Photo by: NPA

What Pet Adoption Can Teach Your Kids

by Katya Friedman
Photo by: NPA

Adopting a pet from a local animal shelter or rescue organization can be a very fulfilling experience. It is one of those moments in life that remain etched in a memory forever: that pleading face you can’t resist, and the pride that you wear out the door. After all, you just saved a life.

Betsy and John have always loved dogs, and when their last one passed away, they took some time before deciding to get a new pooch. Now with two children, they felt it was time to bring home a furry best friend, as they both believed that the unconditional love a pet gives can be very healthy for children as they grow. John and Betsy began to search through to look for canine candidates that would be good for the whole family. They knew that adopting a pet would provide an opportunity to teach their children some very important values, and that letting their kids be a part of the rescue experience would be good for building identity as a family. It’d be a great way to explore who they are as a family and what they stand for.

Teaching kids about personal responsibility, community service, and their ability to make an impact as they make choices in life can be powerful character-shaping lessons that come with adopting a pet. It’s worthwhile to teach kids that they can change the world, and to give them opportunities to do so in positive, pro-social ways. Adopting and caring for a homeless pet can plant the seeds for that ethic.

Betsy and John decided to conduct a family meeting to talk to their kids about how they would care for an animal’s needs. They talked about the exercise and attention a new dog would require, and who would be responsible for feeding, training and walks. By doing this they involved the whole family in the adoption process, and made having a pet a bonding experience. They aimed to teach their kids accountability as Betsy and John told them that everyone in the family would take part in caring for the dog. They wanted to make sure the kids understood the importance of planning and long-term commitment, and to convey to them value and respect for an animal’s life.

Betsy and John chatted about what kind of dog would best suit their lifestyle, which taught their children about honest communication, responsible decision making, and acceptance. They also spoke to their children about the possibility of providing a home for a Pitbull – a breed so disadvantaged by misconceptions and negative stereotypes. They felt this would be a great chance to discuss pre-conceptions and differences, encouraging their children to learn for themselves and not buy into public perceptions that may be biased or misinformed.

Not only did the children learn, but the Betsy and John as parents learned a great deal through the process as well. Betsy, having been adopted herself, realized that for people who were adopted like she had been, adopting a pet provides an opportunity to talk about important feelings. John, who is partially deaf, realized that for people who have an impairment or condition, the idea of adopting an animal in need, especially those with a disadvantage such as a dog with diabetes or an older pet with vision problems, can be therapeutic and rewarding.

There is no limit to the great lessons that you can teach and learn when you opt to adopt; the process of saving a life benefits all involved. Best of all, the ripple effect of Betsy and John’s family activity will undoubtedly foster compassion for generations to come! Two weeks later Betsy and John welcomed home Buddy, a gorgeous 2 years old Shepherd-Pitbull mix. Buddy has taught them all that the love and friendship an adopted pet brings will certainly make a home happier every single day. Now that’s a lesson worth learning.

Katya Friedman is an active Los Angeles shelter volunteer and the Director of Partnerships and Promotions for

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I adopted a cat when my son and I were separated. It not only helped me grieve and heal at the same time, when he came back home, he learned to love the cat unconditionally because he was now a member of our family. There was almost and instant bond between them, although the cat was jealous and probably still is. It is all good believe me. Again, my son is away and my cat and I are pals. He is enjoying the one on one time with me and I am trying to continue to plug along without my son...

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My dog, Pixie, died this week of congestive heart failure. It became evident on Saturday when she developed rapid breathing and a hacking cough. We tried meds to help her, but she died Monday morning. It was such a huge loss, and I felt so bad about it, that I told my family I can't think about having another pet. But then I remember the 12 years of love and fun we had with Pixie. Reading the article about pet adoption made me realize all the good that it brings...

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The kids and I saw a news story on tv-over 100 live chihuahuas (and 150 dead in freezers) were found in a small home. We adopted a 2 yr. old male dog, who had never been outside before! The kids feel proud that they helped save him and are giving him a good life now. Every single day, our whole family goes on a walk, taking turns walking him. Adopting this dog has brought our family closer together!

I have been involved with rescue groups for many many years. Although my children would complain and alot of tears were shed, whether it be a new animal came and was in poor condition or they went to there forever home and they were going to miss them, my children learned alot from this. They learned how to care, to give unconditional love, to nurture and have compassion. My children ae older now and my daughter has a child of her own...

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Great article - thanks! I am on the board of our local animal rescue and really appreciate your getting the idea of looking at shelter animals out there. I have found that mixed breeds tend to dilute the sometime problematic characteristics of purebreds and there is nothing like the love, loyalty and appreciation a shelter animal will give you.

You are right Renee, Mom it very important title. I’m a grandma now and I love it just like being a mom. An animal is a very important part of a child life. It will teach it all kind of thing. But most important for us as Mom’s and Grandma it will help us when we are by are self, me and my dog (Sunshine) is getting old together. I now she will probably go first. I will have a hole in my heart. But I was well wreath it all.

Thanks for this article. I used to rescue dogs and cats from kill shelters and stray situations. They deserve homes and this is a lovely article about a placement all rescuers would feel wonderful about. So, thanks!

Thanks for such an uplifting and heartwarming story. We are about to adopt a dog too, and this just reminded my that there are so many reasons it's a good idea. We all need ways to make a difference in the world!

All the dogs I have ever owned came were "second hand" dogs from animal shelters and humane societies. After we lost our 17 year old lab mix Jesse, we adopted an almost 2 year old lab hound mix. When I started to look around on, there were almost 3000 adult male medium/large size dogs within 100 miles of me alone! Broke my heart. Visited one no kill shelter (all outdoors in heat and snow)...

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This article is so timely for me. We rescued a puppy just 5 days ago and are already reaping the incredible rewards. Our two little girls (9 & 5) are beside themselves! They have always been responsible, loving girls but having this puppy has intensified those traits ten fold. They are so eager to care for him and the fact that we rescued him is not lost on them.

Great article - made me tear up!

Both of our dogs have been rescues, the first we had for less than a year before he succumbed to cancer. Our current mutt (greyhound+staffie/boxer+?) is awesome, and we worked with a resuce that fosters to make sure our that bot our dogs were kid and pet friendly (important if you have kids under 12 or so). It is just so wonderful to give a dog a great home, full of love and life!

There have been so many wonderful comments & stories! I've had pets (purebread & mixed) of dogs/cats/hamsters/birds and each one has blessed my life in ways that words cannot describe. Like children, all they want is love, attention and a home where they are wanted & cared for. They taught me unconditional love & have gotten me through those times when human companionship was minimal and non-existent. Everyone needs to remember, these furry companions, like kids, need us to take care of them...

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What a wonderful article. I agree, it's up to parents to teach their children honest values. One great way to do that is to have them go thru' the entire process of picking the right type of pet, teaching them what is needed to care for them properly, and teaching your child that there is a great responsibility when caring for another living thing. It helps in the develop of your childs understanding of caring for something other than themselves.
Plus the rewards are abundant in so many ways...

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What great stories that should make families more willing to choose shelter animals. My daughter recently acquired a new family member for her and her 5 yr old daughter. This older (10 yr) dog has a heart of gold. She is so sweet and she makes your heart melt. To think that after living in a home 10 yrs. she was taken to a shelter. There were health problems in her previous family, but you would think another family member would have taken her...

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It can also be devastating. We have adopted two pets, my daughter isn't even five yet, and both have died (shelter had 'forgotten' distemper shot for the kitten and the hamster was a 'senior citizen' who seemed to have had a heart attack after a few months). My daughter is still crying for these dead animals and I wish I'd instead gotten her a healthy pet from an established source so that she didn't have to become so familiar with death at this young age.

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