In every family without a pet, there’s at least one child begging for one. But for health reasons, finances, travel or time in the daily schedule, a pet may not fit into your family’s lifestyle. But there are other ways, that you can bring animals into your family’s life without owning a pet of your own. Here are my top ten tips to add the fun and rewards of animals in your life without actually owning a pet:
- Attend a local animal show. The owners of dogs, cats, birds and reptiles love to show off their pets and talk to children about responsible pet ownership. In New York City we have the annual Westminster Kennel Club Show and Meet the Breeds. Local, smaller shows are great fun as well.
- Volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter or to help socialize the cats residing there. Our friends at Animal Haven Shelter have a great webpage on how kids can help shelter animals.
- Be a foster pet family. My local rescue group is always looking for host families for cats in need. I wrote about my experiences with my foster cat family several years ago and since that time we’ve hosted more than 60 kittens or cats in our home.
- While it sounds a bit low tech, there are plenty of books on being a veterinarian for children of all ages. Here’s a really nice list of some of them.
- If your child loves dogs, but doesn’t love reading, sign up for one of the therapy dog programs where children read to dogs. This might be in a library, school or animal shelter. Participate in your library’s reading program featuring certified therapy dogs to promote reading skills in children. Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) has local programs nationwide. Therapy Dogs International sponsors “Tail Wagging Tutors.” A program like this might transform your child’s reading skills.
- Volunteer to pet sit for a neighbor while they are on vacation. This could be a really fun family project.
- Become a member of your local zoo. Many zoos have an area where children can pet the animals. In the New York metropolitan area, the Wildlife Conservation Society — which includes the Bronx Zoo, the Queens Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and the New York Aquarium — has hands-on programs for various age groups, as well as educational exhibits and free demonstrations daily. Some zoos even have sleepovers and summer camp!
- Volunteer at a pet outreach program at your local hospital, Ronald McDonald House or senior citizens home. Ask the program coordinator if they know of a pet volunteer who you can “borrow” for the visits.
- Check out veterinary camp. Besides camps at zoos, many camps like the ones on this list are run by colleges of veterinary medicine. Most are for high school age students, but some accept students as young as 10 years of age.
- If your child dreams of being a veterinarian, it is never too soon to start planning. For tweens, Vet Set Go provides age appropriate resources and fun games. The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges has information online for prospective students in high school and college.
I hope these suggestion will help fill the gap in your pet loving child’s life until the time is right for your family to love a pet of its very own.