Parents say no to a pet? Here are 6 ways kids can still be involved with animals
By Kim Campbell Thornton
When I met with my accountant recently, he mentioned that his 14-year-old son really wanted a golden retriever. Problem is, my accountant and his wife don't especially want a dog, especially one that would be their responsibility when their son goes to college in four years.
"I wish there was some way we could have a dog just for the short term," he said.
Usually, when parents who don't want a pet ask me about getting one for the kids, I tell them to hold firm: If parents, who have ultimate responsibility for the animal, aren't interested, I think it's best for them not to give in to the pleading. In this case, though, I had a suggestion.
"Why don't you look into raising a guide dog puppy? You get the pup when he's 8 weeks old, and he goes for formal training when he's 13 to 15 months old. That would give your son a taste of dog ownership, but you wouldn't be left holding the leash when he leaves home."
(Visit guidedogs.com for more information.)
I don't know if they'll actually do it, but it got me thinking about other ways that pet-loving kids can play with, care for and train animals without necessarily bringing one home to a parent who's allergic or simply not interested -- at least not in a full-time, lifelong commitment. The following options are some compromises that may meet the needs of kids and parents alike.
-- Read to shelter pets. When kids read to animals, the activity provides socialization and human interaction for dogs and cats and improves children's reading skills. Shelters that offer such programs include Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Pennsylvania; Bitter Root Humane Association in Hamilton, Montana; and Panhandle Animal Shelter in Ponderay, Idaho. Contact your local shelter, library or public school to see if a program is available in your area, or if they'd like to start one.
-- Volunteer at a shelter or sanctuary. Depending on a child's age, he or she may be able to volunteer to help feed, groom or walk shelter pets. Parents may be required to participate as well to provide supervision. Even if they can't volunteer hands-on with animals at a shelter, kids can raise money with lemonade stands or bake sales or help with set-up and take-down at adoption events.
-- Go to camp. At Animal Friends Canine Good Manners Camp in Pittsburgh, kids spend five days working with camp counselors to teach shelter dogs the basics of good behavior so they'll be more adoptable. Critter Camp at Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego offers daylong and weeklong programs that teach animal handling and socialization and let kids explore animal-related careers. Another program to check out is Friends for Life Camp through SPCA LA in Los Angeles. Kids who are interested in becoming veterinarians may want to attend "vet camp." Among the veterinary schools that offer camps of up to a week are Auburn, Colorado State, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Purdue, Tufts, University of Georgia, University of Pennsylvania and University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Camps are geared to children of different ages. Search "camps for animal lovers" or "vet camp" to find other options.
-- Foster kittens. Shelters always need foster homes for kittens, especially during late spring and summer, which is known as "kitten season."
-- Apprentice with a professional or amateur show dog handler. "Some owners are happy to have a junior show their dog, particularly when the dog has finished his championship but loves to be in the show ring," says Phyllis M. Potterfield of Charleston, West Virginia.
Q: My chocolate Lab ate a poisonous mushroom and ended up needing five days of hospitalization. What types of mushrooms should I be concerned about, and how can I recognize them? -- via email
A: Thousands of the fleshy fungi exist around the world. Only a small percentage of them are toxic or deadly, but that's not much comfort when it's your dog who is suffering. Adding to the danger is that mushrooms are difficult to identify; toxic varieties may have only subtle differences from the delicious edible species.
Toxicologists separate toxic mushrooms into eight categories depending on their type of toxin and the effects they produce, according to my colleague Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, DVM, at the University of Illinois. The mushrooms that most commonly kill pets belong to the cyclic peptide group, the best known being Amanita phalloides (death cap). A single mushroom cap can kill a dog or cat. They are found in most areas of the United States and in southern Canada. Other mushrooms that can be deadly to pets -- or at least make them really sick -- include members of the genus Tricholoma, hallucinogenic mushrooms such as Psilocybe and Conocybe, false morels and members of the genera Clitocybe and Inocybe.
Unless you're a mycologist (mushroom expert), though, this information probably isn't going to be of much help to you. The best thing you can do, if you know or suspect that your dog has eaten a mushroom or toadstool, is to seek veterinary help immediately. If possible, bring a sample of the mushroom -- either one like it or a piece that your dog has thrown up. Dogs don't learn from past experience, so if your property has a lot of mushrooms, you may have to limit access to them by having him wear a muzzle when he's outdoors, or supervise him closely. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Kitten goes postal,
finds new home
-- A kitten found inside a mailbox at the end of March in Edwardsburg, Michigan, has a poetic ending to her story: She was adopted by a retired mail carrier. Dan and Millie Shaw were looking for a kitten after the death of their 17-year-old cat, T.J. Now named Mimi, the black and white kitten was taken in by Elkhart County, Indiana, organization Here Kitty, Kitty, which treated her for fleas, ear mites, an eye infection and a broken tail. The Shaws heard her story, and as soon as they met her, Dan knew he wanted to deliver her to a new life.
-- Starting in January 2016, the FBI will classify animal cruelty as a Group A felony, along with homicide, arson and assault. Previously, it was simply labeled "other," making it difficult to identify and track. The new classification means law enforcement agencies will be required to report incidents and arrests for simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse such as dogfighting or cockfighting; and sexual abuse of animals. More reliable statistics will help law enforcement officers track trends and fight related crimes. The data collected will be available to the public in 2017.
-- Does your blood pressure go up when it's taken at the doctor's office? The anxiety caused by a doctor visit is nicknamed "white-coat syndrome," and it affects dogs and cats, too. "Fear and stress in the clinic can lead to elevation in blood pressure that does not truly reflect the individual's usual blood pressure," says Anthony Carr, a veterinary internal medicine specialist and professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. In general, a normal blood pressure reading for a dog or cat is 130/70, but a senior pet's blood pressure may be closer to 150/80. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Reading to pets at a shelter is one way children can enjoy the company of animals even if they can't have one at home. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Adoption of kitten gets retired mail carrier's stamp of approval. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1