Telling your children that you must rehome or euthanize your pet can be very difficult. Pets can loom large in their world, even if they don't give any outward indication of it. I suggest you consider very carefully what you will tell them, and do some soul searching first. I truly hope you are teaching your children the true value of life and happiness, and the value of life and happiness for others. Yes, life isn't fair, but we can try anyway. Being a widow, I know this to be very true, and that life and love is priceless. This is an opportunity for you to teach your children about it, heartbreaking for them and you as it may be.
If you haven't tried your honest best to keep and care for your pet, I sincerely hope your kids at least do not learn that life is disposable in any way. There is a lesson in commitment to be taught here, about the commitment of caring for an animal who's life depends completely on you. Living creatures, especially those we bring into our lives and keep in our lives deliberately, do deserve the utmost care and respect, and that includes children and animals. I have heard of children wondering if they themselves will be given away if they are bad or cause problems. Jo-Anne, good friend of mine who had to put her dog down for serious illness, told me "my oldest daughter asked me several times if people could be put to sleep too. It was not easy explaining to a then 6 year old that it was okay to put your dog to sleep but not a human. It was a real concern to her that she could be given a shot and would die." The words "it's just a dog" or "it's just a cat" often have a different meaning to someone who also hears "he's just a kid".
I have heard of parents punishing their young children for not caring for a pet (or other misdeeds such as not cleaning thier room) by taking the pet to the shelter, most likely to be put to death, or giving the pet away. I have no idea at all how parents can expect a child to take care for another living thing without a whole lot of help if they are not old enough to take care for themselves yet, regardless of the child's age. It is cruel to the child and the pet, not something I would think most parents intend to teach when they really just want to teach responsibility. It can backfire horribly. Getting out of a commitment to taking care of a living, thinking, emotional being is a serious issue. It has also been proven that kids who first disrespect and then become cruel to animals can grow into those who disrespect, be cruel to, and even kill humans (See the Humane Society's First Strike page for more info). Sometimes kids don't even grow up before moving on to hurting people. How your kids see you treat your animals can have a very profound effect.
If your kids want another pet right away, don't do it. It means they don't truly understand the lesson. You must try to teach them what has really happened first, and possibly teach yourself too, so you will never have to go through this again. More soul searching will be needed. The best, most humane decision is most often not to get another pet at all.
If you are truly and honestly acting in the animal's best interests, as opposed to your own best interests, and have worked hard to find solutions, then worked even harder on deciding where the animal will go, then the lesson is easier. You are doing what you believe to be the most humane for the animal, with your eyes wide open. If not, then these will be a very hard lessons to teach, I don't know how you'll do it.
......an excellent point that we should repeat every time we hear about parents "giving away" family pets. Children are powerless to protect the animals but it is often a lifelong source of hurt, anger (toward the parents) and guilt (for failing to protect the animal, often exacerbated because the parent says stuff like "this is because you wouldn't walk him...") I know of quite a few adults who have not forgiven their parents for finding their childhood dog the proverbial "good home in the country."
Parents who dump children's pets should realize that they are not only hurting the pets, they are directly hurting their children and giving them the message that family doesn't matter.
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