Our cat peed in the laundry basket this morning.

She might have done it because she's 17 years old - pawsitively elderly by domestic house cat standards - and the litter box down the hall seemed too far for her old bones. She could also have a bladder infection, which makes it harder to reach the box on time. If this keeps up, I'll probably have to take her to the vet's to get this looked at. I'm not looking forward to that bill.

But this old kitty is worth it. She's been with us for most of her life as an important member of our family. In fact, two of our children don't know a life without her in it - and none of us want to think too much about that inevitability.

Not only does she provide the very best cat cuddles, but she's taught my kids a few important lessons without even speaking a word. Who knew eight pounds of fur could leave such a lasting impression?

Not every family can or wants to have a pet. But if you're sitting on the fence of pet adoption, let me try to sway the vote a little with a few great ways these sweet creatures can impact our children.

1. Pets Get Kids Moving

There's nothing like a frolicking four-legged friend to create kinetic kids on a regular basis.

In fact, a recent British study reported children in the U.K. with pets are healthier than kids without them. And there is a solid correlation between owning a dog and increased daily fitness, thanks to more walks, more play time, and more time spent outdoors.

Sure, there are many ways to get kids moving. But are they all as instantly rewarding as a cheerful pup and a worn tennis ball? Not likely.

2. Pets Can Improve Mental Health

In the same British study, nearly 75% of parents said their child's anxiety had decreased with pet ownership. Other studies have shown a decrease in mild to moderate depression in people who get a pet.

Why? Other than increasing activity levels, which is a trusted method in improving mental health, the answer might lie with how uncomplicated the relationship is. A pet is a quiet confidante and a constant companion. They are loyal, loving and fun without the complexities of human relationships. And if a child's mental health is being impacted due to bullying, shyness or special needs, a pet can be an anchor in a lonely storm.

3. Pets Teach Empathy

Supporting someone who is upset or in pain. Knowing when someone is uncomfortable with your behavior, and making the necessary changes to put them at ease. These are just two examples of empathy in action. It's an important social skill, and for some children it doesn't come as easily as it does for others.

Thankfully, pets can help with that, too. An Australian study showed empathy and nurturing are easily learned through animals. Meanwhile, researchers in Poland studied over 500 children aged 4-8 years, and concluded those with dogs or cats at home scored higher in pro-social behaviors and self-reliance than children without pets. German researchers found children diagnosed with autism or anxiety disorders fared better behaviorally with the help of a therapy dog.


4. Pets Teach Responsibility

If taking Rex out for a walk or cleaning Sammy's litter box is on your child's chore list, you are helping to teach them the value of responsibility - and with that, the importance of consistency and time management.

If you don't regularly feed your fish or clean its tank, it could die. In this way, caring for your pet is not the same as cleaning your bedroom. The stakes are higher, and the love and connection involved are the motivators. And knowing you have to do something, like take your dog for a walk every afternoon, helps children learn to prioritize their time.

5. Pets Help Kids Understand Grief and Loss

This might not sound like a positive, but it's all in how your look at it.

No matter how hard we try, we can't shield our kids from loss. They will lose people they love, from beloved grandparents to a wonderful aunt, they will inevitably experience grief.

For many children, a pet who passes away is their first loss. It is heartbreaking, but it also teaches them about loving deeply, living in the moment, and the need for resiliency - knowing things may look bleak now, but the sun will come out again.

When you've experienced loss before, you know you have to go through the sorrow, but will slowly come out the other side. In this way, it is a pet's final gift to the special child in their life.

No matter what age or stage your children are at, pets can add much to a family's joy. However, they can also add a lot of added responsibility, so the choice should never be made on a whim.

Still, if the list of pros above outweighs the potential cons (like pee in the laundry basket), I encourage you to adopt or rescue a new family member who can teach your children as much about life as they do about love.

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