Responsibility for a pet? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 10 Old 04-28-2003, 10:16 PM - Thread Starter
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My dh and I gave my dsd a guinea pig for her ninth birthday last September. I thought a 9 yo was plenty responsible enough to care for a guinea pig. Since we only have one, he needs lots of love and exercise though. At first, the novelty of a new pet kept her interest. She held him lots, was trying to get him to stand up on his hind legs for food, she took him outside when it was warm, cleaned his cage cheerfully, etc.

Now, however, it's a different story. Getting her to clean his cage twice a week, and give him food and water every day that she's here is really hard (she's at our house 40%, and at her mom's 60%). She never does it without us asking (well, actually me asking since dh doesn't think about it either) even though it's on her job chart. We also said she needs to hold him every day that she's here for at least 10 minutes.

We have given her a couple of warnings in the last few months about taking proper care of him or he goes to a new home. The last time we warned her, we said it was her last chance. Well, she's still not holding him - EVER. She cleans his cage and gives him food and water when asked - sometimes with a big sigh and lots of huffing.

I've read that when you get a pet for a young child, you have to realize that the responsibility for taking care of it really lies with you. I thought young meant 4, 5, or 6. Is it really too much to ask of a 9 yo? Are we being unrealistic to expect this of her? Should we keep him and nag her to hold him every day? Or should we take her disinterest in him as a sign that she doesn't really want him? She has a tendency to not stick with things for very long, so it'd be nice for her to have this long-term committment. On the other hand, I'm getting to resent the fact that I'm taking care of him a lot, but especially, I don't like nagging and watching her pout and shuffle her feet about caring for him.

Anybody have any advice for us?
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#2 of 10 Old 04-28-2003, 11:02 PM
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I was 7 when I got my first hampster and was solely responsible for the care. I don't remember my mom reminding me, but I'm sure she did at one point or another. I had about 3 or 4 total throughout the years, also a couple of guinea pigs.

9 is not too young, IMO. A good way to get rid of the pet to a good home is to call grade schools in the area. Lots of them have classroom pets- that's how we got rid of our pet bunnies when we had to move cross country.

Also, before I got any new pet, my dad bought a book about how to care for them and I had to read it. That way, I knew what I was getting into. I also needed to give my mom enough notice so she could get new shavings and food with the regular shopping instead of making special trips out.

Michelle -mom to Katlyn 4/00 , Jake 3/02, and Seth 5/04
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#3 of 10 Old 04-29-2003, 12:42 AM
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In your case, it seems like 9 was too young. All kids are different, so having an arbitrary age to be responsable for a pet isn't realistic IMO. My dd has had a couple Gps and always has taken good care of it. She got her first one at about 7 I think. Maybe your DsD hasn't really bonded with the GP?

I'm sure you know there are only a couple options. Let things stay as they are, find the GP a new home, or take over the job yourself 100%.

Good Luck deciding.
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#4 of 10 Old 04-29-2003, 12:56 AM
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My dd got a hampster for her sixthbirthday. Knowing that she is about the least resposible person on the planet (I love her but you can't depend on her to do anything) I know I would have to remind her. No big, so long as she takes care of Hannah Bear with a happy heart when I remind her (and she does ).

I would say nine should be plenty old enough to keep up her end of the bargin. even if you have to remind her (which really isn't such a big deal, especially since she isn't there every day). i would say give her a time frame to shape up and then find the hampster a new home. It isn't fair to the pet to keep him in a place where he isn't loved and cared for. It is a otugh lesson to learn but it drives the point home faster than all the reminders in the world. Maybe in a few years, with the sting of lsing her firt pet she will be ready to be more responsible.

The truest answer to violence is love. The truest answer to death is life. The only prevention for violence is for the heart to have no violence within it.  We cannot prevent evil through any system devised by mankind. But we can grapple with evil and defeat it, but only with love—real love.

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#5 of 10 Old 05-09-2003, 04:49 PM
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Think about the big pictue and what you want for your step-daughter. Do you really want to be nagging her about a stupid rodent that she no longer holds? Take care of the rodent yourself or find it another home.

Caged rodents are very different pets than cats or dogs. My son thinks it's funny that adults think it is 'responsibility' to feed and water a cat or dog or to walk the dog. These are just the right things to do.

Our dog and cat actually have us trained to get them nice fresh water and food when they ask. We respond quickly just like I responded quickly when my babies wanted to breastfeed. Responsive pet care patterned after responsive parenting is much more effective than trying to 'teach' responsibility by nagging and threats. My son likes being the one to get the dog and cat water and food because he thinks the dog and cat might like him more.

I would do everything I could to avoid being the nagging step-mom. A rodent is not worth it. The best way for children to learn responsibility is by modeling. You be responsible and children notice. I would also loose the job chart.

My two oldest children had a step-mom from the time they were 5 and 8. They are now 20 and 23 and she recently died of a heart attack. She could not have children and loved my children very much. We all got along fine.

My kids turned out great and she was very proud of them EXCEPT she always nagged them about religion. I'm so sorry she let that come between her and them. It's almost a relief for them now that she is dead and they are spending more time with their dad.
This isn't because they are feeling sorry for him but because it is more fun without her. He is only 45 and has adjusted well.

I suggest getting rid of the rodent and getting a kitten. You clean the litter and let your step-daughter have the honor of feeding and watering the kitty if she wants. Keep the litter nice and clean when she is around so she can see how responsible kitties should be cared for. If you are home all the time, you might consider a puppy.
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#6 of 10 Old 05-11-2003, 12:50 AM - Thread Starter
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Dh decided that he wants to give her one more chance. We told her, and she's doing better about feeding him, but so far she's held him once for about two minutes!

Wanted to give more background to clear things up and hopefully get some advice that's more useful for our situation...

We didn't get the pet to "teach" her responsibility. I would rather make a decision that the child is responsible enough, and reward her with a pet to take responsibility for. She was really anxious for a pet, dh and I had just married, and we had a new house. She had successfully cared for some fish (remembered to feed them), and knew that in a house instead of an apartment a different pet was a possibility. She's asthmatic and allergic to cats (my choice for a pet!), and I was not a SAHM when we got the pet, and (insert reasons above - dh and I had just married, and we had a new house) so a dog was out too. Now we have a new baby and a dog would be too much work for us right now (honestly, I think a dog would be too much work for us anytime).

I'm also not too worried about my stepmom image. I met dh at the daycare where dsd was a toddler seven years ago. She has never seen me as anything but an "authority figure" in her life. I was never the "woman dating dad", "you're not my mom", etc. I can't imagine I need to worry about a feeling that they'll have more fun after I'm dead and gone!

So my dilema is what's the more appropriate thing to teach her? That she loses the pet when she doesn't take care of it? That she needs to stick with something for the long haul for once? I'm afraid that if we get rid of him, she'll be learning that it's OK to back out on committments. I'm afraid that if we don't get rid of him, she won't learn that her actions (or lack thereof) have serious consequences.

I DON'T want to be nagging about this pet - I'll be the first to admit that. We actually like the job chart cause that's the only thing that gets her to do her chores without us nagging.... I think she likes checking the items off - gives her a sense of satisfaction (I know I like checking off To-Do list items). I'm just not interested in having a pet guinea pig myself - my baby is much more fun to feed and hold.... I suppose I will try modeling responsive pet care - that sounds like a good idea. We'll see if she sits up and takes notice. She doesn't respond to him squeaking for food now when she's sitting in the next room!
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#7 of 10 Old 05-13-2003, 12:59 PM
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Natural consequences are always best. What happens when we don't feed and water a living thing - it dies. Rather than let that tragic lesson be learned I'd give the pet to a pre-school or school classroom.
That is the ultimate lesson here. She doesn't take care of it, it goes away.
My dd has raised rabbits for four years. She has about 40 right now with her newest litters. She is not always on top of things but tries her best.
Last fall she learned the hard way about separating out her litters. She let them stay together too long and they didn't get enough water, she lost about 8 rabbits that way. She has never made the same mistake again!
Valuable lesson IMHO that if we don't take the proper care of our animals, our environment, our planet, we lose!
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#8 of 10 Old 05-20-2003, 05:42 PM - Thread Starter
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We just started up family meetings again with inspiration from the latest Mothering issue, and dsd chose for her agenda item (we decided each person could have one item for our first meeting), none other than the guinea pig.

When it was her turn, she announced that she wanted to give him away because he was triggering her allergies! In my mind this is mostly a cover up for being tired of the reminders to feed him, hold him, and clean his cage.

Stew over an issue long enough, and it will resolve itself.....
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#9 of 10 Old 05-29-2003, 12:26 PM
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i have to agree that responsibility for a pet comes at different ages for different kids. We lost a guinea pig when my dd was 10 because she just didn't take care of it properly. By the time i realized what was going on, it was too late. We held a f uneral and dd cried her eyes out. From that point on she has made it her business to help us with our dogs...without being asked . she fills the food/water dishes when empty, takes them out on walks, spends time petting them. She learned a sad but valuable lesson. We all did really as I still have a tremendous amount of guilt for having trusted her with an animals life and not paying enough attention myself.

that said. For her 13th birthday she asked if she could try again. We did a tremendous amount of research on rodents since she was working in a science lab at school and handling/feeding/caring for mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters etc.
She also agreed to use her bank account to pay for supplies and really spent alot of time on the internet showing me what she wanted and why. For her birthday i purchased a small starter cage, bowl, water dish, bedding and food - and two exotic blue rats per her research. Her birthday was last October and the ratties are doing well. Their names are mookie and elvis.

She has since upgraded (with my help) to a large 5' cage that sits in our living room. Dh helped her build more shelves and ladders for them to play on. she has bought toys, a hammock etc for them. She changes bedding and checks food and water wtihout being asked cuz they're her "babies". She wears her ratties in a sling, plays with them every day afterschool and they hang out on her while she watches tv at night. we all give them treats but they're her babies.

She noticed some skin irritation a few weeks ago and immediatly demanded a vet appt. We took them in and sure enough they had some infection that required treatment. She paid for it out of babysitting money (well, i paid and she paid me back) and gave them their medicine every single night without being asked.

I personally think that at 13 she was finally ready for the responsibility and has risen to the occasion. the boys are healthy and happy and well loved. They purr they're so content. lol. but i think that MOST kids (i know, generalizing) can't be the sole caretaker for any pet before they're 12 or 13. We have a fish too and my 3 year old and I feed him every day together, we change his water together.... its good to start small and work up. lol

just my two cents and my story. lol
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#10 of 10 Old 06-08-2003, 01:35 PM
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I think the responsibility really lies with the parents- for quite a while, yet. After all, who drives to the vet if necessary? Who drives to the pet store?

I like the previous post about it not being responsibility, just the right thing to do. This is in line with my feelings about our cats, rats, rabbit, and fish. Like, gosh, honey, they're hungry, don't keep them waiting!

My daughter has two fabulous, beautiful blue rats she bought with her own money seven months ago. She was 8 then. When they required a bigger cage we sprung for that. My daughter definitely must be reminded a week has gone by and their cage needs cleaning (does a gp cage really need cleaning 2x per week, or can you scoop dirty litter and have one weekly overhaul? That does sound like a burden for a child, especially not shared with other kids). She was great about feeding them and having them out enough for about five months, then we got busy and she felt weighed down, perhaps, but we decided they need at least a half hour out, hopefully twice per day, but if it's been a busy day they must have at least that time. Since then it seems they are always out. She is very attached to them, but I think it's natural to go through a brief bored phase too. They live in her room, which helps keep them in her line of vision. They are definitely attached to her, which is charming to see and gratifying for her. A pet that has discernible reactions and likes to play helps kids, too, I think. You can have a real relationship with rats, like cats and dogs. I don't have the slightest idea what my male rabbit is thinking, most of the time.

My girl has always loved her rats- if she's forgotten something they need she really gets quite upset, which I think is more important than forcing her to cover every aspect of their care. We homeschool, too, so there is plenty of time in the day. I think a younger child in school maybe needs his/her folks to cut some slack about chores now and then.

Re-reading Raising a Daughter helped me keep the standards I had for my daughter in perspective.
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